Alonso Quijano is a fifty-something country gentleman, living a quiet, retired life with his niece and housekeeper. While mostly a rational man of sound reason, his voracious reading of books of chivalry has a profound effect on him, leading to the distortion of his perception and a life of fantasy. In essence, he believes every word of these books of chivalry to be true though, for the most part, the content of these books is clearly fiction.

Otherwise, his wits are intact.

He decides to go out as a knight-errant in search of adventure. He dons an old suit of armour and renames himself Don Quixote de la Mancha. He designates Aldonza Lorenzo, a neighboring farm girl as his lady love, renaming her Dulcinea del Toboso, while she knows nothing about this.

This is, in essence, the thumbnail sketch of the most misguided hero of the 17th century, as described by Miguel de Cervantes in his novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.

The character has been part of popular culture for well over 400 years and has inspired may works (including a literary sequel by a contemporary author to Cervantes, Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, which incited the original author to create a bona fide sequel novel of his own – now merged into a single volume with the original tales).

Music is no stranger to Don Quixote’s adventures and, as today’s montage demonstrates, we can find many musical adaptations dating from the baroque to the neo-classical, going through Opera (Massenet, embedded in the French commentary) and Broadway:

The first selection from today’s montage is an early cantata by French baroque composer Philippe Courbois, and the trend of French composers approaching the character continues with the trilogy of poems by Paul Morand set to music by Maurice Ravel.

Austrian film maker Georg Wilhelm Pabst set his adaptation of the adventures of Quixote on the big screen in 1933. It is the first sound film version of the Spanish classic and the film was made in three versions—French, English, and German—with operatic bass Feodor Chaliapin starring in all three versions. Jacques Ibert was tapped by Pabst to score the film, and the montage presents a series of songs intended for Chaliapin to sing.

Among all the music inspired by Quixote, Richard Strauss’ set of “knightly variations” for cello and orchestra stand out as probably the most popular Quixote in the classical repertoire. Strauss also includes the Don’s sidekick Sancho Panza (played by the viola) in the work with passages of his own.

Philippe COURBOIS (1710-1728)
Dom Quichotte, cantata (1728)
Dominique Visse, Counter Tenor
Café Zimmermann

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations for Cello and Orchestra, op .35, TrV184
Paul Tortelier, cello
Max Rostal, viola
Staatskapelle Dresden
Ridolf Kempe, conducting

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, chant pour baryton avec orchestre, MR 84
[Text: Paul Morand]
José van Dam, bass-baritone
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, direction

Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Don Quixote, selections from the soundtrack to the Georg W. Pabst film (1932)
Henry Kiichli, bass
Symfonický orchester Slovenského rozhlasu [Bratislava]

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