Gambits, Six Chess Pieces (2001)

for Horn and Piano (or Tuba and Piano)

Duration:  12 minutes

Commissioned by Charles and Sarah Riehm for Andrew Riehm



…[The 1960s were] a heady and disruptive period, in nearly every way. Young composers-in-training were listening to some crazy music by their figurative older brothers, who felt an obligation to make the world afresh with every fractious piece. Much of that sense of adventure apparently stuck to San Antonio native Robert X. Rodríguez, represented by “Gambits” for horn and piano (2000)… Rodríguez titled each of his six movements with chess references.

The piece begins with a an exciting fanfare or call to arms (“White vs. Black”) that requires the hornist to produce rapid repeating notes and, by manipulating the hand in the instrument’s bell, startling sounds like the trumpetings of an elephant.  The horn waxes lyrical over a calmly flowing piano part in “Giuoco Piano.” The last four movements give the composer an excuse to draw from various national styles -- “Muy Ruy” is a dark, mysterious evocation of Spain; “French Defense” recalls Satie; “Sicilian Defense” is pure oregano in six; “Copa Capablanca” is a swinging Cuban dance. From that description, you might think the music is derivative. It isn’t. Though Rodríguez cheerfully admits to “stealing” much of his material, he always manages to make it his own -- witty, surprising, personal, humane and very much of the present.                                                           
                  Mike Greenberg, Incident Light (San Antonio)


Composer’s Note:

Rodríguez’ Gambits, Six Chess Pieces for Horn and Piano  was commissioned by Charles and Sarah Riehm and completed in October, 2000.  It is dedicated to Andrew Riehm and the Musica Nova ensemble of The University of Texas at Dallas.  A tuba transcription followed in 2012 for Lyndsey Hoh. Motifs from the game of chess unite the music and the titles of the six movements, as follows:

I.  In the aggressive opening fanfare, “White vs. Black” (marked Andante bellicoso), the piano plays only the white keys while the horn plays pitches corresponding to the black keys of the piano, alternating stopped and open pitches.  At the end, the piano quietly “captures” some of the black keys, whereupon the horn immediately wins by taking possession of the white tonic note (C) with a triumphant rip (glissando). 

II.  The title, “Giuoco Piano” (“Quiet Game”), refers to the chess opening of that name. 
A simple cantilena in the horn flows over a gently rippling piano sequence. 

III.  “Muy Ruy” pays homage to the sixteenth-century Spanish chess master who created the most popular of all chess openings, named in his honor, the Ruy Lopez.  The music, accordingly, is a Spanish fandango, with variations of increasing intensity in the horn over a driving piano ostinato.

IV.  The slow introduction of “French Defense,” is built on a French sixth chord in the piano answered by small intervals in the horn, corresponding to the small pawn moves which characterize the French defense in chess.  An expansive allegretto follows, in the style of a Parisian cabaret song.

V.  “Sicilian Defense” is built on the traditional Baroque six-eight Siciliana dance rhythm. 

VI.  “Copa Capablanca” celebrates the Cuban chess master, José Raoul Capablanca.  The music is cast in the Afro-Cuban rhumba form, with alternating syncopated strains in major and minor.  The work ends with brilliant horn glissandi,as in the opening movement.