Originally conceived as a symphonic poem, this work is inspired by the Ribatejo, a region along the Tejo (Tagus) river, north-east of Lisbon, well-known for its lively popular “fiestas” featuring bull-fighting on horseback. The music depicts the local rhythms and dances, the scorching landscapes in the summer, and the peasants’ songs.
The work is divided into three short, interlinked movements, the first one being in a fast 6/8 metre with a superimposed 3/2 rhythm; it is divided into two sections, the second one subsiding into a slow movement. It starts with a solo cello, a peasant’s song which is taken over by the singing crowd (actually the brass) in a close-knit canon. After it dies away, the initial frenzy reappears in a shorter recapitulation capped off by a coda, and ending with two incisive chords.
The instrumentation includes piccolo, pairs of flutes, oboes, cor anglais, clarinets, bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.