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5.110018 - FALLA: Amor Brujo (El) / El Sombrero de Tres Picos
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Manuel de Falla (1876–1946)
El amor brujo • El sombrero de tres picos

Manuel de Falla is generally acknowledged as the leading figure in Spanish music of the twentieth century. Born in 1876 in Cádiz, as a boy he aspired to be a writer but by the mid-1890s had decided to concentrate on music. To this end he studied in Madrid, his first works being for the piano. Between 1900 and 1904, to earn a living, he wrote six zarzuelas, the light operas popular in Spain. These were financially unrewarding but in Madrid he came under the influence of Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922), the great Catalan musicologist and composer. Pedrell inspired his students, among them Albéniz and Granados, to appreciate the historic traditions of Spanish music, with emphasis on folkmusic, and their relevance to contemporary composition.

In 1905 Falla won first prize with La vida breve (Life is Short) in a competition for Spanish opera awarded by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, but as no public performance for the work was offered in Spain, he decided to seek better prospects in Paris. There he met various leading composers of the era, including Albéniz, Debussy, Dukas, Ravel, and Stravinsky. Several of his piano works and songs were performed, and La vida breve was eventually produced at the Casino Municipal in Nice in 1913, and repeated at the Opéra-Comique in Paris the following year.

At the outbreak of World War I Falla returned to Spain, where he was winning a reputation. La vida breve was performed on 14th November 1914 at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, and Siete canciones populares españolas (Seven Spanish Folk-songs) a few weeks later, confirming his position as the foremost contemporary Spanish composer. In April 1915, at the Teatro Lara in Madrid, came the première of one of his finest masterpieces, the ballet with songs, El amor brujo (Love the Magician). This was followed by the first performance, in 1916, of Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), for piano and orchestra, and the success of another ballet, El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), first performed in Madrid in 1917.

In 1920 Falla moved to Granada. Here, with the poet, Federico García Lorca, he organized the famous Cante jondo flamenco competition of 1922, an attempt, regrettably not repeated, to conserve and revive the ancient art of Andalusian song. In Granada Falla composed El retablo de maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show), an adaptation of various episodes from Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Psyché, the Concerto for harpsichord or pianoforte, Soneto a Córdoba (for voice and harp), and other works. His last completed composition was a set of four Homenajes (Homages) for orchestra, first performed in Buenos Aires in 1939, conducted by Falla himself. From 1927 until the end of his life, Falla worked on the cantata, Atlántida, a massively ambitious undertaking left unfinished but eventually completed by his eminent disciple, Ernesto Halffter (1905-1989), for its belated première in 1961.

Following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and devastated by the tragic murder of his friend, Lorca, Falla left Spain in 1939 for Argentina. He died there in 1946 a few days before his seventieth birthday. He had suffered from severe ill health for many years, limiting his output. Yet, though not a prolific composer, his works are models of musical perfection in expressive content and technical mastery.

The one-act El amor brujo is the story of Candelas, a gypsy girl haunted by her dead lover, a ghost as jealous in death as he was in life. The attempts of her new suitor, Carmelo, to woo Candelas are frustrated by the ghost, so that they are unable to seal their love with the kiss which would rid them of this power from beyond the grave. The seductive Lucía is persuaded to act as a decoy and beguile the spirit with her charms.

The ballet begins with a brilliant Introduction and Scene 1 in which a dotted-note theme evokes the ghost’s jealous nature. This contrasts with the nocturnal and sinister atmosphere of the gypsy’s home of In the Cave 2, penetrated suddenly by a melody on the oboe in Andalusian style. The Song of a Broken Heart 3 is heard, a lament with dance rhythms reminiscent of flamenco cante jondo. After a few moments of swirling activity, The Apparition 4, gives way to Dance of Terror 5. The Magic Circle 6 offers momentary serenity as Candelas draws a magic circle on the ground and prepares to exorcize the ghost just as Midnight 7 sounds. The famous Ritual Fire Dance follows 8, driving away evil spirits with its percussive crossrhythms, vivid contrasts, and rich orchestral effects. The dance ends with hammer-like blows, as if victory over the disruptive force has been won. After an intermezzo designated as Scene 9, with quasi-improvisatory solos from the oboe and flute, it seems the ghost has not yet been exorcized. Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp 10 tells that love is elusive. The haunting spirit is still potent as Pantomime 11 reiterates the ghost’s theme from the Introduction, but the mood changes into a restrained tango in 7/8 time indicating that Lucía’s charms are succeeding and the influence of the jealous spirit is fading. Dance of the Game of Love 12 completes the process, with words directed at the evil spirit: I am the voice of your destiny, I am the fire in which you burn, I am the wind in which you sigh, I am the sea in which you are shipwrecked. The music begins reticently but mounts to a climax as bells ring out and Candelas and Carmelo can at last embrace in uninterrupted bliss. The Finale, subtitled The Bells of Dawn 13, proclaims the return of happiness with a song and chiming of bells symbolic of daybreak and the triumph of love

. El sombrero de tres picos depicts the follies of everyday life in the Andalusian town of Guadix in the early nineteenth century. The Introduction 14, with drums and trumpets immediately seizes attention, while a distant song warns that a wife should bolt her door. In Afternoon 15, the curtain rises on a terrace in front of a mill, a well, flower-pots, a blackbird in a cage, and a bridge over the mill-race in the background. The ugly miller and his attractive wife are on stage. After some effort the blackbird manages to whistle the correct time of two o’clock. A passing dandy ogles the miller’s wife, who flirtatiously returns his greeting. A procession approaches with the Corregidor (wearing his threecornered hat, the sign of his authority) accompanied by his wife, the Corregidora, and moves on. The miller flirts with a girl carrying a pitcher.

Footsteps are heard approaching. It is none other than the Corregidor, limping and crooked. The miller’s wife mocks his limp. The miller realises that the Corregidor has returned to woo his wife and, setting a trap, he hides behind a tree to allow his wife to show her rejection of the Corregidor’s advances. During Dance of the Miller’s Wife 16 she appears engrossed in dancing the fandango. The Corregidor is accompanied by his Alguacil, his police bodyguard, who incites the magistrate to woo her. The miller’s wife makes a show of noticing the Corregidor and, dancing round him, teases him with a bunch of grapes. In The Grapes 17 the Corregidor clumsily attempts to kiss the wife, who eludes him and he tumbles to the ground. The miller returns armed with a stick, pretending that his mill is being robbed, and, with his wife’s help, lifts up the Corregidor. The wife strokes the official with her apron while her husband makes him sniff the contents of a huge bottle. The Corregidor, realising their deception, angrily departs. When the Alguacil comes back, the miller appears repentant and as the policeman leaves, the fandango is resumed.

Part Two begins with The Neighbours’ Dance (Seguidillas) 18, where people gather on St John’s Eve and drink wine. Then follows the Miller’s Dance (Farruca) 19, one of Falla’s most vivid evocations of a flamenco dance. The miller is congratulated by his friends but this optimistic mood is broken by a knocking at the door. The Alguacils, in black cloaks and carrying sticks and lanterns, have come to arrest the miller, and despite protests by his wife they take him away. The neighbours depart and the wife is left looking into the night. A song is heard: Through the night the cuckoo sings warning husbands to fasten the bolts firmly for the devil is awake. The cuckoo-clock strikes nine and the blackbird whistles imitatively. The wife places a gun within easy reach, draws the curtains and puts out the light. The scene is quiet. The Corregidor furtively returns, peremptorily dismissing the Alguacil.

In The Corregidor’s Dance 20 the magistrate makes foolish gestures like a grand seducer, smiling at the thought of pleasure ahead, but as he crosses the bridge, the moon is hidden by a passing cloud and the Corregidor falls into the water. The miller’s wife comes out of her house and reaches the bridge just as the moonlight returns to reveal the drenched figure emerging from the mill-race. The Corregidor pursues the woman across the bridge and draws some pistols. She thwarts him, however, taking her gun and frightening him so much that he falls to the ground. She runs off into the night. The Corregidor, trembling, takes off his hat and wet clothes and places them, on a chair to dry. He enters the recess, draws the curtains and lies down on the bed.

Meanwhile the miller has escaped, and returning home is shocked to see the Corregidor’s discarded clothes. Thinking he has been betrayed, he takes up the gun and walks up and down. The Corregidor looks anxiously through the curtains as the miller collides with the chair, causing the clothes and the three-cornered hat to fall to the ground. This gives the miller an idea and he changes his clothes with those of the magistrate. Before leaving, he writes on the wall: Sir Corregidor, I am off to avenge myself. The Corregidora is also very beautiful. The Corregidor, now wearing a long shirt and pointed nightcap, cannot find his clothes but sees the miller’s words on the wall. In great anxiety, he takes the miller’s clothes and, as the scene ends, prepares to put them on.

In Final Dance (Jota) 21 the Alguacils return to recapture the miller, their escaped prisoner, just as the Corregidor walks out in the miller’s clothes. The policemen fall on him, pushing him to the ground. The voice of the miller’s wife is heard, seeking her husband. Mistaking the Corregidor for the miller, she beats one of the Alguacils while the second policeman restrains her. Some of the neighbours return, attracted by the noise, a confusion heightened when the miller, wearing the Corregidor’s clothes, runs on, pursued by the Alguacils. The miller becomes very jealous when he sees his wife apparently protecting the fallen Corregidor, but at that moment a crowd crosses the bridge with a banner depicting the effigy of the Corregidor. In the dance which follows, the Corregidor is identified, and the miller and his wife reconciled. When the Corregidor falls once more, confused and dazed, the people take hold of him and toss him on a blanket like a puppet.

These two ballets express complementary aspects of Falla’s genius. El amor brujo explores the dark forces which haunt humanity and the pervasive influence of the dead over the living. In contrast El sombrero de tres picos displays satirical and comedic aspects within a social setting where corrupt officialdom interacts with the spontaneous life of the people. Falla’s contribution to Iberian culture is well represented here, rooted in the colour and passion of Andalusia and achieving a unique synthesis of the finest elements of Spanish musical tradition.

The final piece, Danza 22, comes from Act II of Falla’s opera, La vida breve. The scene, set in a narrow street of Granada (where behind the railings of a patio a wedding party is in full swing), has opened with a flamenco song to the bride and bridegroom, Carmela and Paco. The orchestra then immediately launches into this brilliant Danza, one of the opera’s most dramatic moments, where the dancers are given ample opportunity to demonstrate their virtuosity. To the accompaniment of castanets, Falla deploys a powerfully evocative theme full of vitality and exuberance. Danza, so deeply characteristic of its composer, not only represents one of the most memorable moments of La vida breve but has also become one of Falla’s most popular orchestral concert items.

Graham Wade


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