About this Recording
8.572196 - ALBÉNIZ, I.: Piano Music, Vol. 3 (González) – 6 Danzas espanolas / 6 Pequenos valses / 6 Mazurkas de salon
English  Spanish 

Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909)
Piano Music • 3

 

Isaac Albéniz was born in Camprodón, in Catalonia, on 29 May 1860, the youngest of four siblings. His family moved to Barcelona when he was still an infant, and he soon began piano lessons with his sister Clementina, giving his first concert at the tender age of four and delighting the audience at the Teatro Romea. He then studied with Narcís Oliveres until he was six, when he went to Paris and studied with Antoine-François Marmontel. On his return to Spain he worked with Oliveres again until the family moved to Madrid, where he studied with Ajero, Mendizábal and Compta.

In 1870, still only ten years old, Albéniz left the family home and began to organize his own concert tours, which took him around his native Spain. In 1872 he travelled to South America, performing in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, returning to Spain the following year for another tour of the Iberian peninsula. At the age of fifteen he went back to the Americas, giving concerts in Puerto Rico, Havana, Santiago, Mexico City, New York and San Francisco. On his return to Europe he toured England and then travelled to Leipzig to study with Salomon Jadassohn and Carl Reinecke. In a letter to his sister he complained of being weary of his international travels—this at the age of fifteen.

Having returned to Madrid in 1877, Albéniz obtained the patronage of Count de Morphy, private secretary to King Alfonso XII, thereby funding further studies in Brussels with Gevaert and Brassin. After another trip to the United States in 1878, he won a first prize at the Brussels Conservatory in 1879, the jury members including Hans von Bülow and Anton Rubinstein. A year later, during a journey that took in Prague, Vienna and Budapest, Albéniz supposedly met Liszt, whom he greatly admired, and was accepted as one of his select group of pupils, although no documentation exists to verify his claim.

In 1881 he went back to Cuba, Mexico and Argentina, returning to Spain that May to tour Aragón, Navarre and the Basque Country. An encounter with guitarist “El Lucena” led to his discovery of the sounds of that particular instrument, and thereafter Albéniz frequently incorporated elements inspired by Andalusian guitar music into his piano works.

In 1886 he appeared at Madrid’s principal concert hall, the Salón Romero, and was acclaimed as “a giant with poetry in his fingers”. By now he was renowned throughout Spain. Another tour of Cuba followed, then in 1889, the publishing house Érard organised a series of piano recitals at the Universal Exposition in Paris. These showcased his use of guitar-like strumming, entirely new to keyboard music, and proved to be crucial in publicising his work. Dukas, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel and Chausson were among those who heard him play, and the Hispanic influence on French music flourished from that point onwards. A continuous string of successes across Europe made him a natural leader of the Spanish nationalist school, and he introduced Falla, Turina and many other Spanish composers to the musical circles of Paris. Albéniz gave his final public performance at a Libre Esthétique concert in Brussels. In March 1909, by which time he was already very ill, he moved to the French spa town of Cambo-les-Bains, dying there on 18 May the same year.

Isaac Albéniz’s huge contribution to Spanish musical nationalism reached its apogee with Iberia(subtitled Twelve New Impressions in Four Books, 1905–09), but before writing this masterpiece, he had already composed a significant quantity of piano music, much of it falling into the popular nineteenth-century genre of salon music: pieces designed to meet the demand for music to be played by the daughters of the aristocracy and upper middle classes, for whom playing the piano ranked alongside French and needlework as a central aspect of education.

A distinction must be drawn between this type of music, written for European high society, for whom salon music had become a principal pastime, and the kind of music conceived by composers as a vehicle for technical and formal innovation and to be performed by professional pianists whose concerts were equally in demand by that same society. These early works may appear of less value when compared with those that make up the great virtuosic piano repertoire, but they acquire a new and different significance when considered for what they are: a reflection of the society of the time, pieces listened to and performed by our forebears and which formed part of their day-to-day cultural life; enjoyable, well written pieces, whose beauty may be inconsequential but remains moving nonetheless. This is an attractive repertoire usually overshadowed by the masterpieces that define the development of piano technique.

The 6 Mazurkas de salón, Op. 66, were composed around 1885 and published by Antonio Romero the following year. Nos.1 and 2 are the same as the First and Second Mazurkas published in London by Stanley Lucas, Weber & Co. in 1890. Written for Albéniz’s teaching work with the daughters of the wealthy, they bear on their covers drawings of calling cards with the corners turned down and the name of their dedicatees. Chopin’s influence is evident throughout. Mazurka No. 1, Isabel, is dedicated to “the most excellent lady countess of Benhavis”, the Isabel of the title. It is marked Tiempo enérgico and is in A flat major. Mazurka No. 2, Casilda, dedicated to “the aristocratic and eminent artist Miss Casilda Alonso Martínez”, is marked Allegro and written in F minor. Mazurka No. 3, Aurora, is dedicated to “my distinguished friend Miss Aurora Benamejís” and marked Non troppo and elegante, both most suitable terms for salon music. Mazurka No. 4, Sofía, is the shortest of the set and the one which owes most to Chopin. It is dedicated to “my distinguished pupil Miss Sofía de Patilla”. Mazurka No. 5, Christa, was for “my adorable little friend Christa Morphy”, daughter of his patron and friend Count de Morphy. This is the longest of the six, marked Presto, and therefore not waltz-like in nature. Mazurka No. 6, María, in G major, for “my dear, good pupil Miss María de Vida”, has the greatest wealth of harmonies and is marked Tiempo giusto.

The 6 Pequeños valses (6 Little Waltzes), Op. 25, were written around 1880, when the composer was about twenty years old and at the height of his romantic phase, during which he produced quantities of études, pavanes, mazurkas, barcarolles and other salon pieces at five pesetas a page for Romero and even less for the Catalan publisher Pujol. As Albéniz admitted to M.C. de Castera, “it was not much, of course, but I did the work very quickly”. Again clearly influenced by Chopin, they all bear simply a tempo marking or a description of their character, and the dedication reads thus: “to Miss de Morphy, with the greatest respect”. Waltz No. 1, in D flat major, is marked Allegretto. Marcato il canto and Leggiero. Waltz No. 2, Melancólico, in E flat major, is the shortest in the series, its theme clearly redolent of Chopin. Waltz No. 3, Allegro ben ritmato, in A major, offers a clear contrast with the character of the previous piece. Waltz No. 4, Allegretto, in E flat major, is once again reminiscent of Chopin, or of Schubert, and is the longest of the six. Waltz No. 5, Con brio e ritmo is in F major, and it too is clearly influenced by Chopin. Waltz No. 6, Allegro molto is in A flat major.

The 6 Spanish Dances were written before 1887, again as salon music and for didactic purposes, Albéniz dedicating all except one to pupils of his. Here we find the first hints of the composer’s need to find his own, identifiably Spanish idiom, distancing himself from Chopin and Schumann, whose aesthetic influence had thus far been so significant. The dances are both Cuban and Spanish in feel (Cuba was still a Spanish colony at the time) and reflect the experiences the composer had gained during his time in the Caribbean. The emphasis here is on the rhythms, something that would be characteristic of his later production, featuring the tango or habanera—either alternating binary and ternary rhythms or combining them. Dance No. 1, in D major, the shortest, has no tempo marking, but is dedicated to “my dear pupil Raimunda de Llorens”. Dance No. 2, in B flat major and marked Allegretto is dedicated to “my dear friend and pupil Srta. Pilar de Lora”. Dance No. 3, in E flat major, Allegretto, is dedicated to “my dear pupil Miss Victoria de Patilla”, sister of Sofía de Patilla. Dance No. 4, in G major, is dedicated “with affection to the distinguished artist Gomar”. Antonio Gomar y Gomar (Benigánim, 26 March 1849—Madrid, 1911) is a little-known Valencian painter whose reputation is currently being reassessed. The contrasts, tonal scheme and greater use of development in this dance distinguish it from the preceding three. Dance No. 5, in A flat major, is dedicated to “my dear pupil Pepita Patilla”, sister of Sofía and Victoria. This is harmonically the most interesting of the set and, with its sense of a quest for a distinctively Spanish idiom, gives a glimpse of the future Albéniz. Dance No. 6, in D major, is dedicated to “my distinguished pupil Concha Grandera”; like the earlier pieces this is in 2/4, with a rhythmic schema similar to that of No. 5.


Antonio Martín Moreno
English translation: Susannah Howe


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