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8.554366 - FALLA: Popular Spanish Suite / Piano Pieces / Harpsichord Concerto
Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla was born in Cádiz on 23rd November 1876, and died in Alta Gracia, Argentina on 14th November 1946. His early musical training in Cádiz was private and somewhat haphazard, and was concluded by two years of intensive study at the Real Conservatorio in Madrid in 1896-8; but like many Spanish composers of his generation he received his advanced musical education in Paris, where he lived from 1907 until 1914 and where he came to know Dukas (who described him affectionately as 'the little black Spaniard'), Debussy and Ravel. Most of the works by which his name is remembered were composed during the earlier part of his career: his opera La vida breve in 1904-5, his ballets El amor brujo and El sombrero de tres picos in 1914-16 and 1916-19, respectively, and his 'symphonic impressions' for piano and orchestra, Noches en Ios jardines de España in 1911-15. In 1920 he left Madrid and settled (with his faithful sister Maria del Carmen as housekeeper and amanuensis) in Granada, where, among other things, he organised a festival of cante jondo, the traditional song of Andalucía, and founded a chamber orchestra which became known as the 'Orquesta Bética da Cámera' and whose conductor was his disciple, Ernesto Halffter. Falla's compositions of the 1920s and 1930s, though important, are conceived on a small scale, with the exception of the huge 'scenic cantata' Atlántida, which he began in December 1928 but never finished (it was completed after his death by Halffter). In October 1939 Falla and his sister sailed from Barcelona to Buenos Aires, and he was to spend the remaining six years of his life in Argentina, in poor health and comparative obscurity. His embalmed body was taken by sea to his birthplace, Cádiz, and was buried in the crypt of the cathedral.
The Siete canciones populares españolas owe their inception to a request from a Spanish singer in the cast of La vida breve when it was produced in Paris in 1914, who wanted something Spanish for a projected recital. The songs were ready by the time Falla left Paris for Madrid in September that year and they were performed for the first time on 14th January 1915 at the Ateneo in Madrid by Luisa Vela and the composer. The transcription of six of them (omitting Seguidilla murciana) was made, as Suite populaire espagnole, by the Polish violinist Pawel Kochaiski. El paño moruno ('The Moorish cloth') comes from Murcia; Nana, a gentle lullaby, and the fiery Polo from Andalucía; the sad Asturiana from The Asturias (modem Oviedo); and the dashing Jota from Aragón; the origin of Canción, a bitter-sweet love-song, is uncertain. All are, in the words of Ronald Crichton, 'intensely imaginative re creations' by Falla.
El sombrero de tres picos, a short novel by Pedro de Alarcón (1833-91) about a magistrate (corregidor), whose symbol of office is a three-cornered hat, a tricorne, who tries to seduce a miller's wife (molinera), only to become the laughing-stock of the town, had been set as an opera (Der Corregidor) by Hugo Wolf in 1895. Falla had been interested in making a musical setting as early as 1904, but because Alarcón's heirs refused their permission had set La vida breve instead. In 1916 the impresario Sergey Dyagilev was in Spain with part of his Ballets Russes and invited Falla to collaborate with them. Dyagilev suggested adapting Nocbes, but Falla demurred and proposed Sombrero. Dyagilev agreed to the piece being tried out as a mime-play by Falla's dramatist friend Gregorio Martínez Sierra, with accompaniment by Falla for small ensemble. The result was a farsa mimica in two scenes, entitled El corregidor y la molinera, which was produced on 7th April 1917 at the Teatro Eslava in Madrid under Joaquín Turina. After Dyagilev had suggested a few modifications Falla expanded it into a full-scale ballet, re-scored it for full orchestra and restored Alarcón's own title. In this form it was staged for the first time, as The Three-Cornered Hat, on 22nd July 1919 in the aptly-named Alhambra Theatre in London, by the Ballets Russes under Ernest Ansermet, with choreography by Léonide Massine (who also played the miller) and sets and costumes by Picasso. The ballet was produced at the Opéra in Paris on 23rd January 1920, as Le Tricorne. The formal, old-fashioned Dance of the Corregidor, played here in a transcription for harp by David Watkins, comes from the second scene.
El amor brujo ('Love the Magician') was composed between November 1914 and April 1915, at the instigation of the gypsy singer and dancer Pastora Imperio, who asked Falla and Sierra for 'a dance and a song'. The original version, scored for mezzo-soprano and small instrumental ensemble, was given for the first time on 15th April 1915 by Imperio and her company under Moreno Ballesteros, at the Teatro Lara in Madrid, but it was not a success. The Press actually criticised the score for its lack of Spanish character; an astonishing assertion when one considers that, although no folk tunes as such are used in it, the music was radically influenced by the Andalusian soleares, seguiiriyas, polos and martinetes which Rosario la Mejorana, Pastora's mother, had sung to Falla. Other performances followed in Barcelona, but in 1916 Falla re-scored it for a normal theatre orchestra (but with an important piano part), in which form it received successful concert performances (with and without the songs) in Madrid. This revised version was staged for the first time on 22nd May 1925, when the ballet was produced at the Trianon-Lyrique Theatre in Paris, with the composer conducting Spectacles Bériza. The scene is a gypsy camp Candelas is in love with Carmelo, but is haunted by the ghost of her dead lover, a dissolute but fascinating gypsy whose memory threatens her hopes of finding happiness with Carmelo. Pantomima portrays a dance by Candelas' friend Lucia, in an attempt to distract the ghost's attention from Candelas so that she and Candelo can embrace and break the spell. The dance itself is a seductive Cádiz tango in 7/8, begun, in the ballet, by the orchestra's principal cello; it is prefaced by a dramatic reference to the ghost's theme and followed by a coda which suggests that the spell is beginning to weaken. Canción is the 'Song of love's sorrow', in which Candelas expresses her frustration in cante jondo style. Both excerpts are played here in transcriptions for cello and piano by Charles Schiff.
When Falla completed his studies at the Conservatorio in Madrid he was a fully fledged virtuoso pianist, but his major compositions for the instrument, Noches and the Fantasía baetica, came some twenty years later. Among his earliest piano works are unpretentious salon pieces such as the Mazurka, the Serenata and the Canción, which were written in 1899-1900 and published a year or two later.
Falla met the French writer Georges Jean-Aubry in Paris in 1910, and the association continued after Jean-Aubry moved to London in 1915 and when he edited The Chesterian (the house magazine of Falla's English publishers) from 1919 to 1930. His setting of Jean-Aubry's elegant conceit, addressed to the tearful Psyche, abandoned by Cupid, dates from 1924 and was first performed in December that year in Barcelona, by Conchita Badía. Falla imagined, as a setting for psyché, a court concert in the tower chamber in the Alhambra known as the Tocador de la Reina (the Queen's Boudoir), during the visit to Granada in 1730 of Philip V of Spain with his Qneen, Elisabeth Farnese. The addition of flute and harp to the accompanying string trio adds to the French flavonr of the piece, but, as the admirable Crichton observed, 'the slow saraband rhythm brings a hint of Spanish ceremonial'.
Debussy, whose physical experience of Spain was limited to a single day in San Sebastián, just over the French border, but whose feeling for the country was so intuitive that Falla hailed Ibéria and La soirée dans Grenade as an example of all that Debussy was able to teach the composers of Spain about a more civilised use of their own folk-music, died in Paris on 25th March 1918, aged fifty-five. A special issue of La Revue Musicale, issued in December 1920, was devoted to him. Falla contributed to it an article on 'Debussy and Spain' as well as a piece for its musical supplement, 'Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy', which also included contributions from Bartók, Dukas, Goossens, Malipiero, Ravel, Roussel, Satie, Schmitt and Stravinsky. Bearing in mind a request from the Catalan guitarist Miguel Llobet for a work for his instrument, Falla wrote his Homenaje 'Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy' for guitar, inscribing it 'Granada viii 1920'. He sent the music to Llobet, who must have performed it in Barcelona that autumn. The official première, however, was given on the 24th January 1921 at the Salle des Agricultures in Paris, by Marie-Louise Casadesus on the 'harp-lute'. In Falla's grave and dignified elegy there are allusions to Ibéria and, shortly before the end, quotations from La soirée dans Grenade; in September 1920 he made a version for piano, and later orchestrated it as the second movement of the suite Homenajes (1920-38), which also paid tribute to Enrique Arbós, Dukas and Felipe Pedrell.
In 1927 a group of young Spanish poets decided to celebrate the tercentenary of the death of the great poet Luis de Góngora, and they persuaded Falla (who initially made no secret of the fact that he found Góngora's style frigid and precious) to set some of his verse to music. The result was Soneto a Córdoba, a declamatory setting for soprano and harp (or piano), of a poem in praise of that great city, which was given its first performance on 14th May at the Salle Pleyel in Paris by Madeleine Greslé and Mme Wurmser-Delcourt. Falla's friend and English biographer J.B. Trend said that the Soneto 'should be declaimed through a brazen trumpet by a colossal marble angel on the façade of a baroque cathedral' and that Falla's setting 'could only be completely convincing if it were sung by someone who could imagine herself to have, for a moment, the position and attributes of a baroque angel'.
Falla included an important harpsichord part in his one-act puppet opera El retablo de Maese Pedro (1919-22), and in 1923 began work on a miniature concerto for the instrument, though this was not completed until 1926. It was dedicated to Wanda
Landowska, who gave the first performance (with Falla himself conducting) on 5th November 1926 at the Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona. In a preface in the score the composer emphasised that the harpsichord should be as sonorous as possible (he obviously conceived the work in terms of the big Pleyel instruments favoured by Landowska), and that for most of the time it should be played with all the stops 'on'; he also stressed the fact that the string parts were for solo players, and that on no account should they be doubled The obvious model, in the two brisk outer movements, was Domenico Scarlatti, who spent the last thirty years or so of his life in Spain, and whose harpsichord sonatas bear so many signs of the influence of Spanish music. The first movement also quotes (about two-thirds of the way through, on violin and cello in octaves) the tune of a villancico, 'De los álamos vengo, madre', by the sixteenth-century composer Juan Vasquez, and is notable for some polytonal features; the jocular, incisive finale has the rhythmic character of a jota. They are separated by an impressive and colourful Lento, partly rhapsodical and partly processional, in which Falla takes full advantage of the harpsichord's aptitude for brilliant arpeggiated flourishes and massive spread chords.
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