Musical Night Gardener of Spain

The Spaniard Who Brought The Great Nationalist Movement for España in Música Clásica to the World

Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.
                                                                             Pablo Casals

There was music blaring in the Falla's casa, by the Southwestern port-side city in Andalusian Spain, (homeland of the Flamenco), on that 23rd day of November, 1876.  They were a prominent Cadiz music-loving family; however, the sounds did not come from piano, violin, nor trumpet, but the cries of a new born son. Though technically his name would be: Manuel Maria de los Dolores Clemente Ramon del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus de Falla y Matheu, his nick would simply be, for us and for him, thankfully, Manuel. (I suppose there could have been a song named "A Boy named Maria," instead of Johnny Cash's hilarious "A Boy Named Sue.") 

A first inspirational event happened to the ten year old Manuel when went with his family to the festival in Seville. A fellow Spaniard, Isaac Albéniz, was part of the nationalist musical movement, whereby sometimes guitars and castanets were added to the orchestra in rebellion against the Italian or Germanic dominance. Since Albéniz was similarly moved by their native pomp and drama, he musically honored this in his Fête-Dieu à Seville. The cultural ceremony inspired him in pride of country, that never left him.  But, the impetus to drive him to becoming a musician was hearing Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies in concert.  He admitted in later comments that this experience was his main influence for pursuing composing as a career; not the piano teacher, Elois Galluzo, the mentor in these early years.  His mother was his first main piano teacher, and as a young child played with her as they performed a four-hand arrangement of Franz Josef Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ.  (Though this was done for Cadiz's San Francisco church, it was written for another church in Cadiz.)

Besides studying piano, he was tutored by Alejandro Odero and Enrique Broca for music theory and harmony.  He also had recitals at the house of an imortant patron for the arts, Don Salvador Viniegra.  There, he tried out his fledgling compositions that were sadly lost to us in a fire.  He was enthused and talented, and that was the main reason there would be no turning back.

Somewhere in the late 1890's everyone knew it was time for the family to move to Madrid in order for the prodigy to study at the Conservatory. He excelled to the head of the class under pianist José Trago, who encouraged him to become a concert pianist virtuoso; and it was no fluke as he won two prizes there. And later in 1905, he was awarded an esteemed major prize, El Premio Ortis y Cusso. Fortunately he was taking composition from Felipe Pedrell. This 60 year old teacher's claim to fame was not his many forgotten pieces; but the Spanish composers he produced. These included besides Falla, the above mentioned, Issac Albéniz, (who apropos did Iberia, 1909); and Enrique Granados (famous for a piano piece dedicated to the painter, Francisco GoyaGoyescas, 1911). Importantly, however, they were additionally and significantly Spanish folk-oriented. Not only did Pedrell influence Manuel with his love of Spanish culture and his country, but he discerned Falla's talent and with his encouragement made the young musician decide to become a composer, and just as important, to be dedicated to producing only Spanish music.  According to Classical Notes writer, Peter Gutmann, who gives credit to Suzanne Desmarquez's Falla biography, explains:

The origins of this style were Arab, with intense and irregular rhythms, sharp attacks, rough endings, and wide vibrato, manifested through guitar accompaniment, castanetszapateado (foot stomping and tapping), palmar (hand clapping), rapid triple meters, melismatic beginnings and ends of long held notes and harmonies based on open guitar chords.

Madrid was now becoming too parochial for his development; his sites were set on Paris. He began to write, not just for his love of it, but, in hopes to sell enough to pay his way to the City of Lights. But writing zarzuelas, were great practice,  those popular operettas since their 16th Royal Court beginnings: music with spoken words, (and now basically their 'pop music'); but they were not paying the bills. Falla had sometimes criticized too much dependence on this genre, yet he noted on this kind of music:

Two zarzuelas by Barbieri have a special merit: Pan y toros and El barberillo de Lavapiés, for they evoke the rhythmic and melodic characters of Spanish song and dance at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. These works exerted, beyond any doubt, a great influence on Spanish composers, giving our music, from the 1850's to the works of Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados, features that distinguish it from all the others.
He had more success at teaching and playing the chamber-music circuit. Luckily for us, he made time to write some less trifling works, for example he set music to his friend Carlos Fernadez Shaw's story, their one act opera, titled ironically, La Vida Breve (The Short Life). The Madrid Academy of Fine Arts had a national opera competition, and this entry (the only opera he would write) won the first prize in 1905. (Nevertheless, it would be eight years before it would be premiered, at the Casino in Nice.)  He was frustrated trying to please the very ones he wanted to share his musical dream.  He had even more impetus to go where his vision was shared, Paris.

Finally, in 1907 he scraped up enough to leave for Paris; for what he thought was going to be a week, reality was, it would be a Daniel (the prophet) week...that of seven years. He was awed by the city, and the city had been astonished by Claude Debussy. Half a decade ago, Debussy unleashed his impressionist Pelléas et Mélisande to a mixed reaction. Debussy made a point that hit home with Falla; that one does not have to duplicate, or specifically for this Spanish composer, create "exactly" Andulusian music. Or, to put it another way follow the "letter" of the Spanish music, but rather the "spirit" of it, -- as they knew in his language, la evocación. Falla would have been influenced additionally, following the rest of Paris, with Gustave Charpentier's Louise, performed first at the Opéra Comique, Paris on February 2, 1900. The romantic musical, as Charpentier coined it, is about a girl leaving home with her artist boyfriend to live in the city; maybe reflecting some up and coming attitudes. Paris was the happening place for Falla to join during this epoque.

In 1905, a couple of years earlier, another almost coincidental event occurred adding to the multiple influences for Falla: Gabriel Fauré was named director of the Paris Conservatory. Fauré's 1870 piano duet, the Dolly Suite is still admired; and he added some new twists to harmony and melody that helped the fruits of the next century's music. Living in Paris, and a musical contemporary of Debussy as well as Georges Bizet, was composer and critic Paul Dukas. He was another pioneer with his May 1897 premiere of the orchestral scherzoL'Apprenti Sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice), in Paris. In that same year 1907 that Falla arrived, there was the Paris premiere of an impressionist opera, by Dukas, Ariane et Barbe-Bleue:  Just more elements to imprint on the newcomer's persona.

The young man was distracted, busy checking out the Paris scene, which included such emerging composers as Florent Schmitt, Albert Roussel -- and even more monumental, the controversal Maurice Ravel.  He also was empoverished, skipping meals.  He could only find time by that second year to write four pieces for the piano, Pièces Espangnoles.  Notice the title is in French, where he was at this moment, but it is titled, Four Spanish Pieces, where his heart would always be.  The next year 1909, he only wrote a couple of works, one was music set to Théophile Gautier's poems, Trois Mélodies, and started Los Noches en los Jardines de España, (Nights in the Gardens of Spain).  It was a very good thing he had a network of friends, because they did what they could to help his destitution; (he did not starve, obviously). To understand the drama at that time for Falla, we can look at what pianist Ricardo Viñes did for him by arranging a position to teach piano for a well-to-do student. This should be the breakthrough for Falla, but the reality is in the details: He had to bring his dirty laundry with him, because the laundress was out, so when he arrived at the front door of the house carrying his soiled bundle, the servant thought he was tradesman, and sent him to the back with a scolding, "Va t'en!". The backdoor was not any better, he got a tongue lashing there too, by the mistress of the house, and the humiliated Falla gave up on this employment opportunity.  He was probably muttering, "¡Ay, caramba!"  while leaving hastily in case he might be recognized. 

A little illumination appeared at the top of the abyss in 1908, when pianist friend Viñes introduced Pièces Espangnoles by playing them at the Parisian Société Nationale.  In 1911 Falla would be able to play them himself in London.  That one opera, La Vida Breve, was finally given its glory at the Opéra Comique a few months later in 1913 after it's initial showing and success in Nice.

1914, for Europe, was the outbreak of World War I, and he was one of almost a million to leave Paris, now obviously not the place to be; but of course for him, it would not be Bordeaux, or other outlying areas, but a ticket back to Spain. After wandering around Andulusia, a natural way to find a cure for homesickness, he settled in Madrid.  Being back in his beloved country re-invigorated him;  In the middle of that year that he arrived back home, he put out his 7 canciones populares españolas, (7 popular spanish songs).  In 1915 he finally finished his Los Noches en los Jardines de España, (Nights in the Gardens of Spain, performed in 1916).  This work shows how he synthesized, and incorporated his past and present influences with his own creative individuality.

1915 was also when gypsy ballerina diva Pastora Imperio commissioned Falla for a song with dance, that was to be ballet music set to a handed down story she had heard from her mother.  Text was by Gregorio Martinez (and wife Maria) Sierra.  It was derived from folklore about a gypsy, Candelas, bothered by an apparition of her old runaround boyfriend.  Her new beau, Carmelo, turns the ghost onto a new beautiful gypsy woman, Lucia.  Now, there could be fandango and fandanguillo utilized.  The early folksier version shown in Madrid, 1915, starring Imperio, was not exactly the most raved about, but Manuel went back to his musical drawing board and focused less on the words, and more on absract orchestral arrangements.  This resulted in the heralded 13 uninterrupted scenes, and the 1916 orchestral presentation of, El Amor Brujo.  The instruments, using oboe and flute - wax and wane, properly, dramatically sequing into the vocal parts, which use Andulusian folk jundo, and the gutteral gypsy canto hondo (deep song).  He used his own unique musical devices for creating mood and setting in it.  There was pathos and lust, and the Flamenco mixed with Impressionism and Neoclassicism, that Falla would be noted for, made it powerful.  It featured songs such as, "The Apparition," "Dance of Terror," "Ritual Fire Dance," "In the Cave,"  "The Magic Circle" and, "Pantomime." And:

Dance of the Game of Love 

 You are that wicked gypsy that a gypsy loved.
 The love she gave you, you did not deserve.
 Who could say you would betray her for another?

 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 drown.

 The finale almost makes audiences want more, as the sun comes up on a happy ending to a night full of occultic love conflict.  Some of the instrumental pieces in excerpts and piano arrangements are favorites today.  These two works after his return put him at the apex for Spanish musical artisans to follow.

In 1919, another Falla produced another landmark oeuvre, El sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) for the Ballets Russes.  A story of the dirty old man Governor as committing sexual harrassment on the Miller's wife.  This show featured the superstars of the day, first there was Serge Diaghilev, the director who commissioned it, (famous for doing Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird in 1910).  Then it was choreographed by one who would be the world's greatest choreographer, Leonide Massine, (until George Balanchine came 20 years later).  Finally, Pablo Picasso would do the set design.  Despite all this talent, its show in London that year did not fare that well.  However, this Manuel de Falla piece is noteworthily mentioned on their resumés.

In 1922, the same year Falla moved to Granada, he created a cute Don Quixote piece, El Retablo de Maese Pedro, (Peter's Master Puppet), played a bit later in Paris at Princesse de Polignac's salon.  In 1925 he composed a wonderful Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, and Cello for harpsichordist Wanda Landowska for performance in Barcelona the next year.  

He was a devout Roman Catholic man, but in a bizarre kind of way, (moreso in his later years), he was a superstitious one and he was a hypochondriac. He felt that not only drafts would make him sick, but likewise the change of seasons were unhealthy.  He complained that he would be negatively affected by the full moon;  During those lunar and equnoctial events, he would become an absolute recluse.

He was settled in now, living in his home with the wonderful reddish 14th Century Alhambra Palace overlooking his modest house in 1922.  He would remain here 17 years until he realized that he was wrong about the Generalisimo Francisco Franco (Bahamonde).  Starting with the National Bloc, and later the National Movement, Fallo thought this would keep the strong religious Roman Catholic values for the country, (Franco's mother was a strong Catholic).  For a while, following the phalanges was for faithful Falla the worst of two evils, the other being godless leftists.  As the climate became more bloody, with executions for any opposing voices, Falla's standing might be too much like the other artists and intellectuals on the firing line, with hundreds of thousands killed in the Nuevo Estado.

In 1939, although he was appointed in 1938 by the Franco government to be President of the Institute of Spain, he left the country for South America.  In this other Latino speaking land, he performed a few concerts here and there;  However, as the most melancholy realization of all: he knew he was too frail to ever return back home in Europe.  Finally he settled in Cordoba's suburb of Alta Garcia in Argentina.  For the last part of his life, he was working on what he would have wanted to be considered his masterpiece, La Atlantida, It was an orchestral and choral with voices production based on the poems by Catalonian Jacinto Verdaguer; it was never finished.  He died on November 14th, (the year this author was born), in 1946.

He only wrote 15 major works, because he would not publish just anything for the sake of it.  He was meticulous.  Sadly, he only wrote one piece for that most Spanish of instruments, the guitar (Homenaje pour 'Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy,' for guitar).

Falla said of his own interpretations:

The essentials are in the people. I do not like taking actual folk material; but you must go natural, living sources, study the sounds the rhythms, use their essence, not just their externals. You must go really deep, so as not to make any sort of caricature. In Spain every region has its own essential music. The gypsies have theirs in some Hindu roots.

Concerning critics of Falla (and his other country's composers), author James Michener explained in an interview:

When you demand that Falla and Albéniz take Spanish themes and build from them what Brahms and Dvorák built from theirs, you're out of your mind. Germany and Austria of that day had orchestras and opera companies and string ensembles that needed the music these men were writing. Spain did not. One small orchestra here, another there, a visiting opera company from Milan, and an audience who only wanted to hear Carmen and La Bohème. The Spanish audience still doesn't want a symphony or an opera featuring a large ensemble and a complicated structure. It wants a short, individualized work and that's what the Spanish composer learned to supply. Zarzuela, not opera. Because symphonies and operas are not within our pattern. Besides, the material that Pedrell resurrected for these men was ideally suited to individual types of presentation. In criticizing Falla and Albéniz for not having produced in the grand manner, you are criticizing not the composer but the Spanish people, and you are betraying your own lack of understanding.


Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.                                                                             -- Pablo Casals 


Stage Works

    Operas and Other Staged Vocal Works
          - El Retablo de Maese Pedro  (Master Peter's Puppet Show --{opera}), G.65
           - Atlántida, scenic cantata, G.102 (unfinished, completed by Halffter)
           - La Vida Breve (opera), G.35/39
          - El Amor Brujo, (Love, the Magician) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, G.68 (revised version)
          - El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The 3-Cornered Hat), G.53
Orchestral Works

   - El Sombrero de Tres Picos, Suite No.1, for orchestra (scenes & dances Pt 1), G.58     - El Sombrero de Tres Picos, Suite No.2 (scenes and dances from Part 2), G.59

    - Homenajes (Homages)
   - Noches en los Jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), for piano and orchestra, G.49

Piano Works

    - Allegro de Concierto, G.29
    - Canción, G.14
    - El Sombrero de Tres Picos, suite from the ballet for piano
    - Fantasía Baetica, G.55 (orchestrated by Halffter)
    - Mazurka in C-, G.11
    - Nocturno, G.3
    - 3 Obras Desconocidas, G.14, G.21, G.62
    - Pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas, G.83 (orchestrated in 'Homenajes')
    - Serenata Andaluza, G.13 (transcribed by Velasco for guitar)
    - Serenata, G.22
    - 4 Spanish Pieces, G.37
    - Vals capricho, G.15
Chamber Works

    - Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, and Cello, G.71
    - El Amor Brujo, (chamber version) for string quintet and piano, G.48
    - Homenaje pour 'Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy,' for guitar, G.56
    - Pantomime (after Granados), for violin and piano
    - Suite populaire espagnole (6 songs arr. for cello and piano, from '7          Canciones     populares españolas)
    - Suite populaire espagnole (6 songs arr. for violin and piano, from '7 Canciones populares españolas')
    -Suite Populaire Espagnole, for violin and piano (arr. from "Popular Spanish Songs" by Kochanski)
Vocal Works

     Song,  Songs and Solo Vocal Works
          - El pan de ronda, G.47 (song)
          - I Hate You Then I Love You (song)
          - Oracion de las madres, G.42 (song)
          - Preludios, G.16 (song)
          - Psyché, for mezzo-soprano, flute, harp, and string trio, G. 67
          - Rima: Dios Mio, que Solos se Quedan los Muertos!, G.20 (song)
          - Rima: Olas Gigantes, G. 19 (song)
          - Tus Ojillos Negros, G.28 (song)

Song Cycles

          - 7 Cantares de Nochebuena, G.34 (song cycle; doubtful)
          - 7 Popular Spanish Songs, G.40 (song cycle)

Well the night that I got into town, 
Was the night the rain froze on the ground. 
Down the street I heard such a sorrowful tune, 
Comin' From the place they call the Spanish Moon. 

Well I stepped inside, and stood by the door, 
While a dark girl sang, and played the guitar
There was hookers, and hustlers, filled up the room; 
I heard about this place they call the Spanish Moon. 

One false step, you get done in. 
It's a cold situation, 
Don't care who, you could all face ruin, 
You could lose it all down at the Spanish Moon. 

(There was) whiskey, and bad cocaine: 
Poison get you just the same; 
And if that -- that don't -- kill you soon: 
The women will down at the Spanish Moon. 

Well I pawned my watch, and I sold my ring, 
Just to hear that girl singing,  (ooh - who). 
I don't care who, you could all face ruin, 
You can lose it all down at the Spanish Moon. 

Whiskey, and bad cocaine, 
Poison get you just the same; 
And If that -- That don't -- kill You soon, 
The women will down at the Spanish Moon!

                                  "Spanish Moon"       -- Lowell George (Little Feat)


Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music, Cross, Milton; Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1953.
The Concert Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Symphonic Music, Bagar, Robert; Biancolli, Louis, Wittlesey House, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1947.

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