Manuel de Falla


Born: 1876   Died: 1946   Country: Spain   Period: 20th Century
Part Impressionist, and part neo-Classicist, Manuel de Falla is difficult to peg, but he is widely regarded as the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early twentieth century. His output is small but choice, and revolves largely around music for the stage. Falla's reputation is based primarily on two lavishly Iberian ballet scores: El amor brujo (Love, the Magician), from which is drawn the Ritual Fire Dance (a pops favorite, often heard Read more in piano or guitar transcriptions), and the splashy El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat). He also gained a permanent place in the concert repertory with his evocative piano concerto, Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

Born in 1876,Falla first took piano lessons from his mother in Cádiz, and later moved to Madrid to continue the piano and to study composition with Felipe Pedrell, the musical scholar who had earlier pointed Isaac Albéniz toward Spanish folk music as a source for his compositions. Pedrell interested Falla in Renaissance Spanish church music, folk music, and native opera. The latter two influences are strongly felt in La Vida breve (Life Is Short), an opera (a sort of Spanish Cavalleria rusticana) for which Falla won a prize in 1905, although the work was not premiered until 1913.

A second significant aesthetic influence resulted from Falla's 1907 move to Paris, where he met and fell under the Impressionist spell of Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, and Maurice Ravel. It was in Paris that he published his first piano pieces and songs. In 1914 Falla was back in Madrid, working on the application of a quasi-Impressionistic idiom to intensely Spanish subjects; El amor brujo drew on Andalusian folk music. Falla wrote another ballet in 1917, El Corregidor y la molinera (The Magistrate and the Miller Girl). Diaghilev persuaded him to expand the score for a ballet by Léonide Massine to be called El sombrero de tres picos, and excerpts from the full score have become a staple of the concert repertory. In between the two ballets came Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a suite of three richly scored impressions for piano and orchestra, again evoking Andalusia.

In the 1920s, Falla altered his stylistic direction, coming under the influence of Stravinsky's Neo-Classicism. Works from this period include the puppet opera El retablo de Maese Pedro (The Altarpiece of Maese Pedro), based on an episode from Don Quixtote, and a harpsichord concerto, with the folk inspiration now Castilian rather than Andalusian. After 1926 he essentially retired, living first in Mallorca and, from 1939, in Argentina. He was essentially apolitical, but the rise of fascism in Spain contributed to his decision to remain in Latin America after traveling there for a conducting engagement. He spent his final years in the Argentine desert, at work on a giant cantata, Atlántida, which remained unfinished at his death in 1946. Read less
Ravel: Piano Concertos;  Falla: Nights / Thiollier, Wit
Release Date: 12/13/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550753   Number of Discs: 1
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Falla: El Amor Brujo, El Retablo De Maese Pedro
Release Date: 04/22/1997   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8553499   Number of Discs: 1
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Nuit Exotique / Ragin, De Rohan Silva
Release Date: 02/15/1999   Label: Centaur Records  
Catalog: 2392   Number of Discs: 1
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Laureate Series, Guitar - Denis Azabagic
Release Date: 10/17/2000   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8554555   Number of Discs: 1
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Duende - Soler, Rodrigo, Infante,  Etc / Martin, Meliton
Release Date: 07/25/2000   Label: Centaur Records  
Catalog: 2460   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Canciones populares españolas (7): no 4, Jota


About This Work
Manuel de Falla had made some studies into the natural overtone series produced by musical vibrations, particularly a treatise by Louis Lucas called L'Acoustique Nouvelle (New Acoustics). Lucas had argued that the notes suitable for polyphonic Read more support of a melody are those reflected in the natural overtone series of the sounding note or the note taken as the fundamental tonic. Falla had found that the typical seven-note major or minor scales and the standard harmonies and progressions based on them somehow seemed false when used to set much folk music, particularly those using other kinds of scales or modes. He developed his own ideas of harmony based on Lucas and applied them to a Greek folk song. He liked the results so much he decided to try the same approach to Spanish folk songs or settings of Spanish folk poetry. The settings in Siete Canciones Españolas use folk and original melodies, and sometimes even adaptations of the previously published accompaniments to these melodies.

The first song is a famous one from Andalusia called "The Moorish Cloth" (El Paño Moruno), and has the florid vocal line and strumming, guitar-like accompaniment that has become a feature of Spanish music. Falla used this theme also in his ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. The accompaniment of the next one ("Seguidilla Murciana" or "Seguidilla," a dance from Murcia) suggests guitar and drum. Third is a lament called "Asturiana," named after the region of northern Spain where it was discovered and published by José Hurtado and B. Fernández. Falla's harmonic innovations include using the fourth degree of the scale as pedal point, teasing the ear into wondering whether that note might be the true center of the song. The ensuing "Jota" is another dance-song, this time from Aragon, followed by "Nana," a lullaby from Andalusia that appears to have been brought to Spain by gypsies from India. Falla told a friend he could remember his mother singing it to him "before he was old enough to think." Number six, simply titled "Canción" (Popular song) is just what its title says, a folk song virtually unchanged by Falla. The finale, called "Polo," is a brilliant Gypsy song, again with guitar-like accompaniment.

The soprano Luisa Vela sang the first public performance of the songs on January 14, 1915, with the composer accompanying. They repeated the cycle to great acclaim during an intermission of the successful first production of La Vida Breve. It was immediately chosen by the National Music Society of Madrid for the inaugural concert in its new series, February 8, 1915. Subsequently, Falla's friend and pupil the composer Ernesto Halffter made a highly effective orchestral arrangement of the accompaniment and it has been widely transcribed as an instrumental work for various combinations under the title Suite populaire espagnole.

-- Joseph Stevenson, All Music Guide Read less

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