The music of Manuel de Falla is suffused
with Spanish character. Its rhythms are those of flamenco and other Spanish folk dances, its colors and textures a reflection
of the vibrant light and landscapes of the Iberian peninsula. And in a way that is difficult to define, this music mirrors
something of the soul of Spain. Perhaps it is the paradoxical blending of bright energy and underlying melancholy, sensuousness
and religious fervor. Whatever its source, Falla's music speaks with an unmistakable Spanish accent. Its strong national
and individual qualities made Falla the foremost Spanish composer of the twentieth century and a leading musical figure of
the early modern era.
Hello, this is Gerard Schwarz, and on this edition
of Musically Speaking we'll journey to Spain and Paris to meet the fascinating Manuel de Falla. We'll examine the
sources of his work in Spanish folk music and his relations with the French modernist school centered around Debussy, Ravel
and Stravinsky. Not least, we'll take a detailed look at two of Falla's outstanding compositions, the impressionistic
Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the brilliantly orchestrated ballet The Three-Cornered Hat.
Falla came of age during a resurgence of Spanish concert music following a long period
of dormancy. For centuries, Spain had been regarded as something of a musical backwater in Europe. Although Spanish composers
had made important contributions to Renaissance-era vocal polyphony during the sixteenth century, the subsequent decline of
Spain's empire and wealth was matched by a tapering off of original composition. Physically isolated from the rest of
Europe by water and the high peaks of the Pyranees, Spain took little part in the great musical advances of the Baroque, Classical
and early Romantic periods. But geographic isolation was not the only factor that placed Spain outside the mainstream of European
music. Culturally, also, the Iberian peninsula has long been distinct from the rest of the continent. Much of the country
had been overrun by Moorish invaders from North Africa in the eighth century A. D., and Moorish art, architecture and thought
left their impression on Spanish life long after the country reverted to Christian rule in the thirteenth century.
As a result both its geographic and cultural separation, its increasing poverty and a
feudal social order that lasted into the nineteenth century, Spanish music languished. Indeed, Spain's composers had almost
no impact on the musical life of Europe from the end of the Renaissance through the middle of the nineteenth century. But
toward the end of the Romantic era things began to change. This was a time of burgeoning nationalism throughout Europe, and
of nationalist music in the countries on the continent's perimeter. In Bohemia, Smetana and Dvorak were using the melodic
inflections of Czech folk music in operas and orchestral scores. In Russia, a school of nationalist composers centered around
Rimsky-Korsakov and Mily Balakirev sought to utilize the character of Russian legends and folk song to create an art distinct
from that of Western music.
In Spanish music, the nationalist impulse
arose slightly later. But arise it did. Ironically, the first composers to mine the rich vein of Spanish folk music were foreigners.
In his opera Carmen, Georges Bizet incorporate the rhythms of a traditional Spanish dance, the habaZera, in one of
the work's most famous numbers. Other composers - Liszt in his Spanish Rhapsody, Rimsky-Korsakov in his Capriccio
espagnol and Eduard Lalo in his Symphonie espagnole - also evoked the characteristic sounds of indigenous Spanish
music. But these works, and others like them, were largely in the nature of musical souvenirs, pieces imbued with exotic character
brought back by travelers from their journeys. An authentic school of Spanish nationalist composers did not emerge until nearly
the end of the nineteenth century. It might not have done so at all were it not for the vision and diligence of one Felipe
Active as a composer and critic, Pedrell made his most important
contribution in the field of musicology. There his passionate devotion to Spain's neglected musical heritage prompted
remarkable work. Pedrell excavated the treasures of the Spanish Renaissance, especially the masses and other compositions
of the great composer Tomás Luis Victoria. Transcribing old manuscripts and sometimes reconstructing scores from sets
of choir parts, Pedrell brought to light many forgotten works written in Spain during the glory days of vocal polyphony. Perhaps
more importantly, he lavished equal dedication on the ostensibly more humble area of folk music. Just as Bartok would later
do in Hungary and the Balkan countries, Pedrell collected, transcribed and published hundreds of folk songs and dances. And
he wrote insightful appreciations of the qualities in them that he found beautiful.
Pedrell performed one other very useful and important function to Spanish music. He became the teacher of a group
of younger Spanish musicians who formed a school of nationalist composers comparable to those in Russian and Bohemia. To his
disciples, Pedrell imparted his conviction that Spain's own musical traditions, rather than the cosmopolitan idiom of
the major European nations, was the proper soil for nourishing Spanish art music. The first of Pedrell's students to achieve
prominence was the pianist-composer Isaac Albeniz. He first utilized a specifically Spanish idiom in his Suite espaZola
for piano, completed in 1886. Its rhythms and melodic inflections convey a strong nationalist character.
Albeniz incorporated the inflections of Spanish folk music into a Romantic style derived from Franz
Liszt. Another important student of Pedrell's, Enrique Granados also composed in an essentially Romantic style. But the
nuances of Spanish folk music these composers appropriated proved equally suited to the rapidly evolving musical language
of the early twentieth century. And this is where Falla comes in.
de Falla was born in Cádiz, a port city on Spain's Spanish coast. Manuel was a His father was a businessman with
no musical training. His mother, however, was a fine pianist, and it was from her that Falla received his earliest instruction.
Falla showed a strong aptitude for playing the piano and for music in general. Soon he had graduated from his mother's
tutelage to lessons from an experienced local teacher. By the time he was ten he had begun studying harmony and counterpoint,
and he soon developed a great enthusiasm for opera. In all other respects, though, Falla seems to have led a typical childhood.
"He was a normal boy who played and liked to have a good time like the others," a friend recalled of him. One source
of those good times were the festivals that occurred several times each year in Cádiz. At Carnival time and other occasions,
Falla could hear music in the street, as gypsy violinists and guitar players accompanied colorfully costumed dancers.
When Falla was twenty, his family moved Madrid, Spain's capital city. There he enrolled
in the Royal Conservatory, the country's leading music school. By the time he graduated, two years later, he had become
a quite capable pianist and had gained solid grounding in the fundamentals of composition. But he was no more than an aspiring
young composer like many others in the major cities of Europe. He had competence but no distinctive voice. As it happened,
Falla gained this and found his true path through two encounters. The first was with Felipe Pedrell.
Shortly after he graduated from the Conservatory, Falla happened upon an excerpt from Pedrell's
opera Los Pireneos in a music journal. Falla had heard of Pedrell but knew little about his work, especially his
compositions. But the music that he brought home and played had a revelatory effect on him. "I found something in Spain
that I had had only the illusion on knowing through my studies," Falla remembered. "I went to Pedrell's house
to beg him to be my guide. It is to his teaching that I owe the clearest and strongest direction of my work."
Pedrell introduced Falla to the Spanish Renaissance compositions to which he had devoted
so much energy. More significantly, he inspired in his new student a love and respect for Spanish folk tales and music. This
had a decisive effect on Falla, who henceforth throughout his career turned to Spanish subjects for inspiration.
The first fruit of his new allegiance to Spanish themes and culture was a zarzuela,
a type of Spanish folkloric opera. Falla wrote this work, called La Vida Breve, or "A Short Life," for
a competition sponsored by the Academy of Fine Arts. The winning effort was supposed to have a production at the Royal Theater.
Falla's submission was awarded first prize, but the theater's management declared that it had never agreed to produce
any piece from the competition. Falla's award therefore proved merely honorary. But La Vida Breve was his first
By this time Felipe Pedrell had departed Madrid for
Barcelona. Falla was left to make his own way as a musician. For the next few years he supported himself by giving lessons,
composing as time permitted. During this time Falla seems to have had the one love affair of his life, a brief romance with
a girl of the city. After it ended, Falla showed no interest in pursuing another intimate relationship. He devoted himself
exclusively to music, living the life of a uncluttered by marriage, a mistress or any but the most essential material possessions.
During this time also, Falla became increasingly impatient with the limitations of Spanish
musical life. There were few opportunities to have his music performed, and no chance of securing a substantial reputation.
Moreover, Madrid was largely cut off from the exciting new developments that were transforming the art of music during the
early years of the twentieth century. This was a period of great creative ferment and upheaval in composition. A generation
earlier, Wagner's great expansion of the palette of traditional harmonies had opened up a wide range of expressive possibilities.
Now Debussy was creating a whole new musical vocabulary through his highly original rethinking of scales, chords and instrumental
Falla was not so isolated that he was unaware of these developments.
Paris, then the most active and important center for music in the world, shone like a beacon, and in 1907 Falla set off toward
it. The circumstances of his departure for France are unclear. One account tells that he was lured there by false promises
of an important concert of his music. Another says that he accompanied a friend to the resort town of Vichy, then decided
quite suddenly to travel on alone to Paris. Whatever the truth of the matter, the French capital became the second encounter
that transformed Falla's music.
life in Paris both stimulating and difficult. Like many other aspiring artists, he lived la vie bohPme,
lodging in shabby rooms, eking out a meager living by playing piano for struggling dance and theater troupes, and surviving
on very little money. Having spent all his life in a warm climate, he shivered through the Paris winters, and he spoke longingly
of his desire for a house in the southern Spanish city of Granada. One acquaintance from this time remembers the composer
"He looked like a monk, with his short stature, his threadbare
but impeccably neat suit, completed by a perfectly black tie. During our dinner he spoke little and with no display of emotion
apart from a smile from time to time. After we left the restaurant, he distributed, as he did every day, bread crumbs to the
sparrows and blackbirds huddled in the snow. There, surrounded by the birds chirping and hopping after the crumbs, his face,
which had been impassive until then, lit up with an indescribably radiant smile."
Still, Paris provided Falla the musician with invaluable experiences. He met Debussy, then at the height of his fame,
and soon afterwards became acquainted with Maurice Ravel and other leaders of the new French music. Falla found himself welcomed
into the circle of the most advanced musicians in Paris, a much as Stravinsky would be in another few years. He also met several
expatriate Spanish musicians, including the aging Albeniz and the brilliant pianist Riccardo ViZes, renowned for his performances
of challenging new works.
Falla now set about absorbing the innovations
of the new French music. He further refined his already sophisticated harmonic palette, and he worked diligently to develop
a more effective style of orchestration. In this latter effort he received beneficial advice from Debussy, who urged him to
score with restraint and sensitivity, and from Paul Dukas, another leading French composer. With their encouragement, he revised
the entire orchestration of his opera La Vida Breve. His effort proved worthwhile. When the work was performed at
the Opéra Comique in Paris, in January 1914, it made a great impression. The work's success established Falla's
reputation beyond a small coterie of musicians. He was suddenly a composer of importance.
In addition to scoring La Vida Breve, Falla worked on new compositions during his Paris
sojourn. These were not numerous. Falla never became a prolific composer. Rather, he was extremely fastidious in his craftsmanship.
He wrote slowly and carefully, polishing each score until it was as close to perfect as he could make it. As a result, Falla's
output is one of the smallest of any important composer, a total of six or seven major works and perhaps a dozen minor ones.
But history enshrines artists for the quality of their work, not their quantity, and the quality of Falla's music of his
time has assured its survival.
Following the Paris premiere of La
Vida Breve, Falla at last felt confident of his standing as a composer. He arranged to rent a house on the outskirts
of the city and invited his parents to come and live there with him. He was just about to sign a lease when the Hapsburg Archduke
Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and Europe was plunged into the maelstrom of World War I. Reluctantly, Falla decided
to return to Spain. His sojourn in Paris, which he may originally have intended to last just a few months, had extended through
Falla returned to Spain filled with
confidence and ambition. He had left Madrid an obscure young composer. He returned a famous musician, one who had achieved
significant success in the sophisticated milieu of Paris. Not surprisingly, the following years proved the most productive
period of his career. In relatively quick succession he completed three works that would become his most famous compositions.
The first was a ballet that fulfilled to a tee Felipe Pedrell's prescription that Spanish composers should write works
drawn on traditional Spanish stories. Entitled El Amor Brujo, or "Love, the Magician," this ballet recounts
an old Andalusian legend about a sensuous gypsy woman named Candelas, who is haunted by the ghost of her late husband. Having
been neglectful and faithless in life, he now continually interferes with Candelas and her new lover. Candelas attempts to
exorcize the spirit in a Ritual Fire Dance, but to no avail. Finally, with the aid of sorcery, she manages to lure the perturbing
spirit away by conjuring the form of another pretty gypsy girl, something her husband could never resist.
Falla completed an initial score for El Amor Brujo in 1915, but the indifferent
reception of its premiere in Madrid prompted him to withdraw the work. Ten years later, he presented a revised version of
the ballet in Paris, but the music's greatest success has come in the concert hall. The suite of numbers Falla extracted
from the full ballet has proved a colorful addition to the orchestral repertory, with one movement, the Ritual Fire Dance,
enjoying a rare degree of popularity.
The initial failure of El Amor
Brujo might have discouraged Falla, following the success of La Vida Breve in France. But the composer gave
no sign of disturbance at this apparent setback. Instead, he calmly returned to a project that had been gestating for some
time. When Falla returned to Madrid in the early autumn of 1914, he carried in his suitcase a composition he had begun several
years earlier in France. Originally conceived as a set of solo piano pieces, it had evolved into a large work for piano and
orchestra - not a concerto, Falla would declare, but a piece using the combined resources of the keyboard and orchestra to
evoke a nocturnal Spanish atmosphere. In accordance with his painstaking habits, Falla labored over this composition for another
year longer, completing it late in 1915.
Nights in the Gardens Spain,
as this work was titled, more than made up for the indifferent reception accorded El Amor Brujo. The work scored
an unqualified success at its premiere performance, which took place in Madrid in April 1916. Five years later, Falla played
the solo part in London, where the piece again got an enthusiastic response. Since then, it has had a secure place in the
orchestral repertory. And no wonder. The work combines the atmospheric harmonies of French impressionism with beautiful orchestral
colors and a vividly Spanish flavor, a confluence of qualities that continues to intoxicate listeners.
Both the title of the composition and those of its three movements suggest a programmatic work, one
that relates specific images or a narrative through music. But Falla denied any intention of conveying concrete details in
this composition. "The music has no intention of being descriptive," he wrote; "it is merely expressive."
This sounds a lot like Beethoven's famous demurral with regard to his "Pastoral" Symphony, when he declared
that composition's evocation of the Austrian countryside to be "more an expression of feelings than tone painting."
But it also resembles Debussy's approach in a piece like his tone poem La mer, in which the music evokes aspects
of the sea in a general way without attempting the kind of detailed scenario we find, for example, in some of Richard Strauss'
In regard to this, it seems appropriate to note here that
the titles of the three movements give only the most general impression of any pictorial or narrative content. The first,
takes its title from the Generalife, the exquisite garden overlooking the Alhambra palace. It is an enchanted place, filled
with orange trees, roses and jasmine bushes, and with streams and small waterfalls providing a murmuring background. With
the famous palace rising behind it, the Generalife seems the embodiment of all that is most exotic and romantic in Spanish
culture, and it is this, more than anything, that Falla's music evokes. "Distant Dance," the title of the second
movement, is considerably more vague. It simply gives the composer license for music of a gently rhythmic character. The finale's
title, "In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba," becomes more meaningful if we know that the hills above
the city of Córdoba are dotted with fine villas. On warm evenings these are often the sites of open-air parties, with
gypsy bands engaged to provide music for dancing. Falla clearly intended to evoke such a gathering in the closing section
of Nights in the Gardens of Spain.
In a short note about the
work, Falla declared that the melodies in this composition are based on the rhythms, modes, cadences and ornamental figures
that distinguish the popular music of Andalusia, the fabled region in southern Spain that was a Moorish kingdom as late as
the fourteenth century, and which has retained strong folkloric traditions. He added that the orchestration includes various
effects meant to imitate the indigenous instruments and singing style of that region. Let's take a look at some of these
folkloric effects that lend such a vivid Spanish character to this music. In the very opening measures, we hear this striking
passage: [Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Movement I, Track 1, 0:00 - 0:17]
Clearly, the use of harp and pizzicato notes from the violins, cellos and basses as harmonic accents intimates the
sound of that most traditional of Spanish instruments, the guitar. But in a more subtle way, so does the bowing Falla applies
to the viola line. The quivering sound produced by the tremolo bowing he specifies approximates the very rapid strumming traditionally
used by flamenco guitarists. Moreover, Falla calls for the violists to play sul ponticello, placing the bow close
to the bridge, the piece of wood that supports the strings of their instruments. This produces a slightly nasal quality
that intimates the twang of the guitar in certain registers. In his note about the piece, Falla declared that "the orchestration
frequently employs certain effects peculiar to the popular instruments used in Spain." Here we see him imaginatively
adapting the viola sound through the combination of tremolo and sul ponticello bowing in order to suggest a certain
kind of guitar playing.
Falla has other ways of impersonating the sound
of the guitar.
But these somewhat poetic suggestions of guitar playing
are not the only effects that imitate Spanish popular music.
other aspects to Falla's music that give it such a distinctly Spanish flavor. Let's consider again the melody given
out by the violas at the very start of the piece, which is, incidentally, the main theme of the first movement.
Phrygian melodies and harmonies are a typically Spanish characteristic,
one that probably derives from old Moorish music. We find them occurring repeatedly in this composition. The second major
theme of the first movement, played here by the piano, also follows the Phrygian mode. Another detail we notice again and again in different forms is a short, rapid embellishment
of a particular note. This is a decidedly oriental trait and one typical of cante jondo, the style of impassioned
singing associated with flamenco dancing. Practiced mainly by Spain's gypsy musicians, it is undoubtedly the country's
most remarkable folk music tradition. Falla was a great lover of cante jondo. In 1922 he organized a festival and
competition for traditional singers. He also wrote a brief treatise on the style, which, with characteristic modesty, he published
anonymously. From his observation of cante jondo singers, he knew first hand the use of brief melodic embellishments.
They are used, he noted, mainly in moments of passion, as suggested by the words of the song. Reduced to its simplest form,
the cante jondo embellishment consists of a quick appoggiatura, a single note just above or below the main tone,
and sliding into it. Near the start of the second movement of Nights in the Gardens of Spain, we encounter just such
the embellishment takes a more elaborate form. Early in the first movement, as the piano plays an expanded version of the
melody introduced in the opening measures, the high woodwind plays a figure composed of a quick descending run. The other
instruments enrich the texture with variations on the figure. In typical cante jondo fashion, these figures repeat
in an almost obsessive, ritualistic manner.
appropriating this distinctive feature of cante jondo and making it an integral part of his melodic language, Falla
went a long way to imparting a uniquely Spanish flavor to his music. But such embellishments are not the only trait Falla
has borrowed from cante jondo. In writing about this flamenco singing, the composer noted the tendency of its melodies
to remain within a narrow compass and to return repeatedly to one particular pitch. He speculated that this trait stemmed
from magical incantations belonging to some vanished tradition. Be that as it may, many of the themes in the present composition
reveal the same tendency. The melody that opens the piece, which we have already examined, is one.
Finally, there is the very Spanish rhythmic character of Falla's music. A number of his melodies
in Nights in the Gardens of Spain use the rhythms of traditional Spanish dances.
The outbreak of the First
World War, had sent Falla back to Spain from Paris, also caused a general disruption in French cultural life. This brought
about hardship for many of the artists living in Paris, including those associated with the Ballets Russes, the pioneering
dance and theater troupe led by the visionary Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev. The Ballets Russes had been a source of
inspiration and support to most of the composers in the French vanguard. Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and others had all written
music for its productions. Through the war years, Diaghilev struggled to keep the nucleus of his company afloat by undertaking
tours outside of France. Spain proved especially congenial for this purpose, and the prospect of performances by the Ballets
Russes in Madrid brought Falla an opportunity to compose a work for the company. The result was the ballet The Three-Cornered
Hat. Its initial production, in Madrid in 1917, was a modest pantomime and featured music scored for chamber ensemble.
But with the end of the World War, Diaghilev was able to contemplate a more ambitious treatment, and Falla accordingly expanded
his score to a full-length ballet for large orchestra. In this form the work was first presented in 1919 in London, in a production
that occasioned one of Diaghilev's famous collaborations: in addition to Falla's music, it featured sets by Picasso,
choreography by the renowned Leonid Massine, and musical direction by the esteemed conductor Ernest Ansermet.
The plot of the ballet is based on a traditional Spanish tale, El Corregidor y la Molinera
("The Governor and the Miller's Wife"). This is a semi-serious story that resembles in spirit, and many details,
the plot of Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. In it, a lecherous and despotic governor, whose emblem of
authority is a three-cornered hat, conceives a fancy for the pretty wife of a poor miller. When she spurns his advances,
he has her husband arrested in order to clear the field for his conquest. Still he is unable to win her. In the end,
the governor is defeated and thoroughly humiliated by the miller and his clever spouse, though not before mistaken identities
and misunderstandings have complicated matters.
In The Three-Cornered
Hat, Falla abandoned the lush impressionism of Nights in the Gardens of Spain in favor of a more lean, modern
musical texture. The writing is now closer to Ravel than to Debussy, and the orchestration is still masterful. Various excerpts
from the full score often appear on concert programs. Our recording presents the complete ballet, including several vocal
numbers. We are unaccustomed to thinking of songs as having a place in a ballet score, but the composers associated
with the Ballets Russes delighted in expanding the horizons of the genre. Stravinsky, for example, would soon follow Falla's
lead, incorporating several arias into Pulcinella, the ballet he completed for Diaghilev's troupe in 1920.
We hear the first vocal number at the very start of The Three-Cornered Hat. Falla
prefaces the action with an Introduction, a prologue before the initial curtain. After timpani, trumpets and horns play a
brief fanfare, shouts of "olé" and the clicking of castanets frame a rhapsodic melody for a lone mezzo-soprano:
[The Three-Cornered Hat, Introduction, Track 4, 0:00 forward. At 0:38, music drops to background level and narration continues
as voiceover:] "Young wife, shut and bar the door," she sings. "For though the devil is asleep, he may
awake." Here Falla composes a convincing replica of traditional cante jondo singing.
The first orchestral passage sets the stage, as it were. It is a pleasant afternoon, and
the curtain rises to reveal the house of the miller and his wife. The coupe is working in the yard outside their dwelling.
All this we see on stage. What the music reveals, however, is the locale. With its pizzicato notes and brief melodic arabesques
in the high woodwinds, the passage leaves no doubt that we are in Spain.
miller is trying to train a blackbird to announce the time from a sundial in the yard. He signals the bird to indicate two
o'clock, but the creature chirps three times.
the miller's wife, who has been watching, offers the bird a grape. And lo and behold, it chirps twice, correctly. The
miller and his wife laugh over this farce and embrace affectionately.
his wife makes her way to a well, the miller feeds corn to the birds in his aviary.
At the well, the miller's wife encounters a young village dandy. They smile at each other in innocent flirtation,
but the miller whistles a tune to remind his wife of his presence nearby.
a procession approaches. It is the provincial governor, whose pompous character is reflected in the lumbering accompaniment
figures heard at the outset. Both the miller and his wife notice the governor eyeing her lustfully.
But neither are concerned, especially since the governor's wife is keeping an eye on him.
the procession has passed, the miller and his wife return to their work. Falla indicates this by reprising the music from
the beginning of the scene.
Now it is the miller's turn to reveal
his amorous nature, smiling at a pretty young woman who passes by. His wife notices and begins to weep at the thought that
her husband may not love her. But her tears call the miller to her side. Taking her in his arms, he assures her that she is
the only one in his heart. The two affirm their love for each other and embrace fondly:
Suddenly they spy the governor returning toward them, and without his wife. Guessing that he has come back for a
better look at the beautiful miller's wife, the couple decide to have some fun with the old lecher. While the miller hides,
his wife begins to perform a fandango, a dance of highly passionate character. This provides one of the ballet's great
set-pieces, and opportunity for Falla to exercise the full command of his folkloric Spanish idiom.
Finally the governor approaches her, as indicated by a solo bassoon.
The miller's wife receives him graciously, which Falla shows in music of Classical-period elegance.
The miller's wife offers the governor some grapes, which become the prop in a flirtatious
dance. He tries to grab the hostess as well as the fruit, but she always manages to evade his lunges.
Just as the governor manages to catch his pretty quarry, the miller appears. Brandishing a stick,
he pretends to suspect that thieves are making all the commotion he has heard. His appearance frightens the governor, who
makes an awkward retreat.
The miller's wife triumphantly resumes her
fandango, joined now by her husband. The conclusion of their dance brings the first half of the ballet to a close.
The second half of the ballet takes place that evening. As the scene opens, the neighbors
of the miller and his wife have come to the mill to celebrate the Feast of Saint John. In the warm Andalusian night there
is drinking and general merriment. Soon the entertainment turns to dancing - specifically, a seguidilla,
another traditional Spanish dance which all join in. Falla's music captures the fluid rhythms of this dance and provides
a wonderful mosaic of changing instrumental colors.
Now the miller,
as host, entertains the guests with a dance of his own, a somewhat more vigorous farruca. It is prefaced by rhapsodic solos
for French horn and English horn.
The dance itself
juxtaposes strong, virile gestures with others of sleek sensuality. Falla's scoring imitates the strumming of guitars
which traditionally accompanies this dance.
final measures of this dance, an accelerating tempo creates an impression of mounting energy.
After the miller has concluded
his dance, the festivity continues. But suddenly there is a knock at the door. Falla indicates this with a humorous quotation
of the famous motif from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
It is police, sent by the governor with a warrant for the miller's arrest. To general consternation, the miller
is led away, and the guests depart. Here Falla interpolates another song, warning that the devil is afoot and invoking the
sound of a cuckoo, symbol of deceived husbands.
In no time at all, the governor arrives, sure that he will enjoy the miller's wife now that her husband is out
of the way. He primps and preens, sure of his seductive powers.
But he loses his way in the dark and plunges into the mill pond. His cries alert the miller's
Quickly recovering from his
ignominious fall, the governor endeavors to seduce the miller's wife, chasing her into the house. Indignantly, she orders
him away. Finally exasperated at her refusal to yield to him, the governor draws a pair of tiny pistols.
But he has underestimated the miller's wife. Far from being intimidated, she grabs her husband's shotgun and trains
it on the intruder. The governor then falls to the floor convulsing with fear. And this, rather than his threats, has the
effect of alarming the miller's wife, who runs off. The shivering governor then rises and removing his soaked clothes,
drapes them over a chair and climbs into the miller's bed to warm himself.
Soon the miller, having escaped from the village jail, returns to the house. We know of his arrival by a variant
of the tune he had whistled near the start of the ballet. Seeing the governor's clothes, the miller
concludes that the lecher must be in bed with his wife. For a moment he considers gunning the pair down, but then hits on
a more ingenious idea. Changing his clothes for those of the governor, he writes a note saying that he is off to avenge himself
in the bed of the governor's wife.
The miller strolls off whistling
his cheery tune. Now the governor emerges from the bedroom. Reading the miller's note, he clutches
his head in despair.
The ballet's final scene brings a comedy of mistaken
identities, though with a happy resolution in the end. The police officers come looking for the escaped miller and arrest
the governor by mistake. When he resists them, they administer a sound beating. The miller's wife returns and, thinking
that policemen are pummeling her husband, tries to intercede. The miller also returns and mistakenly thinks that his wife
is trying to defend the governor. The neighbors gather, drawn by the pandemonium. At last, the confusion sorts itself out.
The miller and his wife are joyfully reunited, and the governor's lechery is exposed to the entire town. The populace
concludes its Saint John's Night celebrations by dancing around him, mocking him and finally tossing him up and down on
a blanket. All this unfolds to the strains of another Spanish dance, the jota, whose rhythms dominate the final section
of the ballet. But Falla is not content to evoke just one traditional dance. So he also brings in rhythms associated with
the fandango and other steps, juxtaposing them composes in a kaleidoscopic succession of shifting melodic figures, with different
ideas following each other in quick succession. The orchestration is exceptionally colorful, its liberal use of percussion
contributing much of the music's festive and Spanish character.
During the years of World War I, Falla traveled often throughout Spain. He accompanied Diaghilev
and other members of the Ballets Russes brain trust, and toured with a singer, giving concerts that included selections of
his own songs. In 1919, Falla's parents both died. The composer henceforth lived with his sister, Maria. Eventually he
acquired a house in Granada, home of the Alhambra palace and Spain's most picturesque city. It was the refuge he had longed
for during those cold winters back in France. Granada is a relatively small city, and in those days, especially, quite removed
from the mainstream of modern European culture. But this did not bother Falla, who by this time had taken what he needed from
the world at large. "In Granada," he stated, "I feel as though I am at the center of the world, as if Granada
were a tiny Paris."
This attitude is all the more remarkable in
view of the simplicity of the composer's dwelling. With its pure white walls and a beautiful garden that Falla attended
lovingly, it was bright and cheerful. But it was furnished in a simple and rather austere manner. "There is nothing in
the house of this great artist that has not been selected with exquisite taste," wrote an acquaintance of Falla. "The
only luxury of this delightful home, apart from some rare books and editions of old music, are the flowers. There are flowers
everywhere, with an array of colors and in simple but beautiful arrangements, like those of a convent chapel."
Falla continued to travel - not only to Madrid and other parts of Spain, but also abroad
for performances of his music. But his happiest days were divided between his garden and his study, where he continued to
compose slowly and fastidiously. His next major work was Master Peter's Puppet Show, a brief chamber opera based
on an episode from Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel Don Quixote. Shortly afterwards, Falla wrote his Concerto
for Harpsichord and Five Instruments. It was commissioned by Wanda Landowska, the celebrated performer who almost single-handedly
brought about the revival of harpsichord playing in the early twentieth century.
In 1926, immediately after finishing the harpsichord concerto, Falla embarked upon the most ambitious work of his
career. This was to be an opera of epic character. Its title was Atlántida, and its subject was a quasi-mystical
portrait of Spain in its golden era and the voyage of Christopher Columbus, with an overlay of spiritual and philosophical
themes. The story resonated strongly with Falla's religious outlook, and he came to look on the projected opera as his
most important work.
In view of both its importance to him and its great
complexity, it is hardly surprising that work on Atlántida proceeded especially slowly. But there were other
factors, besides Falla's habitual care and deliberation, that hindered its progress. One was the composer's health.
Now past fifty, he suffered from a number of ailments and increasingly had to husband his energy. Another was the steady stream
of obligations: attending concerts and festivals, and several times composing short pieces for particular occasions, mostly
as tributes to friends. Finally, and perhaps most decisively, was the deteriorating political situation in Spain. Civil unrest
preceded and followed the creation of the Spanish Republic in 1931, the worst of it coming in Falla's Andalusia. To escape
the turmoil, Falla had to leave Granada for extended periods. The outbreak of civil war in 1936 brought a far worse situation.
Now the composer and his sister had to huddle in a makeshift bomb shelter as planes roared overhead and gunfire shook the
With the end of the civil war, Falla was offered a position as head
of a national institute of culture. Whether out of opposition to the right-wing regime or for reasons of pertaining to his
health, he declined. But shortly thereafter he received an invitation to preside at a festival of Spanish music in Buenos
Aires. One of the concerts at this event in the Argentine capital would be devoted entirely to his works. After careful consideration
and consultation with his doctors, he accepted the invitation, and in October 1939 the composer and his ever-faithful sister
sailed for Argentina.
Falla's arrival in Buenos Aires engendered much
publicity, and the concerts of the Spanish Music Festival drew large and enthusiastic audiences. But the event took a heavy
toll on the frail composer. With his health precarious and Europe once again engulfed in war, return to Spain seemed out of
the question. On the advice of doctors, he retired to a mountain village in the Argentine countryside. To his delight, he
found the landscape much like that of Andalusia, with mountains framing a flower-strewn plain. His house had a garden, with
orange, mimosa and pomegranate trees, and he furnished it in the spare, simple manner he had known in Granada. There Falla
continued to work on Atlántida, interrupting his labors to receive visitors and occasionally for travel to
Buenos Aires for concerts. Because of the war, he was no longer receiving royalties for performances of his music, and his
financial situation grew perilous. Still he pressed ahead with his opera, hoping that he would be granted enough time to complete
it. But his health was failing, and it became increasingly difficult to find the necessary time and energy for the task.
Falla had a superstitious belief that his life was divided into seven-year periods. He
had spent just a few weeks more than seven years in Argentina, and was just a few days from his seventieth birthday, when
he died from a heart attack, on November 14, 1946. Five days later, an impressive funeral service was held in the cathedral
in Buenos Aires. Afterwards, the composer's body was returned to Spain and buried in the Andalusian soil that meant so
much to him. Atlántida, which was to have been his magnum opus, the summation of his art, was left unfinished.
Years later, Falla's friend and disciple Ernesto Halffter completed it as best he could from the composer's sketches.
In this form the work was performed and recorded in the late 1970's. But it seems certain that the score would have evolved
a great deal more had Falla been able to bring his labors to a proper conclusion.
What kind of man was Manuel de Falla? A fellow composer, Alfredo Casella, described Falla this way: "His appearance
is one hundred percent Andalusian, and seems to have been taken directly from a portrait by El Greco: high forehead, dark
eyes, straight nose, small mouth, an ascetic and at the same time passionate expression, which resembles that of a farmer
and an old monk, an extraordinarily noble manner and a sweet voice with a unique Spanish accent." Casella was not
the only observer to compare Falla to a monk. Another acquaintance described him as "slight, with a small head, much
like a monk. A great mystic who, like Jacob, reached God by means of a ladder, a musical one in his case."
Falla's monk-like appearance may have reflected his genuinely religious nature. He
was a devout Catholic who attended mass regularly and kept a catechism at home. The French composer Francis Poulenc met Falla
during a trip to Venice in 1932 and gave this account of thir visit to a church: "As soon as we entered the sanctuary
Falla sank down in prayer, and just as they tell of certain saints who, in ecstasy, suddenly vanish from the sight of the
profane, so I had the sense of losing Falla. After some time, having decided to go, I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked
at me for a moment without seeing me, then plunged into his prayer again."
It is interesting, in view of this, that Falla never composed any overtly religious music. On the contrary, works
like El Amor Brujo and The Three-Cornered Hat seem suffused with Spanish sensuality. But it is unlikely
that Falla made conventional distinctions between sacred and secular art. For him, all aesthetic creation was a form of worship.
Nothing about Falla's physical appearance suggested an artist of rare accomplishment,
or one who could create music of such vibrant sensual energy as we find in the Fandango of The Three-Cornered Hat.
He was quite small of frame, a trait that he shared with a number of other great composers, including Wagner, Mozart, Ravel
Stravinsky and Bartók. Moreover, he was bald from an early age. For a brief period during his years in Paris he took
to wearing a toupé, but he dropped this affectation after he returned to Spain. He dressed fastidiously, almost always
in a simple black suit and white tailored shirt. He took great care about his attire, and considered it quite impossible to
go out in public or receive guests at home if he was less than impeccably dressed. When he lived in Argentina, he sent detailed
instructions to a Buenos Aires tailor regarding his requirements for trousers.
This keen attention to appearance was born of a perfectionist aesthetic rather than vanity. Indeed, there was nothing
vain about Falla. Practically everyone who knew the composer was struck by his modest, self-effacing manner. He was a retiring,
somewhat shy personality. Stravinsky remembered him as being "modest and withdrawn as an oyster." Falla certainly
had no interest in fame or publicity. On the contrary, he shared with many of the early modernist composers working in Paris
a strong suspicion of the heroic posturing and egotism they associated with the nineteenth-century Romantics, especially Wagner.
"By conviction and by temperament," Falla wrote, "I am opposed to art that could be called selfish. One must
work simply, without vain or haughty pretensions. Only then can the artist fulfil his noble and beautiful social duty."
Reading or hearing accounts of Manuel de Falla by those who knew
him, one is struck by the seeming incongruity between the composer and his music. The great pianist Artur Rubinstein, who
championed Falla's music, summarized this paradox. "Falla," Rubinstein wrote in his autobiography, "looked
like an ascetic monk in civilian clothes. Always dressed in black, there was something melancholy about his bald head, his
penetrating dark eyes and bushy eyebrows, even his smile was sad. But his music betrayed a passion so intense that it seemed
a complete contrast to the man." Perhaps the explanation is that the passion in Falla's music is not his alone. Rather,
it is that of Spain and the Spanish since time immemorial. There are certain composers who seem called upon to give expression
to the spirit of a nation or people, as Dvorak did in Czechoslovakia and Bartók in Hungary. Manuel de Falla was one
of those, and he wore the mantle of Spain's greatest composer with the humility and distinction of a great artist.