Isaac Manuel Francisco Albeniz (1860-1909)
Iberia (Arranged for three guitars by Christophe Dejour)
Isaac Manuel Francisco Albeniz was born on 29th May 1860 inthe northern Catalonian town of Camprodon. He was an unusually gifted child andfirst performed in public at the age of four. When he was six it seems that hehad private lessons from Marmontel, a leading professor at the ParisConservatoire, which it was then planned he should enter. Prevented by hisimmaturity, in 1868 he entered the Real Conservatorio in Madrid, leaving totake his chance as a pianist, giving concerts in various towns, as the opportunityoffered. In 1876 he enrolled at the Conservatorium in Leipzig, but soonwithdrew, later obtaining a royal stipend to study at the BrusselsConservatoire, where, in 1879, he tied for the first prize in pianoperformance.
A majorturning-point in the life of Albeniz came in 1883, when he met Felipe Pedrell(1841-1922), a teacher, composer and researcher in Spanish music. Pedrellstrongly believed that Spanish composers should write Spanish music, acquiringits idiom from native folk-songs and dances. Pedrell's ideas made a deepimpression on Albeniz, who became one of the most important exponents ofPedrell's ideas. As a celebrated pianist, Albeniz toured Europe, living inMadrid, London and Paris, where he was to meet distinguished musicians such asd'Indy, Chausson, Faure, and Dukas. Although still very Spanish, his pieces nowtook on a French touch, creating a unique synthesis, nowhere more successfulthan in Iberia, which was composed in Paris in the years before his death in1909.
The Suite Iberia is an outstanding piano work in twelvemovements, regarded as the definitive masterpiece of Spanish piano music of thetwentieth century. The performance of music by Albeniz on the guitar is not anew idea, and much of it has been arranged for the instrument. Many of theseguitar transcriptions are now considered standard elements in the repertoire ofthe classical guitar. Albeniz often referred to the instrument as the source ofinspiration for many of his compositions and it often almost seems that theguitar transcriptions are original pieces written for the instrument. Foralmost a hundred years the Suite Iberia had never been arranged for guitar inits entirety. In 1995 Christophe Dejour transcribed the entire work for threeguitars and the Trio Campanella gave the first performance of the work in 1998in Copenhagen.
Written between 1905 and 1908, the Suite Iberia was and iswithout any doubt Albeniz's masterpiece. Iberia is an ambitious and remarkablysophisticated composition with a formidable architectural structure of uniquelyimpressive dimensions. All the pieces are based on traditional Spanish dancerhythms, arranged in a freely artistic and idealised manner. The rhythmicaldances smoothly alternate with the \vocal" part, the copla. In traditionalSpanish music the copla is a characteristic part of the structure seen in manyforms like the saeta (arrow), or a cante jondo (deep song), the song of deepfeelings. Albeniz has included a copla in almost all of the pieces in Iberia.
The first piece, Evocacion, is an idyllic composition with agentle rhythm and a lyrical and dreamy melody, Albeniz in his most poetic andcalmest mood. The final whisper of the piece takes us directly into the brightand joyous El puerto, depicting lively days at a southern seaport. El CorpusCristi is a portrayal of a feast day procession through the narrow streets ofSeville, beginning with a march-like theme approaching from the distance. Themain theme with trumpets and drums culminates in a tremendous climax while theoriginal melody continues insistently in the background.
The first two pieces of the second book describe twoAndalusian towns. After Rondena, a dancing and straightforward piece namedafter the mountain town Ronda, Albeniz takes us to the Mediterranean Almeriaand its calm, expressive beauty. Triana takes its name from a famous quarter inSeville. This catchy piece is perhaps the most frequently played among thepieces of Iberia.
The third book begins in El Albaicin, the old Arabic neighbourhoodin Granada that faces the Alhambra castle from the hill below. This is followedby El polo, a melancholy Andalusian song. The polo is one of those songs thatalways seem to have a burden of sorrow hanging around them. Lavapies is thename of a working class quarter in Madrid. This is technically and rhythmicallythe most complex piece of the whole suite. Despite its difficulty Albeniz wrotethat it should be played "joyfully, with freedom".
The fourth book Iberia takes us to two other Andalusian towns.The first is Malaga, the old town in the south. Its music stems from themalaguena dance, with an attractive but simple melody. The second town isJerez, the centre of Spanish sherry production. The suite ends in Eritana, atavern on the outskirts of Seville. Claude Debussy wrote enthusiastically ofthis piece: "Eritana is the joy of morning, the happy discovery of a tavernwhere the wine is cool. An ever-changing crowd passes, their bursts of laughteraccompanied by the jingling of the tambourines. Never has music achieved suchdiversified, such colourful impressions: one's eyes close, as though dazzled bybeholding such a wealth of imagery".