FALLA: El Amor Brujo / El Sombrero de Tres Picos (Alicia Nafe/ Asturias Symphony Orchestra/ Maria Jose Martos/ Maximiano Valdes) (Naxos: 8.557800)
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Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
El amor brujo El sombrero de tres picos
Manuel de Falla is generally acknowledged as theleading figure in Spanish music of the twentieth century.
Born in 1876 in Cadiz, as a boy he aspired to be a writerbut by the mid-1890s had decided to concentrate onmusic. To this end he studied in Madrid, his first worksbeing for the piano. Between 1900 and 1904, to earn aliving, he wrote six zarzuelas, the light operas popular inSpain. These were financially unrewarding but inMadrid he came under the influence of Felipe Pedrell(1841-1922), the great Catalan musicologist andcomposer. Pedrell inspired his students, among themAlbeniz and Granados, to appreciate the historictraditions of Spanish music, with emphasis on folkmusic,and their relevance to contemporarycomposition.
In 1905 Falla won first prize with La vida breve(Life is Short) in a competition for Spanish operaawarded by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of SanFernando, but as no public performance for the workwas offered in Spain, he decided to seek better prospectsin Paris. There he met various leading composers of theera, including Albeniz, Debussy, Dukas, Ravel, andStravinsky. Several of his piano works and songs wereperformed, and La vida breve was eventually producedat the Casino Municipal in Nice in 1913, and repeated atthe Opera-Comique in Paris the following year.
At the outbreak of World War I Falla returned toSpain, where he was winning a reputation. La vida brevewas performed on 14th November 1914 at the Teatro dela Zarzuela in Madrid, and Siete canciones popularesespanolas (Seven Spanish Folk-songs) a few weekslater, confirming his position as the foremostcontemporary Spanish composer. In April 1915, at theTeatro Lara in Madrid, came the premi?¿re of one of hisfinest masterpieces, the ballet with songs, El amor brujo(Love the Magician). This was followed by the firstperformance, in 1916, of Noches en los jardines deEspana (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), for piano andorchestra, and the success of another ballet, El sombrerode tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), first performedin Madrid in 1917.
In 1920 Falla moved to Granada. Here, with thepoet, Federico Garcia Lorca, he organized the famousCante jondo flamenco competition of 1922, an attempt,regrettably not repeated, to conserve and revive theancient art of Andalusian song. In Granada Fallacomposed El retablo de maese Pedro (Master Peter'sPuppet Show), an adaptation of various episodes fromCervantes's Don Quixote, Psyche, the Concerto forharpsichord or pianoforte, Soneto a Cordoba (for voiceand harp), and other works. His last completedcomposition was a set of four Homenajes (Homages) fororchestra, first performed in Buenos Aires in 1939,conducted by Falla himself. From 1927 until the end ofhis life, Falla worked on the cantata, Atlantida, amassively ambitious undertaking left unfinished buteventually completed by his eminent disciple, ErnestoHalffter (1905-1989), for its belated premi?¿re in 1961.
Following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), anddevastated by the tragic murder of his friend, Lorca,Falla left Spain in 1939 for Argentina. He died there in1946 a few days before his seventieth birthday. He hadsuffered from severe ill health for many years, limitinghis output. Yet, though not a prolific composer, hisworks are models of musical perfection in expressivecontent and technical mastery.
The one-act El amor brujo is the story of Candelas,a gypsy girl haunted by her dead lover, a ghost as jealousin death as he was in life. The attempts of her new suitor,Carmelo, to woo Candelas are frustrated by the ghost, sothat they are unable to seal their love with the kiss whichwould rid them of this power from beyond the grave.
The seductive Lucia is persuaded to act as a decoy andbeguile the spirit with her charms.
The ballet begins with a brilliant Introduction andScene 1 in which a dotted-note theme evokes theghost's jealous nature. This contrasts with the nocturnaland sinister atmosphere of the gypsy's home of In theCave 2, penetrated suddenly by a melody on the oboein Andalusian style. The Song of a Broken Heart 3 isheard, a lament with dance rhythms reminiscent offlamenco cante jondo. After a few moments of swirlingactivity, The Apparition 4, gives way to Dance ofTerror 5. The Magic Circle 6 offers momentaryserenity as Candelas draws a magic circle on the groundand prepares to exorcize the ghost just as Midnight 7sounds. The famous Ritual Fire Dance follows 8,driving away evil spirits with its percussive crossrhythms,vivid contrasts, and rich orchestral effects. Thedance ends with hammer-like blows, as if victory overthe disruptive force has been won. After an intermezzodesignated as Scene 9, with quasi-improvisatory solosfrom the oboe and flute, it seems the ghost has not yetbeen exorcized. Song of the Will-o'-the-Wisp 10 tellsthat love is elusive. The haunting spirit is still potent asPantomime 11 reiterates the ghost's theme from theIntroduction, but the mood changes into a restrainedtango in 7/8 time indicating that Lucia's charms aresucceeding and the influence of the jealous spirit isfading. Dance of the Game of Love 12 completes theprocess, with words directed at the evil spirit: I am thevoice of your destiny, I am the fire in which you burn, Iam the wind in which you sigh, I am the sea in which youare shipwrecked. The music begins reticently butmounts to a climax as bells ring out and Candelas andCarmelo can at last embrace in uninterrupted bliss. TheFinale, subtitled The Bells of Dawn 13, proclaims thereturn of happiness with a song and chiming of bellssymbolic of daybreak and the triumph of love.
El sombrero de tres picos depicts the follies ofeveryday life in the Andalusian town of Guadix in theearly nineteenth century. The Introduction 14, withdrums and trumpets immediately seizes attention, whilea distant song warns that a wife should bolt her door. InAfternoon 15, the curtain rises on a terrace in front of amill, a well, flower-pots, a blackbird in a cage, and abridge over the mill-race in the background. The uglymiller and his attractive wife are on stage. After someeffort the blackbird manages to whistle the correct timeof two o'clock. A passing dandy ogles the miller's wife,who flirtatiously returns his greeting. A processionapproaches with the Corregidor (wearing his threecorneredhat, the sign of his authority) accompanied byhis wife, the Corregidora, and moves on. The millerflirts with a girl carrying a pitcher.
Footsteps are heard approaching. It is none otherthan the Corregidor, limping and crooked. The miller'swife mocks his limp. The miller realises that theCorregidor has returned to woo his wife and, setting atrap, he hides behind a tree to allow his wife to show herrejection of the Corregidor's advances. During Dance ofthe Miller's Wife 16 she appears engrossed in dancingthe fandango. The Corregidor is accompanied by hisAlguacil, his police bodyguard, who incites themagistrate to woo her. The miller's wife makes a showof noticing the Corregidor and, dancing round him,teases him with a bunch of grapes. In The Grapes 17 theCorregidor clumsily attempts to kiss the wife, whoeludes him and he tumbles to the ground. The millerreturns armed with a stick, pretending that his mill isbeing robbed, and, with his wife's help, lifts up theCorregidor. The wife strokes the official with her apronwhile her husband makes him sniff the contents of ahuge bottle. The Corregidor, realising their deception,angrily departs. When the Alguacil comes back, themiller appears repentant and as the policeman leaves, thefandango is resumed.
Part Two begins with The Neighbours' Dance(Seguidillas) 18, where people gather on St John's Eveand drink wine. Then follows the Miller's Dance(Farruca) 19, one of Falla's most vivid evocations of aflamenco dance. The mi