Iberia (orchestrated by Peter Breiner)
Isaac Albeniz enjoyed a double career, winningan international reputation as a virtuoso pianist and doing much to establishSpanish music in a form acceptable at home and abroad. He was born in 1860 at Camprodonin the province of Gerona, the son of a customsofficial of Basque origin and a mother from Catalonia. He began his study of the piano at the age ofthree in Barcelona and apparently appeared at a charity concert the followingyear, playing duets with his sister Clementina, seven years his senior and ailegedlyhis first teacher. The family moved to Madrid in 1868 and Albeniz was able to study there atthe Escuela Nacional de Musica y Declarnaci6n, the forerunner of the MadridConservatory. Colourful legends, inspired by Albeniz himself, include storiesof how he ran away from home to earn a living as a pianist, playing in a numberof Spanish cities, and how later he stowed away on a ship to America, where he led anadventurous life as a peripatetic pianist. A]] these tales have been largelydiscounted by recent research (Walter A. Clark. Isaac Albeniz: Portrait of aRomantic, Oxford, 1999, and the samewriter's succinct article in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Band I, Kassel, 1999). Tours in Spain seem to have beencarried out under his father's guidance and his visit to Cuba and Puerto Rico tookplace when his father was appointed to a position in Havana. In 1876 he certainlyenrolled in the Leipzig Conservatory, but soon left, perhaps hampered there bya lack of German. An award from King Alfonso xn allowed him to enter theBrussels Conservatoire in the autumn of the same year. His studies continuedthere until 1879 and fellow-students included the violinist and conductor EnriqueArbos, one of the first orchestrators of parts of the suite Iberia. Albeniz travelled to Budapest where he might haveexpected to meet Liszt, but no such meeting could have taken place and storiesof lessons from Liszt appear to have been false. There followed furtherjourneys to Cuba and Puerto Rico and a period in Spain when he turned hisattention to the composition and performance of zarzuelas, a popularSpanish dramatic form in which dialogue is interspersed with music and song.
In 1883 Albeniz moved to Barcelona once more, now takinglessons from Felipe Pedrell, an influential figure in the creation of a broadlySpanish school of composition. Any instruction he received seems to have beeninformal but set the pattern for much of his future writing. After a return to Madrid and further years ofteaching, composition and performance, success in the concert hall in Paris and London persuaded him to settlein the latter city. There Henry Lowenfeld, a businessman, offered him a steadyincome and financial provision for himself and his family, for his concertactivities, and for further work for the theatre. A later meeting with FrancisBurdett Money-Coutts, a member of the banking family whose interests were moreliterary than financial, led to the latter taking over these obligations withan agreement that brought continued subsidy and a chance to collaborate inother stage works. The understanding with Money-Coutts, which might have seemedto some inappropriate, allowed Albeniz to concentrate on composition ratherthan performance and did not confine him to London or, indeed, to one writer. In 1893 he moved to Paris, where he studiedorchestration with Paul Dukas and counterpoint with Vincent d'Indy and enjoyedsocial contact with leading musicians of their circle.
During the 1890s Albeniz turned his attention tothe theatre again, writing zarzuelas for performance in Spain and completing hisopera Henry Clifford, with a libretto by Money-Coutts, a work that wassuccessfully staged in Barcelona in 1895 in Italiantranslation. This was followed in 1896 by the two-act opera Pepita Jimenez, againbased on a libretto by his patron. His intended trilogy on libretti derived byMoney-Coutts from Malory's Morte d'Arthur was not completed, except forthe first work, Merlin, which was not staged in the composer's lifetime.
He divided the later years of his life, a period of deteriorating health,between Paris, Barcelona and Nice, years whichsaw the composition of Iberia.
Thefirst book of the piano suite Iberia, 12 Nauvelles impressions en quatrecahiers (TwelveNew Impressions in Four Books) was published in 1905 and dedicated to the widowof his friend, the composer Ernest Chausson, whose death in 1899 in a bicycleaccident he had found particularly distressing. The first piece, Evacacion, isgently evocative, identifiably Spanish yet recognisably in the spirit of Frenchmusic of the period. Marked Allegretto espressivo, its first theme isset over a syncopated accompaniment and leads to a secondary theme of clearerSpanish connotation. El Puerto takes its name from El Puerto de Santa Maria, a fishing-port near C?ódiz.
It is represented by a characteristic Spanish dance, with allusions to thetechnique of the guitar. The first book ends with F?¬te- Dieu ?á Seville, generallygiven in later editions as El Calpus en Sevilla, inspired by the Corpus Christi celebrations inSeville. The procession is heard approaching, with its band and the cries ofits penitents, before it passes, leaving the street deserted, to the sound ofdistant church bells.
Albenizcompleted the second book of Iberia in 1896 and dedicated it to the pianist Blanche Selva.
Randena suggests in its title the music of Ronda, a general allusion, itmay be supposed, to that region of south-western Spain. Its characteristic alternating rhythmsrelax into a gentler secondary theme, both elements to return inrecapitulation. Almer?Äa, evoking a town on the south-eastern coast of Spain, has a similar typicalasymmetry of rhythm, with expressively worked cross-rhythms in its secondarytheme. This is followed by Triana, suggesting the gypsy district ofSeville and its flamenca traditions.
The third book was completed towards the end of1896 and dedicated to Marguerite Hasselmans, although two of the pieces wereoriginally intended for the Catalan pianist Joaquim Malats, whose performancesparticularly pleased the composer. El Albaicin, the gypsy quarter of Oranada,is depicted in a movement marked Allegro assai, ma melancolico whichbrings its own dynamic climax. El Polo, described as a dance and songfrom Andalusia, is, in its title atleast, an example of flamenco, here preserving a typical air ofmelancholy, suggested in the initial instruction sanglotant (sobbing). Lavapiesis a district of Madrid that takes its name from the ritual washing of thefeet on Maundy Thursday. The piece has something of the habanera about itin its depiction of street life in a poorer quarter of the city.
lberia ends with three pieces written in 1907 and 1908.
The set was dedicated to Madame Pierre Lalo, daughter-in-law of the composer EdouardLalo. Malaga inevitably recalls the malaguefia and relaxes into asecondary theme, all to be developed and recapitulated, following the abridgedversion of sonata for