The relationship between “cultivated” and “folk” music has never been easy to describe. It has sometimes taken the shape of a supercilious disdain for “folk” music, whose inflections, performance styles or idiomatic traits could be condemned as rough, unsophisticated or “wrong” by the self-appointed censors from the world of academic refinement. Sometimes, the relationship has become that of a curious or sometimes scholarly study of the popular tunes, harmonies, rhythms, scales etc., in an interest which ultimately gave birth to an entire discipline, that of ethnomusicology. Nearly always, however, elements from one’s own musical tradition, or from that of a distant country, have found their way into the repertoire of “classical” music. Sometimes this has taken the form of exoticism, whereby a distant culture is evoked (frequently in a simplistic and distorted fashion) by means of its music, or of what is perceived to be “its” music. By way of contrast, the use of the popular musical heritage of a composer’s own country takes different shapes depending on the context of creation and destination. In other words, results may be dramatically different when a composer uses popular elements within works written and conceived primarily for his fellow countrymen, or within pieces written in one’s own country but destined for performance abroad, or within pieces conceived and performed in exile.
Finally, a further important element to consider is “how far” is the “popular” musical language from that of the “cultivated” musical elite of the time. To put it simplistically, the “cultivated” and the “popular” were much closer to each other in Mozart’s Vienna than, for example, in the presence of genuine Spanish elements at the time of the French Impressionism. On the other hand, the interest of French musicians for new scales (including modality) and chordal combinations opened the way for the renewed appeal of alternative ways of organising the musical sounds both horizontally and vertically.
This explains – at least partly – the creation of numerous Spain-inspired works by Debussy (including one by the title of Ibéria) and by Ravel (whose best-known piece is doubtlessly Boléro). It is not by chance, therefore, that Debussy himself praised enthusiastically another Iberia, the one written by Isaac Albeniz.
In its entirety, Iberia consists of twelve pieces grouped in four Books; however, not only the four Books are independent of each other, but also the individual pieces can be selected rather freely by the performer, and combined with each other following one’s liking. Indeed, the complete performance or recording of the entire cycle is very seldom heard, and was possibly not even imagined by the composer – one reason being its extreme technical difficulty and its length.
True, Iberia was premiered (but each book separately) by a single pianist, the extremely gifted French musician Blanche Selva; she also interacted with the composer, suggesting alternative technical solutions particularly for the two last Books. This happened notwithstanding the fact that Albeniz himself was an excellent pianist (and, indeed, only a very proficient pianist could imagine such a complex piano writing), and that Albeniz had conceived the cycle with yet another pianist in mind, the Catalan musician Joaquim Malats.
Speaking about his own work, Albeniz himself stated that he had led “españolismo and technical difficulty to the ultimate extreme”. Actually, referring to a famous recording by legendary pianist Alicia De Larrocha (who recorded the complete cycle thrice), musical critic Donal Henahan humorously affirmed: “There is really nothing in Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia that a good three-handed pianist could not master, given unlimited years of practice and permission to play at half tempo. But there are few pianists thus endowed”. On the technical plane, Albeniz demonstrates the descendance of his concepts from the Lisztean school of piano virtuosity; however, Albeniz systematically eschews virtuosity for its own sake, and always subordinates it to the needs of style, timbre and dramatic construction. On the other hand, Albeniz clearly possessed a marked feeling for the spectacular, and he explicitly conceived Iberia as a showcase for its intended performer (i.e. Malats) and for his particular qualities of technical proficiency and musical intensity.
The pieces refer to specific places of the Iberian Peninsula, evoked by means of their typical music but also of their noises and of their rites. Albeniz was careful to point out that his use of national elements was far from a simple “copy and paste” of characteristic tunes, rhythms or modes: “I never utilise the ‘raw material’ in its crude state”, as he famously put it. He did not take pictures (or, worse, postcards) of his native land; rather, he transformed his memories through a conscious artistic process and a partly unconscious itinerary of appropriation and reinterpretation, veiled by nostalgia and elusiveness.
These are abundantly found in the first piece, Evocación, which – indeed – evokes rather than narrating or describing. This piece is structured in a Sonata allegro form, grounding its main themes on examples from the typical folk dances of southern and northern Spain. The former is remembered through the dance-forms of fandango and malaguena, while the latter is symbolised by the jota.
A much more concrete and down-to-earth atmosphere pervades the second piece, El Puerto, setting the stage in the haven of Santa María, in the vicinity of Cadiz; the musical elements are derived from the dance known as zapateado, an example of which had been used by Pablo de Sarasate in his famous bravura work for the violin. The third and last piece of Book One is one of the most famous of the series. It portrays the feast of Corpus Christi in Sevilla, and follows the display of a religious procession. The various groups of people participating in the religious rite have each a musical expression of its own, and include marching bands (one of which is heard performing a popular song known as La tarara), but also the saetas (literally “arrows”), by which the crowd expressed its religious feeling through intense cries. The piece reaches an impressive climax marked as fffff by the composer, followed by a diminution of the sound intensity as the procession fades away.
Book Two opens with Rondeña, whose name alludes to the city of Ronda; however, the piece is only loosely inspired by the local music, and is memorable especially for its polyrhythmic patterns whereby tempi in 3/4 and 6/8 intertwine in complex hemiolas. This particular rhythmic element is found also in the following piece, Almería, evoking an Andalusian city bound to Albeniz’s family history. Here touches of cante jondo are found: a typical expression of the land, and a profoundly impressive musical manifestation. A link with the gipsy tradition is shared also by the concluding piece, Triana, after the name of a quarter of the city of Seville: the dominant influence here is that of the flamenco, whose stages and constituting elements are carefully evoked.
Albeniz’s example was followed, roughly ten years later, by another Spanish musician who had made himself known in France, i.e. Manuel De Falla. If Iberia was the Latin name for Spain, Bætia was that for Andalusia; and if Albeniz had conceived Iberia for Malats, the Fantasia Bætica was tailored upon the figure of legendary pianist Artur Rubinstein. The dedicatee, however, abandoned the piece after premiering it, finding it to be longish and non-idiomatic for the piano. This demonstrates that even genius pianists may occasionally fail to see the beauty of a piece: this work by De Falla almost miraculously blends musical influences from a variety of provenances (including gypsy, Sephardic, Indian and Andalusian) while reworking them in the unique idiom of his own.
A still different approach to the musical heritage of his homeland is that found in the Cançons i danses by Federico Mompou, a Catalan composer and pianist. Similar to Iberia, the collective title indicates a group of fifteen pieces showing a unified conception, but also a remarkable independence. (Indeed, in this case, two pieces are not even written for the piano, and therefore a complete performance by a single musician is normally impossible). The fifteen pieces are actually fifteen pairs, consisting of a slow Cançó (song) and a lively Dansa (dance); in most cases, Mompou employs as the pieces’ building blocks some original and clearly identifiable folk tunes from the Catalan heritage. No. 6, included in the selection recorded here, was dedicated to Artur Rubinstein, the dedicatee of De Falla’s Fantasia, while another great pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, used to play it frequently as an encore.
Together, these works by Albeniz, De Falla and Mompou constitute a powerful fresco, suggesting the moods, influences, styles and impressions of a unique land, with a unique musical story and heritage, and with a unique personality which constantly fascinates and charms all those who encounter its music.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Alex Trolese: Axel Trolese is an Italian pianist, born in 1997. He has studied with some of the leading international musicians, such as Louis Lortie, Benedetto Lupo, Maurizio Baglini and Denis Pascal. He has obtained a Master's Degree both in Paris' Conservatoire National and Rome’s Accademia di Santa Cecilia, moreover he earned a Diploma in Cremona's Conservatorio Monteverdi.
He is an Artist in Residence at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel; moreover, his artistic activity is supported by the Associazione Musica con le Ali.
Being a fine interpreter of French music, he recorded in 2016 his first album “The Late Debussy: 12 Etudes & 6 Epigraphes Antiques”, which was praised by numerous critics and on magazines like Repubblica, Musica and Amadeus, among the others.
Spanish piano music is an other major passion, which is at the heart of his next discographic project. In 2021 Da Vinci Classics will release “Iberia: Songs & Dances”, the first volume of a complete recording of Isaac Albéniz’s Suite Iberia, together with works by Federico Mompou and Manuel De Falla.
Prize-winner in many prestigious competitions ("Ettore Pozzoli Piano Competition", "Grand Prix Alain Marinaro” and "Premio Venezia”), Axel Trolese has played in many prestigious concert halls, including Rome's Auditorium Parco della Musica, Venice's La Fenice Theatre, Paris' Salle Cortot, Beijing's Millennium Concert Hall, Milan’s Società del Quartetto, Weimar's Weimarhalle, the French Ministry of Culture, Rome’s Académie de France and Quirinal Palace, the Amiata Piano Festival, Debussy’s Home-Museum, Risonanze Festival and the Fazioli Concert Hall.
Some of his concerts have been broadcasted by Radio3, France Inter and Venice Classic Radio.
He has played as a soloist with orchestras like the Jenaer Philharmoniker and Roma Tre Orchestra, and worked with conductors like Massimiliano Caldi, Markus L. Franck, Ovidiu Balan, Jesus Medina and Pasquale Veleno.
Axel Trolese has appeared in a documentary produced by ARTE about the Italian composer Roffredo Caetani, playing his works on the Bechstein grand piano that his godfather Franz Liszt gave to him, in the magical atmosphere of the Giardini di Ninfa.
He’s the main character and pianist in the short film “Danse Macabre” by the famous Italian director Antonio Bido, inspired by Saint-Saëns' homonymous tone poem.
Frederic Mompou (b Barcelona, 16 April 1893; d Barcelona, 30 June 1987). Catalan composer. Essentially a piano miniaturist and songwriter, he created a small but highly personal body of work. He began to study the piano at the Barcelona Conservatory and gave his first public recital at the age of 15. In 1911 he travelled to Paris where he studied privately with Ferdinand Motte-Lacroix (piano) and Marcel Samuel-Rousseau (harmony). He remained in Paris until 1941, when he returned to Barcelona. A shy, somewhat timid person, he nevertheless moved in well-connected circles throughout his life and made notable friendships, including Poulenc and the painter Mirò, with the second of whom he had something in common as a creative artist, in terms of the surface simplicity of their work and their reliance on distinctive symbols or gestures drawn from their Catalan environment and folklore. For many years, until disabled by a stroke, he lectured on his own music at Música en Compostela, an annual gathering of international students at Santiago de Compostela.
Mompou’s op.1 is the set of nine Impresiones intimas (1911–14). According to the composer’s own account, these miniatures – which exhibit a mixture of adult musicality and naive, childlike emotional directness – were written in response to hearing Fauré. However, if they do display influences, it is more those of Debussy, Ravel and Mompou’s nationalist forebears, while his own distinctive voice, which remained little changed over the course of his life, is already evident. There followed a series of works bearing descriptive titles – Scènes d’enfants, Pessebres, Suburbis (the titles used are in the language of the country where the work was first published) – in which the example of Satie becomes more evident. Like Satie, Mompou turned his own technical limitations into a personal aesthetic, which he termed primitivista. This is immediately obvious on the page in an extreme economy of notation. But this apparent simplicity belies the composer’s struggle for perfection. Even the shortest of miniatures were worked on or revised over a period of years. Satie is also discernible in the use of such performance directions as ‘Chantez avec la fraîcheur de l’herbe humide’ in Scènes d’enfants. But there is no sense of Satiesque irony in Mompou, whose naive approach remains rooted in Romanticism. He had little in common with Les Six.
Aside from the French influence, Mompou owed much to his Spanish and Catalan nationalist forebears. As with Falla, the structural and modal idiosyncracies of folk music pervade his work. Indeed the far greater virtuosity of Falla’s music belies a great deal that the two composers have in common. Modes and figurations typical of Andalusian and other regional idioms are to be found in Mompou, but more often his melodic writing is rhythmically and structurally suggestive of Catalan folksong. Occasionally authentic or quasi-authentic Catalan melodies are used, such as ‘La filla del Marxant’ in the last of the Scènes d’enfants. The long series of 14 Cançons i danses are all, with the exception of numbers 5, 6, 10 (which uses two of the Cantígas de Santa Maria of Alfonso el Sabio) and 13 (the only one for guitar) and the danses of 3, 9 and 14, based on traditional Catalan tunes, which are enfolded in rich, sophisticated harmony. This combination of diatonic melody with rich, often chromatic harmony, is the basis of all Mompou’s music.
Many of his miniatures set out to evoke the essence of a particular mood, either a response to a scene in life or something more abstract: he believed in the ‘magical’ power of harmony to be quite precise in this respect. His Cants mágìcs and Charmes may be seen as an attempt to imagine how a medieval practitioner of the occult might have used this power. In the four volumes of Música callada (1959–67) – ‘quiet’ or ‘silent’ music – whose texts are taken from St John of the Cross (a writer set by Mompou on a number of occasions), he creates a mystical, spiritual series of moods. Here, as with late Falla, there is an increased austerity compared with earlier works, but the structural simplicity remains unchanged. A final substantial group of pieces comprises a body of often very beautiful songs, many of them settings of Catalan texts. Of these, Combat del Somni may perhaps be singled out as an example of Mompou at his most expansive and haunting, while the two sets of Comptines, which set traditional counting-game rhymes, exemplify his interest in the world of childhood. Late in his life, Mompou produced some more ambitious choral and stage works, including the oratorio Improperios, while many arrangements and orchestrations of his music have been made by other hands.
Isaac Albéniz: (b Camprodón, Gerona, 29 May 1860; d Cambo-les-Bains, 18 May 1909). Spanish composer and pianist. When he was a year old he moved with his family to Barcelona. His musical propensities soon became apparent, and his sister Clementina gave him piano lessons when he was about three and a half. A child prodigy, he made his first public appearance at about five, at the Teatro Romea in Barcelona. Shortly afterwards he began lessons with Narciso Oliveras. In 1867 he was taken to Paris where, it is said, he studied privately with Antoine-François Marmontel, eventually taking the entrance exam for the Paris Conservatoire; though impressed with his talent, the jury is said to have refused him admission because he was too immature. In 1868 Albéniz’s father lost his government post, and, to earn money, took Isaac and Clementina on recital tours of the Spanish provinces. Soon the family moved to Madrid, where Albéniz was enrolled in the Escuela Nacional de Música y Declamación (now the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música). His studies were constantly interrupted; having experienced the life of a travelling virtuoso, he repeatedly gave recitals in the provinces or wherever fate took him. He returned intermittently to Madrid and studied for a time with Eduardo Compta and José Tragó. His travels took him to Puerto Rico and Cuba in 1875 before he finally settled down to serious studies.
Albéniz returned to Europe and enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory in May 1876 but remained there for only two months; by summer he was back in Madrid seeking financial aid. Through the intercession of Guillermo Morphy, secretary to King Alfonso XII, he obtained a pension to attend the Brussels Conservatory. There he studied the piano until 1879, first with Franz Rummel and then with Louis Brassin, obtaining a first prize. He did not, as many biographers claim, go on to study with Liszt, though he seems to have travelled to Budapest in August 1880 with the goal of meeting the Abbé. By mid-September 1880 Albéniz was again in Madrid pursuing his performing career. He made tours of Spain and appearances in the Spanish-speaking Americas. He also began to conduct, and by 1882 he had become administrator and conductor of a touring zarzuela company in Spain. It is probably from this time that his earliest attempts at zarzuela originate – El canto de salvación, ¡Cuanto más viejo …! and Catalanes de Gracia. In 1883 he moved to Barcelona where he studied composition with Felipe Pedrell. While still continuing to perform he gave piano lessons, and on 23 June 1883 he married his pupil Rosa Jordana. By the end of 1885 they had moved to Madrid, where, through the protection of his old friend Morphy, Albéniz firmly established himself in Madrid’s musical life, performing in the homes of nobility, organizing and participating in concerts and teaching. By 1886 he had written over 50 works, principally for piano, and on 21 March 1887 he gave a concert in the Salon Romero devoted solely to his own music. His own works were also featured in a series of 20 concerts given under the auspices of Erard, the French piano manufacturer, at the French pavilion of the 1888 Universal Exposition in Barcelona. A facile improviser, Albéniz composed quickly, producing a large body of solo piano pieces, much of it delightfully inspired salon music (dances, études and character-pieces) in simple forms, redolent with repeats. But he also undertook more ambitious projects, two piano concertos (op.78 and the Rapsodia española) and a four-movement symphonic piece (Escenas sinfónicas). By 1889 he was well known as a pianist-composer, with his compositions published by Spain’s leading music publishers. In March he gave concerts in Paris; a few months later he appeared in London, where his success ensured repeated visits. In June 1890 he placed himself under exclusive contract as a composer and performing musician to the manager Henry Lowenfeld and moved to London by the end of the year with his wife and children (Alfonso, Enriqueta, and Laura; two others, Blanca and Cristina, had died in early childhood). Notable among the concerts Albéniz gave under Lowenfeld’s management were two in November 1890 focussing on modern Spanish orchestral music, and a series of ten chamber music concerts that took place in the first half of 1891 (for which he invited his friend the violinist Enrique Fernández Arbós to participate).
Through Lowenfeld, who was associated with musical theatre, Albéniz agreed to compose music for a comic opera, The Magic Opal, written by Arthur Law. He also came into contact with Horace Sedger, manager of the Lyric Theatre, and became involved with its production of Incognita (an adaptation of Charles Lecocq’s Le coeur et la main, opening 6 October 1892). On 19 January 1893 The Magic Opal, a work in the vein of Gilbert and Sullivan, had its première at the Lyric. After a successful run, it was revised slightly and staged at the Prince of Wales Theatre as The Magic Ring (11 April 1893) with Albéniz conducting. The next offering at the Prince of Wales, Poor Jonathan (15 June 1893), was an adaptation of Carl Millöcker’s Der arme Jonathan to which Albéniz contributed some numbers and acted as musical director.
Albéniz’s theatrical involvement brought him to the attention of Francis Burdett Money-Coutts, heir to the banking fortune of Coutts & Co. and financial investor in both the Prince of Wales and Lyric theatres. Money-Coutts, an amateur poet and playwright, had become a partner with Lowenfeld in the contract concerning Albéniz’s musical talents; by July 1894 Money-Coutts was Albéniz’s sole patron.
After Poor Jonathan, Albéniz moved back to the continent because of illness, settling in Paris. He soon resumed his performing activities in Spain, at the same time working on Henry Clifford, an opera based on the Wars of the Roses to a libretto by Money-Coutts. He spent the summer of 1894 in Paris completing the score as well as composing yet another stage work, San Antonio de la Florida, a one-act zarzuela to a libretto by Eusebio Sierra; this was first given in Madrid, at the Teatro Apolo on 26 October 1894, the composer conducting. Because it was more ambitious musically than the typical zarzuela in the accepted género chico style, San Antonio was not entirely successful. A month later Albéniz conducted his Magic Opal (presented in Sierra’s Spanish translation under the title of La sortija) at the Teatro de la Zarzuela and was again criticized for writing a work that did not conform to the established mould. Disgusted, he returned to Paris. Albéniz was not the only Spanish composer to encounter resistance from the establishment. Efforts to elevate the artistic content of the zarzuela as well as to create a Spanish national opera (vigorously supported by Tomás Bretón and Felipe Pedrell) repeatedly faced deep-rooted prejudices.
In March 1895 Albéniz appeared as a soloist in a concert series sponsored by the Sociedad Catalana de Conciertos in the Teatro Lírico in Barcelona. The series of five concerts, fostered by Albéniz, was conducted by d’Indy, and marked the beginning of their friendship. Ernest Chausson, whose Viviane was performed on the series, became a close friend of Albéniz as well. In time Albéniz formed close ties with Charles Bordes, Paul Dukas and Fauré, and became a cherished member of the French musical community.
On 8 May 1895 Albéniz conducted the première of Henry Clifford at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona. As was the custom there, the work was performed in Italian. Though not appreciated by the general public it proved a success with the critics, who felt that the music showed promise. Money-Coutts’s and Albéniz’s next endeavour was a one-act opera based on the novel Pepita Jiménez by Juan Valera. It had its première on 5 January 1896 at the Gran Teatro del Liceo (in Italian) to the decidedly enthusiastic applause of the general public; the press however were disappointed, having hoped for something more substantial from the composer of Henry Clifford. In March and April Albéniz set a group of poems by Money-Coutts and also began (though left incomplete) work on a choral piece Lo llacsó with text by the Catalan poet Apeles Mestres. Albéniz not only promoted Spanish music (his own as well as that of his compatriots) in the concerts he organized but also actively participated in the modernismo movement for the resurgence of Catalan culture, which had taken hold in Barcelona in the 1890s. By September Albéniz had expanded Pepita to two acts and, though he continued to give concerts, much of 1896–7 was devoted to promoting the opera’s performance. On 22 June 1897 Pepita, conducted by Franz Schalk, was produced in German at the German Theatre in Prague to great praise. Angelo Neumann, manager of the theatre, contracted Albéniz to compose two stage works, which did not however materialize. Instead, the composer embarked on a trilogy, King Arthur, to a libretto by Money-Coutts. Albéniz’s talent for inventing attractive vocal lines woven around a vibrant orchestral fabric had formed the compositional basis for Clifford and Pepita, operas that succeed from moment to moment. The immense undertaking of a trilogy, however, daunted rather than excited Albéniz’s imagination. Contrary to his usual speed, Albéniz took four years to finish Merlin (1898–1902), Lancelot was left incomplete after the beginning of the second act and Guenevere remained untouched.
Meanwhile, from 1896, in addition to composing songs, many on texts by Money-Coutts, Albéniz sought inspiration from his native land in works for solo piano and for orchestra. Notable was La vega (initially intended for orchestra), which marked a turning-point in his piano style; his deliberate exploitation of the sonorous properties of the piano, juxtaposing its different registers and utilizing the piano for its colouristic effects, foreshadows Iberia.
From 1898 to 1900 he taught advanced piano at the Schola Cantorum (among his students was Déodat de Séverac); he had to resign because of poor health and in 1900 left Paris for the warmer climate of Spain. In Barcelona he became associated with Enric Morera and the movement to promote the performance of Catalan lyrical works. He made repeated attempts to have Merlin and Pepita Jiménez produced in both Madrid and Barcelona but met constant opposition from the establishment. In 1902 Albéniz agreed to compose a three-act zarzuela to a libretto by Cristóbal de Castro, La real hembra. He set little more than the prelude and first two scenes however, and Castro never completed the libretto. Though Albéniz had support from the press, his international reputation was a liability. He was viewed as a Spaniard ‘in foreign attire’ and thus not only lacked commitment from the public and the impresarios but also suffered from their intrigues and jealousies. Since all efforts to secure performances of his lyric works failed, at the end of 1902 Albéniz returned to France where, esteemed by colleagues there, he felt he could more effectively advance the cause of Spanish music.
Suffering from Bright’s disease, he spent much time in the warmer climate of Nice. He resumed work on Lancelot, eventually putting it aside to revise the orchestration of Pepita for a performance in French at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels. Pepita, along with San Antonio de la Florida (translated into French as L’ermitage fleuri), was given on 3 January 1905 to enthusiastic reviews. Albert Carré, director of the Paris Opéra-Comique, expressed interest in Pepita, but it was not given there until 1923. Although the Monnaie announced plans to perform Merlin the following winter in a French translation by Maurice Kufferath, the production did not materialize. In April 1905 Albéniz began a lyric drama in four acts entitled La morena, but this too was left incomplete. Heeding the advice of his friends and the dictates of his conscience, he returned to the composition of piano music. From 1905 to 1908 he wrote his masterpiece, Iberia, a collection of 12 ‘impressions’ (as the work was subtitled) in four books, wherein he captured and immortalized the sounds and rhythms of his native country. Whereas the first two books of Iberia, though difficult in certain aspects, emphasize colour, the remaining pieces show a greater density of texture and an increased demand for virtuoso technique, a change in style that can be attributed to the pianist Joaquín Malats (winner of the prestigious Diémier prize in 1903). Deeply impressed by Malats’s interpretation of Triana from Iberia, Albéniz composed the last two books under the direct influence of his esteemed compatriot’s phenomenal abilities, creating music of extreme technical difficulty. Albéniz attempted the orchestration of the first book of Iberia, but not satisified with the results he asked Arbós to accomplish the task. Arbós ultimately orchestrated Triana and El Albaicín (and Navarra, which was originally conceived as part of Iberia) as well. (The remaining numbers of the work were later orchestrated by Carlos Surinach.)
In 1908 Albéniz set more Coutts poems, which were ultimately published as Quatre mélodies. His final composition, Azulejos for piano, was left unfinished at his death. His remains are buried in the cemetery in Montjuïc in Barcelona.
Throughout his virtuoso career Albéniz’s playing was admired for its clarity and its exquisite delicacy of tone, qualities that were particularly lauded in his interpretations of Scarlatti. Although he made no commercial recordings, three improvisations on privately owned wax cylinders do survive and have been made available on The Catalan Piano Tradition (VAI Audio/International Piano Archive 1001, c1992).
Through his activities as a conductor, impresario, performer and composer within Spain as well as abroad, Albéniz, one of Spain’s foremost musicians, not only contributed to the rebirth of Spanish nationalism but also gained international recognition for Spanish music. Where Pedrell used folk music in his works as a basis for a national style, Albéniz preferred to suggest, rather than quote, rhythms and melodic elements to evoke the Spanish landscape. He achieved popularity at the beginning of his compositional career with salon music. With his dramatic works, his writing gained depth. By the end of his life he was creating dense polyphonic textures that combined underlying diatonic harmonies (freely mixing major and minor tonalities with modal elements), animated by vibrant ostinato rhythms, overlaid with basically simple melodic lines and gestures embroidered with chromatic filigree.
Founded in 1987 by Paloma O’Shea, the Fundación Isaac Albéniz is dedicated to promoting and aiding musical activities in Spain; it administers the International Piano Competition of Santander (founded in 1972) and also acts as a resource centre for Albéniz research in particular and Spanish music in general.
Falla Manuel De: (b Cádiz, 23 Nov 1876; d Alta Gracia, Argentina, 14 Nov 1946). Spanish composer. The central figure of 20th-century Spanish music, he addressed over the course of his career many of the salient concerns of modernist aesthetics (nationalism, neo-classicism, the role of tonality, parody and allusion) from a unique perspective. Like many Spaniards, he was attracted to French culture. His predilection for the French music of his time, especially that of Debussy, caused him to be misunderstood in his own country, where conservative-minded critics attacked his music for its over-susceptibility to foreign influences. Reaction to Falla’s music by his compatriots often mirrored the convulsive political changes the country underwent before and during the Spanish Civil War (1936–9), a period of intense cultural activity whose musical manifestations nonetheless remain relatively unexplored.