The colours and rhythms, perfumes and passions of Spain come alive in music by three of its greatest composers.
Composers seeking to express the spirit of their country in music often turn to the folk music of their native land. Spanish folk dances, such as the fandango and the jota, are famous for their strong and vibrant rhythms; many of these traditional dances evolved from the music of the Gypsies. Another important influence is flamenco, with its long, fluid vocal lines derived from Arabic musical traditions — bearing witness to Spain’s seven centuries under Moorish rule during the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance.
Despite its rich musical history, Spain in the 18th and 19th centuries had lost much of its distinctive musical ‘voice’, with composers tending to look to the rest of Europe for their models and styles. Isaac Albéniz was one of the first to react against this and insist on a recognisably Spanish musical language. Iberia, one of his last and finest pieces, shows how he was able to use the rhythmic and melodic shapes of folk music to evoke the Spanish landscape.
Manuel de Falla and Joaquín Turina, a generation younger than Albéniz, met the older composer in Paris not long after he had composed Iberia, and were inspired to join him in writing music that reflected and celebrated their Spanish heritage. The Three-Cornered Hat was written by Falla for the Ballets Russes, and premiered in London in 1919 with sets and costumes by Picasso. It’s one of Falla’s most purely ‘Spanish’ scores — his response to complaints from Spanish critics that he was starting to sound too much like Debussy and Ravel after his time in France.
Turina’s Danzas fantásticas take traditional Spanish dance forms and clothe them in a rich layer of glowing orchestral colours, inspired by sensual imagery from a novella called La orgía (‘Bacchanalia’).