Book 1 No 1: Los requiebros [8'42]
El pelele 'Escena goyesca' [4'24]
Allegro de concierto [7'37]
Garrick Ohlsson injects some much-needed Mediterranean light into this dark time of year with Granados’s pianistic masterpiece, Goyescas. Written in the first decade of the twentieth century, it’s a musical tribute to the great Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, under whose spell Granados had fallen as a young man. Filled with a patriotic fervour for what he saw as a universally great Spanish genius, he wrote several pieces inspired by the painter’s life and times. The six pieces that make up Goyescas are no mere tone-poems but instead draw on details from Goya’s works—notably the Caprichos, a sequence of aquatints that satirized (and outraged) Spanish society. They draw on Spanish folk music too, as in the famous dialogue between the Maiden and the Nightingale, complete with a trilling cadenza at the end for the nightingale.
Another product of Granados’s preoccupation with the painter was the exuberant El pelele, which recounts the tale of a straw man being tossed on a trampoline, while the Allegro de concierto forms a fittingly brilliant endpiece.
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The Spanish composer Enrique Granados (1867–1916) is best remembered today for his Goyescas suite for solo piano, inspired by the art and times of Francisco de Goya (1746–1828). The work is of great significance in Spanish music history, for unlike many of the nationalist creations of his contemporaries Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla and Joaquín Turina, which drew their inspiration from Andalusia, Goyescas affirmed the enduring charm and cultural centrality of the city and region in which Goya spent most of his life: Madrid and Castile. Ironically, neither Goya nor Granados was Castilian. Goya was from Aragon, while Granados was born in the Catalonian city of Lleida, on 27 July 1867. The family relocated to Barcelona in 1874, and Granados remained there for the rest of his life. Yet Granados was not ethnically Catalan and did not sympathize with the separatist movement in that region. His grandfather, father and brother were all army officers, and it was precisely this tradition of military service to the Spanish crown that instilled in the young Enrique a strongly patriotic sentiment, which is evident in Goyescas.
Granados began serious piano study with Joan Baptista Pujol in Barcelona and then studied for two years with Charles de Bériot in Paris. After returning to Barcelona in 1889 he became a central figure in the city’s cultural life, as a performer, teacher, composer and conductor. Around 1890 he completed and published the twelve Danzas españolas, his first compositions to gain international recognition.
Granados first came under the spell of Goya while viewing an exhibition of his works at the Prado Museum in Madrid in 1896, during a celebration of the sesquicentennial of the artist’s birth. Granados concluded that Goya was ‘the representative genius of Spain’ and soon sought to capture in music the spirit of the man and his epoch. In particular, the bohemian character of the majo and maja captivated Goya and later dominated the highly romanticized image of old Madrid embraced by Granados and his contemporaries, a fascination known as majismo. The real-life majo cut a dashing figure, with his large wig, lace-trimmed cape, velvet vest, silk stockings, hat and sash, in which he carried a knife. The maja, his female counterpart, was brazen and streetwise. She worked at lower-class jobs, as a servant, perhaps, or a vendor. She also carried a knife, hidden under her skirt. Lengthy courtships between majo and maja were the norm, and he took her to the theatre, the park, and to the botilleria, a café that served light refreshments. The influence of the very word majo/a endures in the Spanish language, as a way of saying something is fashionable or desirable.
Granados’s attraction to the art of Goya came to flower at a time when Spain was searching its past for great figures, especially in painting, who (it was thought) had delved so deeply into the Spanish ‘soul’ that they had found something of universal appeal. Such romantic nostalgia must be viewed in the context of Spain’s disastrous 1898 war with the United States, which decisively ended its four-hundred-year reign as a global empire. Goya, and soon Granados, would point the way to the future, in helping to redefine what it meant to be Spanish in the modern era.
Granados actually composed a number of works inspired by Goya, including an enchanting set of songs entitled Tonadillas. However, the most famous and enduring of his Goya-inspired masterpieces is unquestionably the piano suite in two ‘books’ entitled Goyescas, o Los majos enamorados (‘Goyescas, or The majos in love’). Work on this suite began in 1909, and by 31 August 1910 the composer was able to write to fellow pianist Joaquim Malats that he had composed ‘great flights of imagination and difficulty’.
However, constructing a precise chronology of composition is difficult because Granados usually did not date his manuscripts; nonetheless, we have a reasonably good idea of how Goyescas evolved. The order of composition is not the same as the order in which the published works appear. A sketch of ‘Coloquio en la reja’, dated simply ‘Monday, December 1909’, tells us that Granados was working on the suite in that year and that it was apparently the first piece he tackled. He began work on ‘Los requiebros’ in April of the following year and finished it on 23 July 1910. ‘Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor’ was completed over a month earlier, on 16 June 1910, while ‘Epílogo, serenata del espectro’ is dated 28 December 1911. ‘El fandango de candil’ and ‘El amor y la muerte’ are undated, but it is certain that the former was completed before ‘El amor y la muerte’ and ‘Epílogo’ because both of those works contain motifs from it that Granados even labels in the score. Granados himself issued a facsimile of Book I in 1911; it was published by Casa Dotesio in Barcelona in 1912. He completed Book II in December 1911, and it was published in 1914 by Unión Musical Española, which had by then acquired Casa Dotesio. Granados gave the premiere of Book I at the Palau de la Música Catalana on 11 March 1911; he premiered Book II at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on 2 April 1914.
‘Los requiebros’ (‘The flirtations’) was inspired by the fifth of Goya’s Caprichos, Tal para cual (‘Two of a kind’). In it Granados quotes the song ‘Tirana del Trípili’, by the eighteenth-century composer Blas de Laserna (the tirana was an Andalusian song and dance in triple metre at a moderate tempo). However, Granados recasts Laserna’s tonadilla as a jota, complete with the alternation of copla (verse) melodies and an estribillo (refrain). Like the real jota, ‘Los requiebros’ presents inexhaustible variations and ornamentations of its thematic material. Evocations of a guitarist’s punteo (plucking) and rasgueo (strumming) enliven the setting.
‘Coloquio en la reja, duo de amor’ (‘Dialogue at the window, love duet’) was actually the first number that Granados composed, and every other movement of Goyescas, except for ‘Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor’, utilizes excerpts from it. Granados’s intricate intertwining of thematic material creates an effect resembling the ornamental iron grill (reja) in a window, through which majos and majas carried on their courtship.
Interestingly, there is no portrayal in any of Goya’s works of a ‘Fandango de candil’ (‘Fandango by candlelight’); however, a sainete (musical skit) by his contemporary Ramón de la Cruz had exactly that title, and this served as the inspiration for Granados’s piece. What Cruz conjured up in his little drama was a celebration held at someone’s home in which dancing by candlelight was accompanied by guitars and other instruments. The persistent triplet rhythms of the fandango animate Granados’s musical canvas, unifying the entire movement and generating a kind of tension that finds release only at the conclusion.
‘Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor’ (‘Complaints, or The maja and the nightingale’) is a fanciful dialogue between a heartsick maja and a nightingale, which sings a virtuosic ‘cadenza ad libitum’ at the end of the movement. The principal theme is a Valencian folk melody that Granados heard a young girl singing in the countryside during one of his trips to that region. Granados employs a ‘changing background’ technique in this piece, in which each repetition of the song features a variation of the accompaniment. The overall effect is almost hypnotic and creates a mood of forlorn reverie.
The two movements of Book II form a colossal recapitulation of themes earlier presented. ‘El amor y la muerte’ (‘Love and death’) was inspired by another of Goya’s Caprichos, of the same title. The etching depicts a young woman holding in her arms her dying lover, a look of terror and dismay on her face as he breathes his last. The very opening of this movement presents a quintuplet turn from ‘Coloquio’, now in ominous octaves as the lover collapses, mortally wounded, into the maja’s arms. The ensuing delirious succession of dominant-seventh chords suggests his fatal swoon. A reminiscence of the folk-song theme from ‘Quejas’ occurs at bar 12, as the maja experiences the pangs of love and death. A ‘recitativo dramático’ towards the end heralds the death of the majo. According to Granados: ‘The final chords are struck in short bass notes that represent the renunciation of happiness.’
In the concluding movement, ‘Epílogo, serenata del espectro’ (‘Epilogue, the ghost’s serenade’), the spirit of the departed majo appears in a macabre vision, serenading his beloved on a ghostly guitar. The simplicity and austerity of ‘Epílogo’ create a striking contrast with the rest of the suite. There are three ‘verses’ preceded by ‘refrains’, and each refrain introduces new themes as well as references to ‘Coloquio’. At the conclusion of this fascinating piece the ghost disappears plucking the strings of his guitar. We hear the open strings of the instrument, symbolizing the idea that the work is over and there are no more chords to play, except the final E major chord.
Granados justifiably wrote of Goyescas: ‘Finally I have had the good fortune to write something important.’ He had indeed sealed his reputation and legacy with this defining triumph. It was, as he claimed, ‘a work for the ages’.
El pelele (‘The straw man’), subtitled ‘Escena goyesca’, is usually programmed along with the suite. The influence of Scarlatti is especially marked here, in the sheer delight Granados takes in sensual virtuosity and irrepressible bonhomie. The pelele was a life-size straw man that young women enjoyed tossing up in the air, using a blanket that they held at the corners as a kind of trampoline. Goya portrayed the scene unforgettably in one of his tapestry cartoons, and the giddy exuberance of this music makes El pelele one of Granados’s most memorable compositions. Granados premiered it at a concert in Terrassa on 29 March 1914. In fact, the term ‘Goyescas’ encompasses all of Granados’s piano works inspired by the artist, not only the suite. In addition to El pelele, other ‘Goyescas’ include Jácara (Danza para cantar y bailar), Serenata goyesca, Crepúsculo and Reverie-Improvisation (a recording he made for Duo-Art in New York shortly before his death).
Granados’s pianistic Goyescas served as the musical and thematic basis for an opera of the same name, which premiered on 28 January 1916 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with the composer and Pablo Casals in attendance. Though the opera was not a success and closed after five performances, Granados had planted his flag abroad and made a good deal of money in the process. A brighter future definitely beckoned. Alas, during their return to Spain, Granados and his wife drowned when the ship on which they were sailing from England to France, the Sussex, was torpedoed by a German U-Boot. Yet his Goyescas lives on as a testament to his musical genius and as a work that takes its place alongside Albéniz’s Iberia as the highest expression of Spanish nationalism in the keyboard literature.
The Allegro de concierto is a bravura showpiece that Granados submitted to a 1903 composition competition of the Royal Conservatory in Madrid. Among the others who submitted a work for the jury’s consideration was a young composer from Cádiz named Manuel de Falla. In the event, Granados won first prize, and Falla an honourable mention. The Allegro de concierto combines Lisztian virtuosity with skilful use of sonata form, a rare instance of this procedure in the composer’s œuvre. There is nothing folkloric or distinctively Spanish about this piece; yet, its technical brilliance and enchanting lyricism make it a perennial favourite among Granados’s piano works.
Walter Aaron Clark © 2012