Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Albéniz - Suite española

When the father of Isaac Albéniz realized that his young son displayed prodigious musical talent
(little Isaac reportedly gave his first concert when he was 4 years old), the boy divided his time between studying and giving concerts. His parents took him to Paris, but he was denied entry into the Conservatoire because he was too young.  The pressure put on him by his father to study and give concerts may have been the reason Isaac made many attempts to run away from home.

Albéniz's father was a custom's agent, and on his job-related travels he took Isaac and his younger sister on a concert tour of northern Spain. Isaac was nine years old when his concert career began and by the age of fifteen he had traveled many parts of the world concertizing, and contrary to legends about Albéniz running away from home as a stow away on a ship to South America, his father accompanied him on his travels.

He concertized as a pianist for most of his life, in addition to composing. His style made a major shift from salon pieces to music that reflected the mood, rhythm and style of the traditional music of Spain.  Albéniz's was original in that he did not use folk tunes in his works, but he adapted the style of the Spanish folk tune.

 Suite española originally had only four pieces included, but after Albéniz died in 1909 his publisher added four more pieces to make the version of the work that is most well known.  The original four pieces are named after regions of Spain along with the type of dance or musical form used. Some of the four additional works added after Albéniz's death do not retain this distinction. The names were chosen by the publisher and not Albéniz himself.

All but one of the eight pieces in the suite are in ternary form with a contrasting middle section called a copla, an interlude of a vocal nature.  Albéniz heard many guitar players of Spain, and when some of the pieces from the suite were arranged for guitar he was delighted, and said that was the sound he had in mind when he wrote the pieces.

I. Granada (Serenade) - The meaning of the word serenade is derived from the Italian word for calm.. Albéniz creates a mood of calmness with a simple melody in the bass accompanied by rolled chords in the right hand in imitation of a guitar:
The middle section has the melody move up to the right hand and alternates between minor and major mode. Granada along with Asturias is one of the pieces of this suite most often transcribed for guitar. Granada was the last Arab-held part of Spain, and it was one of Albéniz's favorite places to be, as he wrote in a letter:
I think that Granada, where I am, is 'the treasure of Andalusian music.' I also believe that I must write this, as I am convinced that my youth is full of enough musical experiences to embark in the conquest of this wonderful land, endowed with exquisiteness, cordiality and love, but safe-keeping all this as the Arabs safe-kept the flowers of their garden and the women in their palaces.
II. Cataluña (Courante) -   The only piece in the suite that is not in ternary form. It has a dotted rhythmic pulse in the melody, and after it is played through a short coda brings the piece to a close.  Some have suggested that this piece was in honor of Albéniz's mother who had recently died.

III. Sevilla (Sevillanas) -  The sevillanas are dances that can be mistaken for Flamenco, but while it was influenced by flamenco in the early 19th century it is not the same. After the repeated notes in the bass ends the first section, the middle section begins with a plaintive melody played two octaves apart.

IV. Cádiz (Canción) -  Canción means song in Spanish, and the form is descendant from the saeta, a song of religious nature that may have had Jewish origins that go back to the 16th century. This piece evokes the subtler rhythms of Flamenco.

V. Asturias (Leyenda) - This piece is the most glaring example of the mismatching of a style to a region in the suite. The music of the Asturias region of Spain has nothing in common with the Flamenco style of the music. The subtitle Leyenda meaning Legend,  is not any dance or song form, but it is descriptive of the mood of the piece. It opens with an imitation of a Flamenco guitarist with the melody in the left hand intertwined with the repeated note in the right hand:
Albéniz imitated the guitar so well that this piece was adapted quite readily to the guitar and is more often heard in that version than the original piano version. The entire first section expands on this beginning, and is punctuated by leaps of accented chords in the right hand and octaves in the left while the melody still manages to be carried in the left hand. The slower central section is made up of different subsections that refer to motives in the opening. The first section repeats and a short coda brings one of the most representative of Spanish piano pieces to a hushed ending.

VI. Aragón (Fantasía) -  This piece has a reoccurring motive of a triplet on the second beat of the measure throughout. Repeated sixteenth notes herald the middle section which is title copla by the composer. It is a mellow theme in thirds. The copla does not last long, as the tempo of the beginning returns and the music plays a variant of the opening theme that magically repeats, twists and turns upon itself.  A short section with rolled chords in the right hand over a melody in the left segues to a repeat of the first section. A coda closes this excellent piece solidly in F major.

VII. Castilla (Seguidilla) - In another guitar inspired rhythm, the melody is in the left hand in this seguidillas, an ancient Castillian dance.

VIII. Cuba (Capriccio) -  Has also been referred to as a nocturne, Albéniz included Cuba as a region of Spain because it was indeed a possession of Spain at the time the piece was written, and Albéniz had played many concerts there. The piece is in 6/8 time and the first section's main feature is a melody that in the second and third bar of the phrase plays two notes against three in the left hand:
The middle section is in more the mood of a nocturne.

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