Vistas D' Espana
ISAAC ALBENIZ became one of the great figures in the renascence of Spanish music during his short life of forty nine years (1860-1909). He was a born pianist: he made an astonishing debut in Barcelona at the age of four. But his precocity was more than pianistic, and the events of his youth and early manhood read like a picaresque novel in which our hero pursues art and adventure simultaneously. At thirteen he runs away from home, travels up and down and across Spain as a vagabond pianist. At Cadiz, to escape arrest and a forced return home, he board a ship as a stowaway and is put ashore at Buenos Aires. After months of privation there he finally arranges a concert tour that makes him rich. A year later he is in New York, poor again, working as a porter on the docks and playing piano in saloons. There follow a cross-country tour to San Francisco as a stunt pianist; another ocean voyage, this time to England, where he gives concerts; a period of study at the Leipzig Conservatory; a return to Spain, where he obtains a royal grant for further study a Brussels. Next he is in Budapest, a pupil of Liszt; then a touring virtuoso in England and the United States. At last he settles down in Barcelona at the ripe age of twenty three to study with Felipe Pedrell, marry, and become a serious composer. Though his career may be called "normal" from this time on, it still included concert tours in England and France and still another course in composition under the French masters, Dukas and d'Indy. Paris became his permanent home in 1893, and here he became known as a member of the advanced group of composers centering around Debussy.
His early works were not at all distinguished. It was his contact with Pedrell that led him toward a realization of what could be accomplished artistically in the Spanish musical idiom; and it was his contact with the French composers that awakened him ambition for significant achievement as a creative artist. When these influences came to bear upon his abundant natural gifts, he composed music that made him a leader of his generation of Spanish composers.
Albeniz was Castalonian; but the Spain that attracted him most was Andalusia - Andalusia of the cante hondo, flamenco, the gypsy, the tambourine and castanets and, mos of all, the guitar. Behind all of his mature piano writing lies the image of the guitar with it plucked sonorities, its characteristic tuning in fourths, its technique and expressiveness, and he translated all these into the idiom of his own instrument. It was natural that guitarists should want to appropriate this new and beautiful repertoire. Transcriptions were most successful, and the composer is said to have preferred some of these settings to his own originals. For this recording, Laurindo Almeida has transcribed four pieces in which Albeniz evoked the spirit of Andalusia, its cities, dances, and regional color.
MALAGUENA: The name derives from Malaga, seaport on Spain's southern coast. As a dance form, the malaguena is a variation of the Fandango and is therefore a courtship dance. Albeniz captures its coquetry and passion in the outer sections, it lyricism in the middle par. One can "see" the dancers approach each other, then move apart, the woman alternately inviting and eluding her partner.
ZAMBRA GRANADINA: A subtitle, "Danse Orientale", points to the Moorish origin of the Zambra, while "Granadina" indicates the locale - Granada, the summer residence of the Moorish kings. According to Curt Sachs, the Zambra was originally danced to the sound of flutes and oboes, and he traces the name to the Arabic zamr, meaning "oboe". It was a group dance, with the participants facing one another in a double file.
TANGO IN D: This is probably Albeniz's most popular composition. The dance he has in mind in not the Argentine tango of this century, but the original Andalusian solo dance for a woman. She wears a man's sombrero and manipulates it with her hands while stamping with her heels. What the original and modern versions of this dance have in common are their musical characteristics rather than their choreography.
CADIZ: This is the fourth of the eight pieces of Albeniz's "Suite Espanola", evocations of eight Spanish provinces (to be exact, seven provinces and Cuba). Cadiz is rich in history, and its dancing girls have been famous from Roman times. Yet it is neither history nor dance that the composer seems to have in mind here so much as a serenade. Lyricism predominates; the melody is one of the most popular that Albeniz wrote.
The next generation of Spanish composers owes much to Albeniz, not only because of the shining example set by his creativity but also because of his personal kindness and encouragement. Turina, his junior by twenty-two years, and Falla, younger by sixteen years, met him in Paris; and just as he had been brought to see Pedrell's verion of a great national art, so did they come to see his, begin to understand that they too must be workers in the same cause. They became the standard bearers for the younger generation.
JOAQUIN TURINA is the member of this generation who concerns us here. He was born in Seville in 1882. His musical education there, and later in Madred, was as disciplined and systematic as Albeniz's had been haphazard and disorganized. In 1905 he went to Paris and entered the Schola Cantorum. Debussy, Ravel, and Schmitt were among the many distinguished French composers who befriended him. When he returned to Spain in 1913, he scored an immediate success with his symphonic poem, "La procesion del rocia," a brilliantly conceived and executed tone picture of a religious folk festival. During the next few years he became internationally recognized as a modern Spanish master. He made Madred his home and here he worked constantly at composition, even during the tragic years of the civil war. He died in 1949, the the age of 67.
All of his music is inspired by the Spanish scene, especially the Andalusian. By nature he was a lyricist and his approach to his subject matter was poetic, interpretive, and very personal. Ther hreater part of his two operas and half-dozen orchestral works were completed during the 1920's. Of the works presented on this CD, all but the fourth were composed originally for the guitar.
SEVILLANA: The dance takes its name from the city of Seville. Historically it is descended from the Castilian seguidilla and is in fact the Andalusian version of that classical model. The form is not static but continually evolving, and this is reflected in the music, which does not limit itself to the triple rhythm of the "normal" sevillana but includes sections in duple time as well as passages that seem to take their shape as pure music without any regard for dance forms.
RAFAGA: This short piece begins in the mood of cante hondo, a somber meditation on typically guitar-like harmonies and rapid passage work. Gradually the spirit of dance is aroused, but only momentarily, and the melancholy mood returns. Then again dance asserts itself, and the little piece ends in a passionate outburst of virtuosity.
FANDANGUILLO: Literally, the title means "little fandango". It is said that the true Andalusian gypsy regards the fandanguillo as not "authentic" because the dance permits the use of castanets in place of finger-snapping. Be that as it may, Turina's musical interpretation of the dance is highly poetic and suggestive. He emphasizes the alternation of song and dance elements, melodic phrases of vocal character on the one hand, rhythmic motifs (note especially the drum effects) on the other.
SACRO-MONTE: Turina composed several sets of gypsy dances (danzas gitanas) for piano solo, and the excerpt from the Opus 55 set has been arranged for guitar by Jose de Azpiazu. Here the uninhibited gypsy character is pointed up by the piquant harmonies and the sudden changes of rhythm as the piece draws to its close.
LAURINDO ALMEIDA has achieved fame in widely diversified fields of music by creating beautiful and serious compositions for guitar, by performing brilliantly as solo guitarist with some of the nation's most distinguished jazz bands, and by playing with equal brilliance on the classical concert stage. His appearances at such places as Carnegie Hall, Chicago's and San Francisco's Civic Opera Houses, and the Hollywood Bowl have been marked by enthusiastic acclaim of his inspired artistry.