The French Connection

Several times in these postings we have come across Spanish composers studying in Paris and being influenced by French composers of their time. It was true of Albeniz, and Chausson, was his teacher and friend. Rodrigo was a pupil of Dukas, and Turina studied under d’Indy and was friends with Debussy(1862-1918) and Ravel(1875-1937). But this was by no means a one-way traffic. The distinctive rhythms and shape of Spanish music influenced the French composers we have already mentioned, with the exception of d’Indy, although his vivid orchestral works are marked by a vein of folk-like melody to which Turina’s interest in Andalusian indigenous music perhaps contributed.

De Saraste, however, clearly inspired some of the music of Lalo (1823-1892) – notably the Symphonie Espagnole for violin and orchestra ( it was written for the violinist) – but then that shouldn’t have been surprising, for Lalo was of Spanish descent

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the artistic life of Paris became mid-wife to composers from many countries. Debussy was intrigued for a time by the music of Wagner and for one summer he was pianist to Tchaikovsky’s patron Mme von Meck. He knew Liszt and Verdi and was influenced by Javanese gamelan but eventually called himself ‘musicien francais’. I have a recording of all of his piano music and there I find strong connections with the Spanish music of his period, especially in Albeniz’s ‘Iberia’, which he called ‘impressions’, in fact a favourite word too of Debussy’s .

He has a composition of the same name, and his ‘Soirees dans Granada’ is clearly Spanish influenced.

Georges Bizet wrote several operatic works –some of which were never finished He was a frustrated composer and even his most famous opera, ‘Carmen’, had a bad reception when first produced and only gained international favour after his death. Carmen of course is set in Spain and is as evocative of that country as one could wish, employing many its typical dance-rhythms. Incidentally he believed that he had based the famous ‘Habanera’ on a Spanish folk song. In fact it had been written by Sebastian Iradier(1809-1865), who was a composer and professor of singing at Madrid Conservatory.