Albeniz wrote many songs – often to words by Money-Coutts – and continued his operatic work with first performances in Spain, though now he and his wife and three children were living in Paris. Later the family moved back to Spain, living in Barcelona and becoming associated with the movement to promote the performance of Catalan lyrical works. His music had unequal support from critics and the public, and he became a focus for the recurrent issue of what is a truly Spanish composer. His efforts to elevate the artistic content of the zarzuela (a form of operatic music peculiar to Spain) repeatedly faced deep-rooted prejudices. Traditionalists believed his growing international reputation was a liability. He was described as a Spaniard ‘in foreign attire’, and not only did this affect the support he received from the public, he also became the victim of intrigues and jealousies. At the end of 1902, Albeniz – his health a continuing problem (he suffered from Bright’s disease)-, he returned to France and to the warmer climate of Nice, in some disgust at his inability to get his lyrical works performed in Spain.
Beginning but never finishing several big projects for the stage, he took the advice of friends and began to concentrate on composition for the piano and from 1905 to 1908 he wrote what is regarded as his masterpiece, Iberia, a collection as he called it of twelve ‘impressions’ in four books, capturing the sounds and rhythms of his native country. This is a stunning work of such virtuosity that at one time he thought to destroy the mss. because it was so fiendishly difficult to play. A recent recording from the English company Hyperion has had rave reviews. (CD A67476/7) The Gramophone critic said ‘Where others fight to stay afloat, Marc-Andre Hamelin rides the crest of every formidable wave with nonchalant ease and poetry’.
You can hear two 6 minute extracts of his performance on the Hyperion website. The performance I have – and I am listening to as I write – is by the legendry Alicia de Larrocha on a 1973 Decca 2 disc set (448 191-2), full of style and wit (and almost half the price of the new set!).
…..a final post about Albeniz next time.