If the history of a country can partly be expressed in its music, Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) personifies much of the feel and passion of the years through which he lived. Intensely Catholic, and by his lively correspondence, in touch with important figures in the arts and government, his music often mirrors the convulsive political changes the country endured before and during the Spanish Civil War. He was attacked by conventionally-minded critics (this is becoming a familiar theme) for his admiration of French music.
At first –with his home in Madrid – his compositions were in traditional tonal language. Then for a time he toyed with composing in the popular zarzuela style. But, feeling restricted by its formulaic mode, he later set himself the challenge of ’elevating traditional Gypsy music to the highest level of art’ (NGMD), whilst remaining faithful to its earthiness. Later still he was influenced by the neo-classicism of Stravinsky who visited Madrid when Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe were performing there.
A consequence of this was eventually a version of his hugely successful pantomime ‘El sombrero de tres picos’, with designs by Picasso and choreography by Massine.
His final years were sad. He left Nationalist Spain for an engagement in Buenos Aires in 1939 and never came home to a country in which after the Spanish war and the death of his friend Lorca, he no longer felt he belonged. In poor health and often short of money he yet maintained his practice of giving all he could to the needy including Republican exiles in French refugee camps. He struggled with what was to be his greatest but at his death uncompleted work, ‘Atlantida’, an ambitious cantata which had religious and moral resonance for him.
Remembered most for his colourful and folkloric compositions rather than his eclectic work of the 1920’s, his works are ‘striking examples of what could still be accomplished within a tonal framework in the first half of the twentieth century’.
(NGDM). If music is indistinguishable from the personality of its composer (and I believe that to be true – which is why I find Wagner a problem), here is a man I would like to know more about.
More about Manuel de Falla in previous post beginning this series: Spanish modernists