Manuel de Falla’s Legacy: The Composer
Manuel de Falla y Matheu (23 November 1876–14 November 1946) was considered one of the most distinguished Spanish composers of the 20th century (Britannica, 2020). Arguably, he could be regarded as one of the greatest. He dominated the field, so much so that “the composers of Spain have yet to recover from his influence” (Classic Net, 1995). His music was representative of the spirit of Spain, perhaps, in its purest form (Britannica, 2020). He covered the popular themes, but of course, he modified them “at his convenience” (Durand Salabert Eschig, 2016). De Falla particularly took interest in the native music, including Andalusian flamenco, with many of his works “nationalistic in character” (Wise Music Classical, 2021). Interestingly, his pieces were perceived to be more Castilian than Andalusian (Britannica, 2020). He was also heavily influenced by “Stravinskian neo-classicism” and impressionism (Durand Salabert Eschig, 2016; Wise Music Classical, 2021).
Notably, de Falla’s style was far from Romantic (Britannica, 2020). His early works, similarly to those of Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados, “took a basic Chopin idiom and grafted a Spanish surface onto it” (Classical Net, 1995). Indeed, the music of Spain had “exercised an exotic fascination,” oftentimes in “forms adapted by foreign composers” (Naxos Records, 2021). However, it was the “higher degree of finish” that distinguished de Falla from his predecessors (Classical Net, 1995). With his music, Falla had “achieved a fusion of poetry, asceticism, and ardour” (Britannica, 2020). Over the course of his life, de Falla would produce a variety of stage works, along with orchestral, vocal, chamber, and piano music (Naxos Records, 2021). His output was “small but choice” (Reel, 2021).
Despite his accomplishments, de Falla’s death “did not remove a figure who had been lately in the minds of musicians and music-lovers” (Blom, 1947). Seemingly, he had been forgotten or had receded into obscurity. According to speculators, “his reason had gone” (Blom, 1947). It was evident that his artistic productivity had ceased, especially given that he retired to Granada (Blom, 1947; Britannica, 2020). Subsequently, he wrote very little from 1926 and onwards (Britannica, 2020). His final oratorio, Atlántida, while admittedly vast, was left unfinished (Wise Music Classical, 2021). His pupil, Ernesto Halffter, eventually produced a completion. However, this version has been scrutinized for its “muddled” parts (Classical Net, 1995).
Manuel de Falla’s Growth as a Musician: Major Influences and Figures
Supposedly, it was after hearing a Beethoven symphony that de Falla decided to pursue composition (Durand Salabert Eschig, 2016). Having met and befriended prominent figures, such as Claude Debussy, Federico García Lorca, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Paul Dukas, and Sergei Diaghilev, de Falla was both appreciative of, and swayed by, their numerous contributions to the fields of music, art, and poetry (Britannica, 2020; Classical Net, 1995; Naxos Records, 2021). Distinctly, de Falla was irresistibly allured by France (Jean-Aubry, 1917). In this aspect, he followed the example of his elders, who typically looked towards France for inspiration. It was not an uncommon thing “to find foreign musicians composing songs to French words, de Falla was, however, “one of the first to spread in Spain a curiosity and taste for modern French music” (Jean-Aubry, 1917). Paradoxically, an impulse or tendency towards Spanish Modernism caused his works to, at times, come across as intensely Spanish (Classical Net, 1995). Undeniably, he evoked a picturesque, and an emotional, Spain (Jean-Aubry, 1917). Such works were both gripping and authentic (Blom, 1947).
- Manuel de Falla’s Education and Career
De Falla’s musical education initially began in Cádiz with piano lessons taught by his mother (Britannica, 2020). It was in this town that he would learn “music very early under the direction of Mlle. Elois Galluzo,” and study “harmony with Alejandro Odero and Enrique Broca” (Jean-Aubry, 1917). By the age of 20, de Falla and his family would relocate to Madrid, where he would study with José Tragó, a distinguished teacher, pianist, and composer (Wise Music Classical, 2021). He eventually found himself under the guidance of Felipe Pedrell, a teacher and scholar who inspired Falla with “his own enthusiasm for 16th-century Spanish church music, folk music, and native opera, or zarzuela” (Britannica, 2020; Wise Music Classical, 2021). Undoubtedly, the latter two influences were significant for de Falla, as they are “strongly felt in La Vida breve (Life Is Short)” (Reel, 2021). It was with this national opera, produced in the way of a Spanish Cavalleria rusticana, that de Falla was unanimously awarded by the Real Academia de Bellas Artes (i.e., Madrid Academy of Arts) during 1905 (Jean-Aubry, 1917; Reel, 2021; Wise Music Classical, 2021). At the same time, he was awarded a second prize, specifically for his skills in pianoforte, which was “organised by the piano makers Ortiz y Cussó” (Britannica, 2020; Wise Music Classical, 2021).
Despite these successes, de Falla did encounter a multitude of setbacks while attempting to establish a career in music (Classical Net, 1995). His six zarzuelas had failed and his first prize, “which was to have included a performance,” was unfulfilled till the year of 1913 (Britannica, 2020; Classical Net, 1995). Consequently, a discouraged de Falla “accepted an offer to tour France as an accompanist” (Classical Net, 1995). Remarkably, this move to Paris had a tremendous effect on his career, proving to be the key to his artistic growth and success. During his seven years of residency, he completed various chamber works and published his first piano pieces (Britannica, 2020; Wise Music Classical, 2021). Such piano pieces included waltzes, caprices, nocturnes, as well as serenades (Durand Salabert Eschig, 2016). By 1914, the outbreak of war compelled, if not forced, de Falla to return to his native country (Classical Net, 1995; Wise Music Classical, 2021). Arriving home to Madrid, he was “no longer the young Spanish composer who had come to Paris to work and learn” (Jean-Aubry, 1917).
Creating Compositions: A Criticism of Construction
While his collection of works are limited, de Falla’s “output has retained its vitality,” especially compared to other composers who were “extremely fertile” but showed “a very small survival of works fit to live on” (Blom, 1947). There is a possibility that he wrote as many pieces as the others, however, they have remained either unpublished, unknown, or undiscovered. Unlike his fellow musicians, it is likely that de Falla “was aware that his was a process of trial and error” (Blom, 1947). Meanwhile, most would admit that “their unimportant works were exercises which they were quite willing to publish, for the sake of expediency if not for the sake of fame” (Blom, 1947). Given that there is little note of whether he wrote and discarded much, it is difficult to determine the depth of his processes and his failures. With no personal accounts, even from intimate friends, if he “refrained again and again from setting pen to paper” has yet to be confirmed (Blom, 1947). Even the composer himself could not be “brought to give any information whatever concerning them” (Jean-Aubry, 1917). It is important to note that de Falla composed very slowly. Prone to self-criticism and dissatisfaction, he frequently started major projects and abandoned them (Classical Net, 1995).
From what could be gathered from de Falla, it is believed that “among his gifts was not the power to sustain vastness of construction” (Blom, 1947). Even his longer pieces were criticized for lacking an organic connection and the structural function of keystones. Additionally, aspects of his works were terse, decorative, repetitive, unconsciously mechanical, and underdeveloped (Blom, 1947). Feasibly, de Falla produced works of length, rather than of substance and mastery. Alternatively, fans have praised de Falla’s pieces, suggesting that:
“We never feel confronted with mere padding, and have nowhere the impression of a sonorous nothing. All the musical drama unfolds, expands, and ends tragically without any useless thunder… But the rarest and most wonderful thing in all this is the taste with which he has everywhere expressed the feelings of his personages, the framing scenery, and all the modulations of the action. Scattered all over with exquisite melodies, this score does not contain a single page composed for the sake of effect” (Jean-Aubry, 1917).
To his benefit, de Falla was an artist who distinctly knew that all artistic expression, including composition, “must be sought within the bounds of a chosen art itself,” particularly using a “chosen medium within that art” (Blom, 1947). Therefore, he did not resort to machines or abuse to reproduce noises (i.e., musical sounds), rather, he used the power of suggestion to manifest such tiny details (Blom, 1947).
Blom, E. (1947). Manuel de Falla.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2020). Manuel de Falla. Encyclopedia Britannica.
Classical Net (1995). Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). Available at: http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/falla.php
Durand Salabert Eschig (2016). Falla, Manuel de. Universal Music Publishing Group.
Jean-Aubry, G. (1917). Manuel de Falla. The Musical Times, 58(890), 151-154.
Naxos Records (2021). MANUEL DE FALLA (1876-1946). Naxos Music Group. Naxos Digital Services.