Several works on this CD are among the favorites of the guitar repertoire. However, many listeners will be surprised to know Albéniz and Granados never wrote a single original piece for this instrument. They were both pianists, and consequently focused their work mainly on the piano. They belonged to the romantic generation of Spanish nationalist composers; much of their aesthetic design resided in the pursuit of a specific Spanish sound, be it melodic style, rhythm, harmony or sound ambiance. In all these features, the guitar presence is unavoidable. The use of typical harmony deviations of the guitar and the sound vibration of punteados and rasgueos of flamenco emerge at regular intervals in the piano writing of these composers. The practice of transcribing these works for the guitar was already underway while they were still alive, and in some cases, for example, “Asturias” and “La Maja de Goya,” the transcriptions became more popular than the original pieces.
The first guitarist to transcribe Albéniz and Malats for the guitar was Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909); the first to transcribe Granados was Miguel Llobet (1878-1938). His transcriptions, along with Andrés Segovia’s (1893-1987), today are still considered exemplary, and I use some of them with small corrections. Interestingly, this quintet of composers, who greatly contributed to spreading the bold colors of the South, were originally from Northeastern Spain (Albéniz, Granados, Malats and Llobet were Catalans; Tarrega was Valencian). There is reason to believe that at least Albéniz approved the transcription of his works for the guitar. An account of the time describes Albéniz’s reaction after hearing Tarrega play one of his piano pieces on the guitar: overcome with emotion, he would have said, “Just as I imagined!” Albéniz also praised Llobet in his correspondence and invited him to play his transcriptions in concert.
Isaac Albéniz y Pascual’s imagination as a composer was only rivaled by his creativity to reinvent the past. He probably did not run away from home when he was 8 years old to play on a ship bound for Cuba; nor was he refused as a student at the Conservatoire de Paris when he was 6. The fact is he was a child piano prodigy whose youth was marked by family tragedies; studied with Reinecke in Germany and possibly had contact with Liszt; developed his aesthetic line under the influence of Felipe Pedrell; was hired to write opera in English with librettos written by his benefactor, the banker Money-Coutts; and received the Legion of Honor of France shortly before he died in 1909.
His first pieces are light and bright, almost salon music. An intermediate phase shows considerable maturity of language and a Spanish profile already rather pronounced; and the final phase reveals a visionary composer, with highly complex works that reinvent the concept of nationalism and expand the sound of the piano, especially “Iberia,” “La Vega,” and “Azulejos”. The delightful “Pavana-Capricho Op. 12” (1882) belongs to the first phase. Inspired by the old Spanish dances, the “Capricho” has been completely re-tooled in Tarrega’s transcription.
Most of the works transcribed for guitar belong to the second phase where his piano writing tried to mimic, in a more literal way, the Spanish guitar. The 12 “Piezas Características (Op. 92)” from 1888 is an uneven collection that includes salon music. such as the humorous “Minuetto a Sylvia,” which produces a pleasant sound on the guitar, and pieces of already consistent nationalism, such as “Torre Bermeja,” more widely known as a guitar work than in its original piano form. Here Albéniz ingeniously weaves a mix of castiça dance with Moorish elements, in a melody of large amplitude over a busy arabesque. Albéniz’s many fans must have looked for the reddish-brown tower at the Alhambra palace in Granada, only to feel disappointed with the two smaller adjoining towers; but they should remember that “Alhambra” means “Red Castle” in Arabic. Another single piece, “Zambra Granadina” also evokes the Gypsies’ night parties in Granada, with extensive use of the Phrygian mode, characteristic of Arabic music. The “Capricho Catalán,” an idyllic melody built on a steady rhythm, comes from a more consistent 6-piece collection called “España (Op. 165)” from 1890.
The piece that opens the CD, “Asturias – Leyenda,” is the quintessence of Spanish guitar music. Its musical content, with an initial ostinato and Moorish couplet of the central section, is clearly Andalusian and has nothing in common with Asturian music. It was composed in the early 1890’s, and published as “Prelude” in the collection “Chants d’Espagne (Op. 232)” in 1892. In 1911, after the death of Albéniz, a German editor published a “complete” version with 8 pieces, “Suite Española (Op. 47),” originally published in 1886 with only 4 pieces. The German publisher included works drawn from other sources to complete the 8-piece suite, with new titles related to Spanish places (Sevilla, Cádiz, Aragon, etc.). In this work, imaginative listeners hear the sound of storms or the jagged profile of the Picos de Europa mountain range, but what caught my attention, in addition to the Arabism, is the intrusion of purely diatonic harmonies at the last minute, as if Albéniz wanted to describe the friction between Arabs and Christians. Since Albéniz considered himself of Arab descent, the Christian reconquest is left as an open question mark.
Enrique Granados Campiña Pantaleon’s musical quality was more poetic and less adventurous than Albéniz’s. It is the second pillar of musical Spanish nationalism. In addition to being friends, Albéniz and Granados were both outstanding pianists and died relatively young, at the age of 49 – Granados drowned when the ship that brought him back from the U.S. was torpedoed during World War I. His colleagues invariably described him as a happy, good-natured and generous person. His piano music deeply absorbs the poetry of the first half of the 19th century: the aura of Schumann, Schubert and Chopin always frame his sound universe.
The “Dedication,” the first piece of his Op. 1, “Tales of Youth”, is a clear echo of the beginning of Schumann’s “Scenes from Childhood”. However, the originality of Granados’ language already appears totally transfigured in the biggest work of his youth, the “12 Danzas Españolas,” composed in Paris and published in 1890. Even if Granados had not written anything aside from these dances, his name would still be included in the history of Spanish music. They’re all written in ternary form and make use of a repetitive, somewhat hypnotic quality, which unfolds on itself, like a circle dance. Granados only titled two of them, including No. 4, “Villanesca” (pastoral), inspired by Torquato Tasso and based on a pedal reminiscent of rustic instruments, such as the bagpipe. The same melody is transformed into a Spanish lament in the central section. Dance No. 5, known as “Andaluza” or “Playera,” is possibly Granados’ most famous piece. Here stubbornness faces an ornamental figure in the basses, supporting an exalted melody. Dance No. 10, “Danza Triste” or “Melancholy”, creates a vertigo effect with a constant alternation between two chords and sudden modulations. The central section here, in contrast to the other “Danzas,” is thematically more elaborate. In his 12 dances, the author achieves the rare quality of real earbugs that get in, please the listener, and take forever to go away.
Granados was fascinated by the painting universe of Francisco Goya; his greatest work for the piano, “Goyescas,” is made of improvisations on pictures of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Such was the success of this work that Granados later wrote an opera with the same title, based on the same material. It was premiered at the Metropolitan in New York, and that was pretext for the trip to the USA in which Granados perished. Another vocal work based on goyescos themes are the “12 Tonadillas en Estilo Antiguo,” recreating the salon atmosphere of the same period. Text quality is inversely proportional to musical sophistication, which may explain the success of the guitar transcription of the sultry “La Maja de Goya”.
Joaquin Malats y Miarons was one of the great masters of the piano tradition of Barcelona. He wrote a fair amount of piano music of unpretentious character, along with large symphonic works. As a pianist, he had remarkable success in the USA and was a favorite of Albéniz, who mentions, in his correspondence, that he wrote his masterpiece “Ibéria” with Malats’s piano playing in his mind (Malats debuted much of “Ibéria” after the composer’s death). The “Serenata Española” is a charming work with its dramatic dimension expanded upon the guitar. The extreme popularity of the guitar version made the original piano score a true rarity.
Recorded at: Cantareira Studio, São Paulo, Brazil – February 4-6th, 2013
Production: Music Maru – Cantareira Studio
Recording, mixing, editing: Ricardo Marui
Masterização / Mastering: Ricardo Marui, Pietro Correa
Translation: Stella Klujsza
Graphic, Web Design, Photos: Eduardo Sardinha
Texts: Fabio Zanon
Guitar: David (José) Rubio 1967 courtesy of André Périgo; strings Savarez
Transcriptions: tracks 7, 9, 10, and: 11 Miguel Llobet; 1: Andrés Segovia; 6:12: Francisco Tárrega; 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8: Fabio Zanon
Thanks to: André Périgo, Ricardo Marui, Glauber Rocha, Ricardo Dias, Marcelo Kayath, Mariana Barbosa, Catarina and Francisco Zanon.
This CD is dedicated to my teachers Antonio Carlos Guedes and Eraldo Pinheiro (in memoriam) for infecting me with their enthusiasm for Spanish music.