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Falla, Manuel de

(November 23, 1876 - November 14, 1946)

Manuel de Falla was born into a well-off family in Cádiz on 23 November 1876; his father was a businessman, and his musical studies were initiated by his mother. The musical life of a small provincial town like Cádiz - though it was famous for the celebrated Musica instrumentale sopra le 7 ultime parole del nostro Redentore in croce specially composed by Haydn for her cathedral in 1785 - had little to offer to a boy like Manuel who had displayed a great disposition for music. When the family moved to Madrid in 1897 he enrolled at the Conservatory; here, in 1901, he met Felipe Pedrell, to whom he was always to be bound by deep friendship and respect. If we look back at the catalogue of his youthful works, alongside the typical pièces de salon inspired by Mendelssohn or Grieg we find a few zarzuelas, the successful Spanish theatrical genre which was the only possible professional outlet for a talented young musician in early-century Madrid. In 1905 he won the competition for compositions held by the “Academia de Bellas Artes” with the opera La vida breve to a libretto by Carlos Fernández Shaw, but when the work was not performed - although the prize promised this - Falla decided to leave Madrid to go to one of the great cultural capitals of Europe: Paris.

The seven years spent in the French capital were of fundamental importance for Falla’s development and career. It was here that his compositional language reached maturity; in contact with Debussy, Dukas, Ravel, Viñes and the other emigré Spanish musicians Albéniz and Turina, and in spite of many financial difficulties, Falla created his first great masterpieces. He finished revising  La vida breve, which was to be successfully performed in Nice in April 1913 and at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in January 1914; he completed the Cuatro piezas españolas for piano, begun in Madrid and performed by Ricardo Viñes in a concert organized by the Societé Nationale de Musique; he wrote Trois mélodies to texts by Gautier and  Siete canciones populares españolas for voice and piano; he also began composing Noches en los jardines de España for piano and orchestra, which is clearly indebted to Debussy for its orchestral colouring. But in Paris, in addition to discovering the music of Debussy, Dukas, Ravel, and the Russian school - he was excited by the performance of Boris Godunov organized by the “Ballets Russes” - Falla made a sort of pact, together with Turina and Albéniz, to create purely Spanish music that was free from foreign influence. Paris was therefore the city that opened up the horizons of new European music for him, but at the same time it was the place that took him back to his Iberian origins, in accordance with that oscillating movement Malipiero was alluding to in the above quotation. 
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Falla returned to his native land, to Madrid, where he established his residence, and composed the ballets which were to make him famous throughout Europe. El amor brujo, at first a “gitanería in one act and two scenes” written expressly for the cantaora and excellent ballerina Pastora Imperio in a version for chamber orchestra (1915), was reworked a year later for large orchestra and staged in Paris in 1925 with another great interpreter, “La Argentina”. The 1917 pantomime El corregidor y la molinera, inspired by Alarcón’s novella, became the celebrated Sombrero de tres picos for Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” in London in 1919, with sets by Picasso. He also wrote the Fantasía bética for piano, from the Latin name for Andalusia, and Homenaje for guitar in memory of Claude Debussy. In these operas Falla revisits the rich Andalusian folklore, the diversified heritage of the cante flamenco, from the nocturnal and magical enchantment of gypsy rites in El amor brujo to the eighteenth-century atmosphere of Alarcón’s novella in El sombrero, from the pianistic transfigurations of the guitar’s rasgueado in the Fantasía to the transpositions for guitar of refined Debussian harmonies in Soirée dans Grenade. But, curiously, he visits his native, magical Andalusia from distant, harsh Castile, as further proof of that ambivalent significance the folkloric document held for him: his music was hardly ever the result of research in the field - as was the case with Béla Bartók - but was rather the imaginative re-invention of a song, the quest for an expressive language that is immediate and extraneous to any form of historical evolution. 

In September 1920 he moved definitively to Granada, to the little carmen of the Antequeruela Alta, on the slopes where the Alhambra stands. Here, together with Federico García Lorca and Gerardo Diego, he organized a competition for  cante jondo in June 1922; he wrote El retablo de Maese Pedro for puppet theatre, performed at de Polignac’s palace in Paris on 25 June 1923, Psyché for voice and instruments (1925), and the Concerto for harpsichord (1923-26) for Wanda Landowska. Falla’s musical language became drier, Andalusia was no longer the source of his inspiration as much as - now distant - Castile, alongside the revival of interest in eighteenth-century instrumental writing - above all Scarlatti’s - that characterized the horizon of European music in the ‘twenties. This is how Stravinsky remembered the London performance of the Concerto and El retablo in June 1927: “While in London I had an opportunity of hearing a very beautiful concert of the works of Manuel de Falla. With a precision and crispness meriting high praise, he conducted his remarkable El retablo de Maese Pedro, in which he had the valuable assistance of Vera Janacopoulos. I also greatly enjoyed hearing his Concerto for harpsichord or piano, which he himself played on the latter instrument. In my opinion these two works give proof of incontestable progress in the development of his great talent. He has, in them, deliberately emancipated himself from the folklorist influence under which he was in danger of stultifying himself”.

Towards the end of 1926 he started work on an ambitious project, the scenic cantata Atlántida to a text drawn from the homonymous poem by the Catalan Jacinto Verdaguer; the work was never to be finished,and accompanied him constantly for the rest of his life, right up to his death in Argentina in 1946. In his final years, his state of health and the dramatic political events leading to the Spanish Civil War in 1936 reduced Falla’s productivity. In 1933 he spent a few winter months in Majorca, where he composed the Balada de Mallorca in homage to Chopin, adapting for unaccompanied chorus the Andantino of Chopin’s second Ballade, to a text by the Catalan poet Verdaguer; Falla had already drawn inspiration from Chopin in 1918 in the theatrical work Fuego fatuo, which was never published.
In 1935, to mark the death of his friend and teacher Paul Dukas, he wrote Pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas for piano,which appeared in the monographic issue of “La Revue Musicale” in 1936. The outbreak of the Civil War, the killing of his friend Fede-rico García Lorca by the Francoists, and the bloody violence of the conflict sorely tested the composer; yet even this suffering could not make him oppose the Franco regime which had set itself up as the defender of the Catholic values in which Falla had deeply believed since his youth. But he had decided to leave Spain at the first opportunity, and on 2 October 1939 he embarked at Barcelona to go to Buenos Aires for a series of concerts, invited by the Spanish Institute of Culture; he was never to make the return journey. Falla took with him the score of his latest symphonic composition, Homenajes, a suite of four pieces dedicated to four musicians connected with Falla: 1) Fanfare sobre el nombre de E.F. Arbós, written for the seventieth birthday of the famous violinist and conductor; 2) à Claude Debussy (Elegía de la guitarra), orchestration of the earlier homage for guitar; 3) à Paul Dukas (Spes vitae), orchestration of the homage for piano; 4) Pedrelliana, the largest movement of the suite, inspired by themes from La Celestina (1903), the unperformed opera by his great teacher Pedrell. Falla conducted the performance of this work at the Teatro Colón in the Argentine capital in November 1939.

In 1941 he settled at Alta Gracia, in the province of Córdoba, passing the last days of his life editing the ‘Versiones espresivas’ of some polyphonic works by Tomás Luís de Victoria, and working constantly on his most ambitious project, which he never finished: Atlántida.

He died on 14 November 1946.

Paolo Pinamonti


Atlántida. Scenic cantata in one Prologue and 3 Parts. Text in Catalan by M.J. Verdaguer (adapted by Manuel de Falla). Posthumous work completed by Ernesto Halffter. Italian rhythmic version by Eugenio Montale.

WP staged version: Milan, Teatro alla Scala, June 18, 1962 - conductor Thomas Schippers
WP concert version (according to a new revision by Ernesto Halffter) - versione “Lucerna”: Luzern, September 9, 1976 - conductor Jesús López Cobos
WP (with 20’ in addition to the versione “Lucerna”) - versione “Madrid”: Madrid, Teatro Real, May 20, 1977 - conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

IL CORIFEO, bar. -  PIRENE, c. - GERIONE, 2 t. and 1 bar. - LA REGINA ISABELLA, s. - Il ragazzo, children voice - Ercole (Alcide), mime - Le sette Pleiadi:  Maia, s. - Aretusa, s. - Caleno, s. - Eriteia, ms. - Elettra, ms. - Esperetusa, c. - Alcione, c. - Una dama di corte, c. - Il gigante, bar. - Il capo degli Atlantidi, t. - L'Arcangelo, t. and c. - Cristoforo Colombo, mime - Un paggio, children voice 
Chorus: males, women, boys and spoken chorus 
Instrumentation: 3 (III also picc.).3 (III cor.i.).3 (III bcl.).3 (III also dbn.) / (2 ttu and btu.). / timp. rag. cast.  trg. tmb.  cr. frst.  gui. eolifono 3 bongos t.-t.  cym. b.d   glock.  xyl.  vibr.  bells.  cel.  2 harp.  2 piano / strings
Instruments on stage: 2 cor.  T-t.  timp. 

Full score (versione “Lucerna”) 
Vocal score by E. Halffter (versione “Lucerna”) 

Full score (versione “Madrid”)
“Madrid” version is different from the “Lucerna” version. The former was modified and expanded in the central part.


Preface to the “Lucerne version”

The so-called “Lucerne version” fills an important gap and also closes a long discussion over the definitive version of Manuel de Falla’s posthumous work, which for a long time has oscillated between the operatic and symphonic genres, appearing in a variety of concert versions.

My first experience of Atlántida as a conductor goes back to 1975 when Cologne Radio expressed its desire to organise a concert version of the work.

At the time I was aware that the publishers Ricordi, Ernesto Halffter and de Falla’s heirs had been planning since 1972 a new version of Atlántida that would give the work a definite structure. The result was to be an oratorio rather than a staged cantata, as the latter solution did not seem to open up the possibilities that the work’s musical qualities deserved.

The initiative of Cologne Radio and the plan to present the work at the Festival of Lucerne in 1976 made me turn to Ernesto Halffter, with whom I remained in close contact throughout 1975 and 1976. During that time I not only got to know and love Atlántida, but also understood the numerous problems it posed. The difficulties are purely due to the fragmentary state in which de Falla left the work that was to crown his achievement as a composer. De Falla’s fastidiousness in matters of composition is well known to all, and there is no doubt that the man who took two years to write the accompaniment to his Siete canciones populares españolas would have needed a number of years to complete Atlántida. But the precarious state of his health in his last years did not permit him to live long enough, so the work remained unfinished.

From the very first I was convinced that the definitive version must get as close as possible to what De Falla had actually left. In this respect, Ernesto Halffter’s task was enormous. It was not just a matter of reordering sketches or completing the orchestration of pieces composed only in part. For we know that de Falla’s original plan had been extremely broad. In his first staged version Halffter aimed at achieving precisely this breadth, which meant that entire scenes had to be created. The decision taken in 1975, however, was to rework this first version and present an Atlántida that as far as possible approximated the manuscript left by de Falla at his death, without either distorting the substance of the poem or losing the thread of the narrative.

The central section (which after 1976 was called Part Two) is the part that was left most incomplete: it consists merely of scattered notes and sketches. The Prologue, on the other hand, was almost completely orchestrated; and Parts One and Three were also at an advanced stage of completion at the composer’s death (they were also partly orchestrated, or had at least a modicum of instrumentation). Inclusion of the Prologue, Part One and Part Three in the Lucerne version was thus an obvious choice. As regards Part Two, on the other hand, we note that the 1976 version includes seven numbers, as compared to the seventeen of the version staged at La Scala in 1962 or the twelve of the 1977 version of Madrid (The Madrid version also expandes four of the numbers used in the Lucerne version.). The Lucerne version is therefore the one that most closely adheres to what de Falla left at an advanced stage of completion. The seven numbers of Part Two serve also to ensure a continuity of narrative which would certainly be lacking had the whole Part ben omitted.

In contrast with his previous policy (that adopted in the 1962 version), Halffter here resolved to harmonise the instrumentation of Parts One, Two and Three with that of the Prologue; the results, from the instrumental point of view, were completely successful.

It is understandable that Halffter, absorbed as he was in his mission to complete Atlántida, should wish to bring his teacher’s ambitious plan to the uttermost state of completion. But having examined the various versions, I am utterly convinced that the 1978 version is the one most likely to bring out the essence of the work and make the “sunken” Atlántida rise to the surface again. The musical interest alone justify every effort to make it know in this definitive version.

Jesús López Cobos
Lausanne, November 1993