MANUEL DE FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Manuel de Falla was born in Cádiz, Spain, on November 23, 1876, and died in Alta Gracia, Argentina, on November 14, 1946. He composed his symphonic impressions Noches en los jardines de España in the years 1911–1915. The score is dedicated to the Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes. The work was performed at the Teatro Real in Madrid on April 9, 1916; the Orquesta Sinfonica was conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós, and José Cubiles was the pianist. In addition to the solo piano, the score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, celesta, triangle, cymbals, harp, and strings.

Falla conceived his orchestral “nocturnes” originally for piano solo, but he decided to recast them for orchestra. He worked on them, continually polishing, for years. The score, largely written in Paris, shows the composer’s experience of Debussy, but he has not simply imitated the impressionist style. Rather he has experienced it profoundly and recreated it in terms of his own art. The arrangement into three movements suggests the traditional piano concerto, but the music at once reveals itself to be an orchestral work with a prominent, elaborate piano part.

The composer himself wrote about the score:

If these “symphonic impressions” have achieved their object, the mere enumeration of their titles should be a sufficient guide to the hearer. Although in this work—as in all which have a legitimate claim to be considered as music—the composer has followed a definite design, regarding tonal, rhythmical, and thematic material . . . the end for which it was written is no other than to evoke [the memory of] places, sensations, and sentiments. The themes employed are based (as in much of the composer’s earlier work) on the rhythms, modes, cadences, and ornamental figures which distinguish the popular music of Andalucia, though they are rarely used in their original forms; and the orchestration frequently employs, and employs in a conventional manner, certain effects peculiar to the popular instruments used in those parts of Spain. The music has no pretensions to being descriptive: it is merely expressive. But something more than the sounds of festivals and dances has inspired these “evocations in sound,” for melancholy and mystery have their part also.

The composer assumes, of course, that the titles of the movements will call up some specific images of Spain, but non-Spanish listeners may want a little assistance as to the meaning of the titles. En el Generalife (In the Generalife) refers to the Generalife garden on the hill of the Alhambra at Granada. Danza lejana (Distant dance) is more neutral in its overtones, but En los jardines de la Sierra de Cordoba (In the gardens of the Sierra de Cordoba) is a vigorous finale which may suggest a gypsy fiesta. Although the score is redolent of Debussy and Chopin, in diverse ways, it also draws clearly on the resources of Spanish music and, despite its lushness here and there, it points ahead to Falla’s own spare later style, when he composed much for a chamber orchestral texture. —© Steven Ledbetter