Manuel de Falla was Spain's first major nationalist composer.
Horn in Cadiz. Andalusia, he received his first piano lessons from
his mother. He was torn between a literary and a musical career,
but having decided on music, he proceeded to work hard at both the
piano and composition. In 1902 he went to study with the Spanish
composer and musicologist Felipe Pedrell, who was known for his
belief that a country's music should draw on its native folk
culture, and who impressed this on his pupils. He found a kindred
spirit m Falla, whose first major work, the opera La vida breve (The Short Life, 1905). made copious use of local
In 1907 Falla travelled to Paris, where he was befriended by
musicians such as Debussy and Ravel. At the outbreak of World War
I, he returned to Spain and entered his most creative period. In
1915 he composed El amor brujo (Love the Magician), a
ballet inspired by Spanish folk art. and the following year wrote
one of his most beautiful and moving works. Noches en los jardines
de Espana (Nights in the gardens of Spam). This suite of three
symphonic impressions for piano and orchestra integrates Spanish
folk music with colourful orchestration reminiscent of
Rimsky-Korsakov. Of the three movements the first is the most
atmospheric and makes use of shimmering, drifting harmonies, while
the second and third arc more exuberant and dancelike.
Falla's reputation was firmly established in 1919 with the
ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornerecl
Hat). Full of humour and panache, it was received rapturously at
its premiere in London. The enthrallingly vital and dramatic last
movement can hardly fail to excite as the music sweeps the
listener along. It shows Falla's music at its most witty and
ebullient, rhythmical and lyrical in turn, and treating the
orchestra almost as a giant guitar.
Given his interest in Spanish nationalism it is not surprising
that Falla chose to set parts of Cervantes' Don Quixote.
The resulting chamber opera, El retablo de Maese
Pedro (Master Peter's puppet show), was first performed in 1
923 and consolidated Falla's reputation as a composer of Hair and
dexterity. His last major work was a Harpsichord concerto,
written in 1 926 for the Polish virtuoso Wanda Landowska. After
this Falla became less productive musically. The traumas of the
Spanish Civil War (1936—9) nearly crushed him, so delicate was his
state of health. In 1939 he accepted an invitation to visit
Argentina, where he lived until his death in 1946.
Although no revolutionary, Falla successfully shaped elements
of traditional Spanish music and created a colourful musical style
distinctly his own.