Manuel de Falla was born in Cádiz, Spain. His mother taught him piano and he took harmony and counterpoint lessons. He learned to love opera at an early age and was constantly surrounded by local folk music and flamenco.
In his twenties he enrolled in Madrid’s Royal Conservatory and became a competent pianist. However, it wasn’t until meeting the musicologist Felipe Pedrell that he developed a unique style of his own.
Pedrell had started to shine a light on the beauty and musical validity of Spanish folk music. He also delved into the rich national musical heritage harking all way back to the polyphony of the Spanish Renaissance. Essentially, he unearthed the national music identity which had been forgotten. (Schwarz, 2003)
Manuel took to this new found identity and started incorporating elements of Spanish folk songs like cante jondo and dance rhythms found in flamenco and jota.
In 1907 Falla went to Paris and what was supposed to have been a short stay turned into a seven year long stint. There he came into contact with Impressionism and Modernism. He became friends with Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. Thus a new style or sub-genre was born. It was a distinctly Spanish Impressionism.
At the start of the first world war Falla was forced to return to Madrid. There he set consolidating some of his solo piano works into a large work for piano and orchestra. The composition became what is now known as the masterpiece ‘Nights in the Gardens Spain’.
The first movement (out of three) is named Generalife, after the garden of the Alhambra Palace. The second is ”Distant Dance,” and is entered around rhythm. The third movement is titled “In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba”
Having spent some time in both the Alhambra and Generalife I can truly say that I never expected a piece of music to be able to capture and express the atmosphere in this place. It is so enchanted and mystical. Steeped in Moorish thought and culture. A uniquely Andalusian experience. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Falla manages to capture the essence of the place.
He does so by using the Phrygian mode and flamenco cante jondo techniques, which are vocal incantations with quick appoggiatura or pitch sliding up to the note. It has a uniquely Spanish flavour. According to Falla himself he used instruments of the orchestra to imitate the sound of flamenco guitar and woodwind to emulate joint singing. He deliberately used various folk dance and flamenco rhythms to solidify the Spanish-ness of composition.
It payed off. The work was a huge success at the Madrid premier in April 1916 and it was later well received when premiered in London. To this day it remains a staple of the classical repertoire.
Falla, M.d. (s.d) Manuel de Falla. [Download] Available at : Manuel de Falla – Noches en los Jardines de España: I. En el Generalife (Accessed on 2 March 2017)
Schwarz, G. (2003) De Falla / Musically Speaking / Nights in the Gardens of Spain / The Three Cornered Hat / with Conductor’s Guide. At: Gerard Schwarz conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (Accessed on 13 March 2017)