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Length: c. 25 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), alto flute, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, castanets, chimes, cymbals, glockenspiel, suspended cymbals, tambourine, tam-tam, tom-tom, triangle, xylophone), celesta, harp, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance (except Sevilla): March 13, 1969, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting. First Philharmonic performances of Sevilla.
As child prodigies go, Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was one of the most spectacular – and one of the most sensationalized, his living-legend status considerably inflated by his ambitious parents.
How much is true about his early years is open to question, but there is no doubt that his extraordinary talent manifested itself at an early age. We do know that he improvised, possibly on themes by Liszt, at a public concert in Barcelona when he was four. At seven he was taken to Paris by his mother to study at the Conservatoire but was not considered old enough for admission. And at about the same time he appeared in public (supposedly) on a variety bill dressed in Three Musketeers costume and playing the piano with his back to the keyboard.
He entered the Madrid Conservatory at age nine and there is a prevalent myth that the unruly child departed that institution after a few months, by himself, to give concerts – a publicity stunt engineered by his father. And it was once likewise taken as fact that in 1872, when he was 12, young Isaac stowed away in Cádiz on a ship to South America, to give concert performances in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Brazil, Puerto Rico, the U.S. (specifically, San Francisco), and back to Spain. It has since been proved that his father was with him every step of the way. Late in 1873 he turned up in Leipzig to study with the respected teacher-composers Solomon Jadassohn and Julius Reinecke, by which time he was being taken seriously as a pianist of mature gifts. By 1880 he had studied only briefly with Liszt, but it is Liszt whom he credited with perfecting his piano technique.
It was in 1883, after meeting the composer-folklorist Felipe Pedrell, who might be said to have introduced him to his Spanish roots, that Albéniz began to compose seriously, giving up his career as a touring virtuoso – in which capacity he had met with thunderous approval in Europe and the Americas – in 1890. He moved to France in 1893 and spent most of the rest of his life there, dying of a kidney ailment shortly before his 49th birthday.
Albéniz is credited with creating a Spanish national keyboard style with his Iberia, Suite española, and Navarra as exemplars, and is acknowledged by some as the leading representative of the Spanish wing of musical impressionism.
It is from the Suite española, posthumously assembled as an eight-movement suite, that, in the mid-1960s, conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos created the present orchestral tour-de-force consisting of five movements. Castilla (Castile, in central Spain) is a rousing triple-meter dance – the seguidilla – marked here by the actual use of the castanets suggested in the piano original. Granada, a gentle nocturne, has a flute solo redolent of the Arab-influenced airs of Andalusia, and Sevilla evokes dances heard in that city during Holy Week. Asturias, on the northwestern coast of Spain, is represented by the movement subtitled “Leyenda” (Legend) long famous in its guitar transcription by Francisco Tárrega. Aragón, after the northeastern province bordering Catalonia and France, is another lively triple-meter dance, alternating with a languid, sensual song in thirds.
- Herbert Glass