Skip to page content

About this Piece

It has been said that the best composers of Spanish music are French, but that the Russians are even more Spanish. Indeed, the most popular compositions in the Spanish manner are by Frenchmen. España by Chabrier, Ibéria by Debussy, Boléro by Ravel, and of course, Carmen. The Russians wrote orchestral Spanish music even before the French did, as exemplified by Glinka’s Jota aragonesa and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol.

Many Spanish musicians traveled to Paris to promote their careers, Albéniz among them. He led an adventurous life. At the age of 13 he ran away from home as a stowaway on a ship bound for Puerto Rico (which was a Spanish possession at the time), and then went to Cuba (also a Spanish island then), earning his living by playing dance music. He also traveled in the United States, reaching as far as San Francisco. He was finally apprehended by his father, a sober-minded customs inspector, and shipped back to Spain. In Madrid, he found sponsors in high society and at the court, and was enabled to go to Germany for serious study. Later he toured England as a composer-pianist, and eventually went to France, where he decided to stay.

The Suite española originally was a group of brilliant piano pieces, each representing a distinctive dance form, specified by Albéniz in the subtitles: Aragón (Fantasia), Granada (Serenata), and Castilla (Seguidillas). Aragón, in 3/8 time, reflects the rhythms of the jota peculiar to the northernmost provinces of Spain. The structure of the dance is a free Rondo, constituting a Copla with varied refrains. The ending is fortissimo.

Granada is a species of Serenata, approaching the spirit of a light divertimento. Since Granada was the lost bastion held by the Moors in the Iberian peninsula (it was conquered by Spain in the year of the discovery of America), and the site of the Alhambra, the Moorish acropolis, any musical characterization of it is bound to have Moorish arabesques in its melorhythmic figurations. Albéniz creates an exotic mood with a humid theme adorned by lassitudinous appoggiatura.

Seguidilla is an old Spanish dance in triple time in a major key, arranged in symmetrical periods governed by a simple alternation of tonic and dominant harmonies. Albéniz adopts here the most popular type of Castillian dance form, that of the manchega, from La Mancha, Don Quixote’s province of Spain.

Noted musicologist, pianist, and conductor Nicolas Slonimsky annotated programs for the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the late 1960s and early 1970s.