Skip to page content

During World War I, neutral Spain received an invigorating influx of foreign artists looking for alternative markets to those along the usual Paris-Berlin-Vienna routes. Prominent among them was the impresa- rio Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, which became particular favorites of King Alfonso XIII. Diaghilev and Falla discussed several potential projects, settling on an adaptation of the 19th-century writer

Pedro Antonio de Alarcón’s comic novella El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cor- nered Hat). Falla brought this to the stage first as the pantomime El corregidor y la molinera, on a scenario in two scenes written by his usual collaborators, the hus- band-and-wife team of Gregorio Martínez Sierra and María Lejárraga.

Alarcón’s novella contains a confusing amount of incident, but the central narra- tive line follows the traditional characters of a jealous miller,  his beautiful young wife, and a lecherous corregidor (the local magistrate, whose position is symbolized by his three-cornered hat). The oafish but persistent corregidor is thwarted at every turn, mistakenly arrested by his own constables, and suffers the peasant justice of being tossed with a blanket in a finale of general merriment.

For Diaghilev, Falla increased the size of the orchestra and eliminated some incidentals from the second part, while adding a solo specifically for Leonid Mass- ine, who choreographed the new ballet and danced the part of the miller. Pablo Picasso designed the sets and costumes, and at his request Falla wrote an introduc- tion and solo song to be performed before Picasso’s curtain went up. The ballet had a hugely successful premiere in London in 1919 (as Le tricorne), establishing Falla’s international reputation.

The Three Dances are from the second part of the ballet, opening with the miller’s neighbors gathering to celebrate the Feast of St. John and dancing seguidillas based on traditional themes, including one also popularized in Jerónimo Giménez’ zarzu- ela La boda de Luis Alonso. The miller then has his solo, a dark and fiery flamenco far- ruca, the earthiest dance in the ballet. All of the ballet’s many themes are combined in the final jota, chaotic climax and jubilant resolution in one.

— John Henken