Neoclassic Music Composers: Manuel de Falla

Master composer lives on through his beautiful interpretations of
Spanish folk-lore music. A tribute to a unique and inspired musician whose contributions to classical music are second to none.

Arguably the best Spanish composer that the 20th century has experienced, Manuel de Falla, was born in Cadiz, Andalucía, in the south west of Spain, in November 1876. From a tender age, he was tutored in the foundations of music theory by his mother, before progressing to piano lessons at the age of nine.

His creativity and passion for the music industry, led Manuel de Falla, with the help of some friends, to produce his first musical editorial in 1889. This literary work was entitled El Burlon, and was the first of a number of magazines that he collaborated on in the early years of his career.

When he was 20 years old, Manuel de Falla moved to Madrid, where he was to further his studies under Jose Trago, an extremely accomplished pianist. Under this expert guidance, Manuel de Falla graduated from his tutelage with the highest commendations and went on to produce his first works as a composer. Over the next ten years, this master musician created several notable pieces, including the renowned operatic stage production, his lyric drama, ‘La Vida Breve’ (The brief Life) in 1905. La Vida Breve, which contains echoes of Wagner, was an adaptation of Don Quixote of Cervantes. Unable to secure a performance of this opera in his native country, he had to travel to France where his talent was more openly appreciated.

La Vida Breve

In the early years of the 20th century, Manuel de Falla travelled across much of Europe, performing his work. For most of these years he settled in Paris, the artistic capital of the world, only leaving in 1914 with the onset of the First World War. From Paris, he retuned to Spain, choosing again to stay in the cosmopolitan capital city, Madrid.

Manuel de Falla

Although this brilliant Spanish composer produced music in various genres – orchestra, chamber music, opera, vocal and ballets – Manuel de Falla was probably most well known for his Spanish style comedies. Collaborated with Sergei Diaghilev, his ballet, ‘Sombrero de Tres Picos’ (The three cornered hat), was produced  in 1919 and received a great reaction when performed in London that year. Following this, the critically acclaimed ‘El Amor Brujo’ – or Love, The Magician – broke forth into the musical theatre with a full orchestra, causing a huge stir amongst audiences. El Amor Brujo still holds classical lovers in awe today.

He was likened to Stravinsky time to time. Influences of Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky in the years he spent in Paris cannot be denied. Especially El Retablo de Maese Pedro shows the influence of Stravinsky. Actually the stylistic change and his tendency for the neoclassical music began right after Sombrero de Tres Picos. His other major neoclassic music masterpieces, other than El Retablo de Maese Pedro, are Harpsichord Concerto and Psyche,a vocal chamber piece. After the death of his parents in Spain, De Falla settled in Grenada for some twenty years. And it was here that he produced those mature works. The puppet opera, ‘El Retablo de Maese Pedro’ was completed in 1922 and was followed by his masterpiece the Harpsichord concerto in 1926. Influence of Domenico Scarlatti is evident on Harpsichord concerto. He puzzled people with these works.  Harpischord concerto was reviewed as an “exaggerated sense of innovation,” and Psyche as a “confirmation of an ultra-modern harmonic idiom.”

He left his last piece, Atlántida, unfinished when he died in 1946. It is a tragic event in his life because when he started to work on Atlántida in 1927, he wrote to his collaborator: “It will have to be a short work, of course, given, as I say, that time is against us”. However, when he died 20 years later, it was still unfinished.

It is not the quantity so much as the quality of Manuel De Falla’s work that has ensured his status as a master composer – after all, his life’s achievement amounted to less than twenty pieces. However, those pieces that he did leave behind are doubtless among the best of their kind. He was the leader of neoclassical music in Spain and was a passionate, genius, devoted individual, who will be celebrated for many years to come.