Manuel de Falla, who lived from 1876 to 1946, was born in the city of Cadiz in the Andalusian region of Spain. Nights in the Gardens of Spain was composed between 1909 and 1915. It was originally conceived as a set of nocturnes for solo piano, but evolved during its composition to become a suite of “symphonic impressions”, and de Falla’s only work for piano and orchestra.
Nights in the Gardens of Spain was steeped in the musical language of de Falla’s homeland, and is easily his most impressionistic score. Even the title reminds one of Debussy, as do the names he gave its three movements: “In the Generalife”, “Distant Dance”, and “In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba”.
Concerning this piece, de Falla wrote as follows:
If these ‘symphonic impressions’ have achieved their object, the mere enumeration of their titles should be a sufficient guide to the hearer. Although… the composer has followed a definite design regarding tonal, rhythmical, and thematic material… the end for which it was written is no other than to evoke [images of] places, sensations, and sentiments. The themes employed are based upon the rhythms, modes, cadences, and ornamental figures which distinguish the folk music of Andalusia, although they are rarely used in their original forms; and the orchestration frequently employs certain effects peculiar to the popular instruments used in those parts of Spain. The music has no pretensions to being descriptive; it is merely expressive. But something more than the sounds of festival and dances has inspired these evocations in sound, for melancholy and mystery have their part also.
I was introduced to Nights through a wonderful RCA Victor recording from 1962 that featured Artur Rubinstein on piano, with Enrique Jorda conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It was Rubinstein, incidentally, who gave the work its Western Hemisphere premiere in Buenos Aires in 1917. This video features the inimitable Alicia de Larrocha together with Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.
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