Bridget is back, this time arranging and transcribing another of Albeniz’s stunning works dedicated to his beloved Spain.
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was a Spanish composer and virtuoso pianist whose music has at its heart a deep Spanish identity. He drew great influence from Spanish folk music and made a huge contribution to both the repertoire and appreciation of the music of his homeland. Albéniz was a truly astonishing piano virtuoso and prodigy – making his first performance aged only four and passing the entrance exam to the Conservatoire de Paris at the age of seven. By his mid-teens he had run away from home to embark on an international concert career and to study with none other than Lizst.
Albéniz wrote (aside from four operas) almost exclusively for the piano (never for the guitar). However, as his writing is so influenced by Spanish folk music (which in turn is intrinsically linked to the guitar) it’s full of guitaristic features, such as ‘open string’ pedal tones, Phrygian inflections, repeated ’tremolo’ notes, open voicings, Spanish dance rhythms, arpeggios and ‘strummed’ chords. It is, therefore, perhaps inevitable that his work would be transcribed (and is now, in fact, far better known) for the guitar. Guitarists Tárrega, his pupil Llobet and seminal guitarist Segovia transcribed his works from piano to the guitar and have contributed a huge deal to the classical guitarist’s repertoire and appreciation of the instrument through him.
Mallorca was written in 1890 when Albéniz was 30 years old and living in London. It has a strong nostalgic Spanish sense, which he later described as having “passion, sunlight and the taste of olives”. This is a perfect description for the lilting bittersweet and extraordinarily beautiful piece. The work is essentially in a ternary form with ‘dark’ thematic material, mainly in D Minor (from bars 1-33 and bars 76 to the end) either side of ‘lighter’ middle section mainly in the key of D Major (bars 34-75). This type of move from a Minor key to a ‘parallel’ Major key (one that shares the same root) and back again, is perfectly bittersweet, a moment of joy either side of sadness. The piece is characterised by a slow 6/8 rhythm set up in the first four bars. Make sure that you fully understand and absorb this rhythm before attacking the whole piece – or pulling it around expressively - as it is the foundation of the work.
The main technical challenges involve sounding the exquisite melody in an appropriately legato and vocal manner while balancing it with the accompaniment. This may take significant work, but is worth the effort as the piece – despite being written for piano – is incredibly effective with our instrument’s timbre and resonance. NEXT MONTH Bring out the confetti as Bridget arranges Mendelssohn’s Wedding March
ALBENIZ GAVE HIS FIRST PERFORMANCE AGED ONLY FOUR, AND PASSED THE ENTRANCE EXAM TO THE CONSERVATOIRE DE PARIS, AT JUST SEVEN YEARS OLD
Isaac Albeniz: piano genius and magical composer