Monday, March 18, 2013

Notes before a Final (4): Manuel de Falla

This is in a sense a set of two halves. The first two pieces are ones I've been familiar with and wanted to play for a while.  The last two are fairly new to me (as a player, at least) and I've learned them specially for this gig.

Having set up a trajectory with Partch and Webern - in which Partch prepares for and amplifies the emotional world of Webern - I wanted what followed also to throw a light on Webern, but this time through contrast. After the devastated mood of those two pieces, I wanted something comforting, without being too sentimental.  I had a Mendelssohn Song without Words in mind, but this was a little too long for the context (especially as I'd decided I'd need a fourth piece to round things off).  Cue a lot of random looking up of cellists on Spotify.
Eventually I alighted on the Popular Spanish Suite by Manuel de Falla (which is a transcription of some of his Popular Spanish Songs), and in particular "Nana".

Falla is one of the most famous of Spanish composers (both in his nationality and his style), but perhaps surprisingly the Spanish Popular Songs are a rare example in his output of his using preexisting folk tunes. "Nana" is a lullaby, and had all the qualities I was after: it has that sense of consolation, but isn't sentimental, and has that aspect of noble melancholia that comes to my mind when I think of flamenco (the songs are all full of flamenco influences). It's also quite simply a very beautiful melody.

It's an unexpected juxtaposition with the Webern, and I hope an effective one. Curiously, it only dawned on me later that this and Webern's Three Little Pieces were written in the same year, 1914. Falla died one year after Webern, too. I chose this piece purely on the basis of its sound, and yet these connections and resonances seem to arise between the pieces.

A lullaby could be a good way to end a sequence, but I wanted something else, something to effect a further transformation. This is where the final piece in the set comes in.

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