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Falla: “El Amor brujo”

It was natural for a Spanish composer to occupy himself with the ballet, for the Andalusian ethnic dance had long attracted the keen attention of classical dancers.During the nineteenth century, the flamenco style and dances like the cachuca, jota, and fandango were cultivated for various sorts of theatricals, and dancers lacking a drop of Spanish blood were billed as the “pearl of Seville” and “the star of Andalusia.” Falla’s particular concern here is with the cante jondo  (‘profound song,’ usually of anguish), the style of flamenco performance that embraces lavish wailing,exotic scales, guitar accompaniment, and much clapping of hands and stamping of feet.

The idea for the gypsy ballet was that of Pastora Imperio, a famous flamenco dancer and singer, who merely wanted what she called “a song and dance,” a primitive gitaneria (‘gypsy piece’). Pastora’s mother, Rosario la Mejorana, was also a noted flamenco artist and Falla listened and took notes on their manner of performance as Martinez wrote down what he could of their inexhaustible lore of old gypsy tales.

This particular tale is of the gypsy Candelas, haunted by the thoughts of her dead, ne’er-do-well lover. Each time she embraces Carmelo, the new object of her affections, she sees the specter of her former mate. “Her memory of him,” wrote Sierra, “is something like a hypnotic dream, a morbid, gruesome, maddening spell.” It is arranged that another girl, Lucia, will woo the specter to divert his attention long enough for Candelas and Carmelo to exchange the kiss of perfect love. The spell is thus broken, dawn breaks, and the morning bells start to ring.

It is a tale of ancient ritual and black magic set in one of the gypsy caves of southernmost Spain. Candelas is found, at the beginning, reading her cards; she throws incense on the fire just before her ritual dance; a clock strikes twelve in the distance. the most famous passage, often excerpted, is the Ritual Fire Dance, of familiar melody and deftly understated crescendo. at the center is the Fisherman’s Story, a “mystic circle” of calm, revolving harmonies that affords relief from the furies before and after. The poetic sentiments of Candelas’s two songs are haunting indeed: in the first she sings of a dull flame in the soul which cannot be extinguished in the second that “Love is a will-o’-the-wisp: you flee, and it pursues you.” Falla never goes for long without his piano, which nearly always has the last word and often the critical role in the unusual and remarkably progressive harmonic twists with which the work abounds.

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