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Falla: “Noches en los jardines de Espana”

The citadel called the Alhambra, perched on a plateau above Granada, is the palace from which the Moorish potentate governed. Here and in the evirons are set Falla’s three symphonic impressions. Among the outbuildings of the Alhambra is a villa called the Generalife, treasured by the Moorish princes for its water gardens, where one could gaze into a reflecting pool at the play of fountains and greenery, of light and shade.

Falla’s first movement consists of a series of episodes that grow from (and return to) an undulating, typically Iberian figure heard at the very beginning in the viola and harp: now watery, now imbued with dance rhythms, now expansive, then introspective and improvisatory, and finally building into a pair of glistening, Debussy-like climaxes. In the second movement, the rhythmic and melodic motives of merrymaking heard in the distance are woven into a dialogue between the pianist and orchestra. It grows toward a feverish tempo, only to ebb away into reminiscences (in the celesta and high winds and strings) of what has gone before. Out of these grows a transition into the third movement, a savage dance with long glissandos in the twinkly instruments. The free passagework in the piano interludes is meant to suggest flamenco vocal improvisation. To conclude, a neo-Wagnerian “apotheosis” ending.

Noches en los jardines de Espana began as a series of solo piano nocturnes for Ricardo Vines, the Spanish pianist then living in Paris and is doubtless an to the balmy night-pieces of Debussy and Ravel. One of the composer’s acquaintances said that the work sprang from a poem by francis Jammes (1868–1938), poet of the French Pyrenees.

The work was later closely identified with the Polish pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982), who introduced it to the New World during an appearance in Buenos Aires. Do not expect a piano concerto: Falla’s work is a suite of orchestral poems, where the piano has an important but not dominant role.

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