Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla

Perhaps the most enchanting composer of the 20th Century, Manuel de Falla brought Spain into the world of orchestral music with stunning vibrance. Join us in our month-long celebration of his life and music.
Manuel de Falla y Matheu
(23 November 1876 – 14 November 1946)


Falla was born Manuel María de los Dolores Falla y Matheu in Cádiz. He was the son of José María Falla y Franco and María Jesús Matheu y Zabal. His early teachers in music were his mother and grandfather; at the age of nine he was introduced to his first piano teacher, Eloísa Galluzo. Little is known of that period of his life, but his relationship with his teacher was soon ended after she decided to then enter a convent, Sisters of Charity, to become a nun.

In 1889 he continued his piano lessons with Alejandro Odero and learned the techniques of harmony and counterpoint from Enrique Broca. At age 15 he became interested in literature and journalism and founded the literary magazines El Burlón and El Cascabel. In 1893 he was inspired by a concert of Edvard Grieg's works, later saying that at the time he felt that "my definitive vocation is music".


In 1896 he moved to Madrid where he attended the Real Conservatorio de Música y Declamación. He studied piano with José Tragó, a colleague of Isaac Albéniz and composition with Felipe Pedrell. In 1897 he composed Melodia for cello and piano and dedicated it to Salvador Viniegra who hosted evenings of chamber music that Falla attended. In 1899, by unanimous vote, he was awarded the first prize at the piano competition at his school of music. He premiered his first works: Romanza para violonchelo y piano, Nocturno para piano, Melodía para violonchelo y piano, Serenata andaluza para violín y piano, and Cuarteto en Sol y Mireya. That same year he started to use de with his first surname, making Manuel de Falla the name he became known as from that time on. When only the surname is used, however, the de is omitted.

In 1900 he composed his Canción para piano and various other vocal and piano pieces. He premiered his Serenata andaluza y Vals-Capricho para piano in the Ateneo de Madrid. Due to the precarious financial position of his family he began to teach piano classes.

It was from Pedrell, during the Madrid period, that Falla became interested in native Andalusian music, particularly Andalusian flamenco (specifically cante jondo), the influence of which can be strongly felt in many of his works. Among his early pieces are a number of zarzuelas like La Juana y la Petra and La casa de tócame Roque. On 12 April 1902 he premiered Los amores de la Inés in the Teatro Cómico de Madrid. The same year he met the composer Joaquín Turina and saw his Vals-Capricho y Serenata andaluza published by the Society of Authors.

The following year he composed and performed Allegro de concierto (this was composed by Granados, not Falla) for the Madrid Royal Conservatory competition. Pianist Enrique Granados took first prize but the Society of Authors published Falla's works Tus ojillos negros and Nocturno. Falla then began his collaboration with composer Amadeo Vives on the zarzuelas Prisionero de guerra, El cornetín de órdenes and La cruz de Malta (only fragments of these works survive).

His first important work was the one-act opera La vida breve (Life is Short, or The Brief Life, written in 1905, though revised before its premiere in 1913). With a libretto by Carlos Fernández Shaw, La vida breve won Falla first prize in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando musical competition. In April 1905 he won the first prize in a piano competition sponsored by the firm of Ortiz and Cussó. On May 15 his work Allegro de concierto premiered in the Ateneo de Madrid and on November 13 the Real Academia presented him with his prize for La vida breve.


In 1907 at the advice of Joaquín Turina and Víctor Mirecki Larramat, Falla moved to Paris. There he met a number of composers who had an influence on his style, including the impressionists Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Paul Dukas. In 1908 King Alfonso XIII awarded him a royal grant that enabled him to remain in Paris while he finished his Cuatro piezas españolas. Meanwhile, the dramatist Paul Milliet translated the libretto of La vida breve into French for its French premiere on 1 April 1913 at the Municipal Casino in Nice. In 1910 Falla met Igor Stravinsky and traveled briefly to London. He wrote Siete canciones populares españolas which he finished in mid-1914. Shortly after World War I began and Germany declared war, Falla returned to Madrid. While at no stage was he a prolific composer, it was then that he entered into his mature creative period.

Return to Madrid

In Madrid he composed several of his best known pieces, including:

The nocturne for piano and orchestra Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Noches en los jardines de España, 1916) The ballet El amor brujo ("The Bewitched Love", 1915) which includes the much excerpted and arranged Ritual Fire Dance ("Danza Ritual Del Fuego")

The ballet The Magistrate and the Miller's Wife (El corregidor y la molinera) which, after revision, became The Three-Cornered Hat (El sombrero de tres picos, 1917) and was produced by Serge Diaghilev with set design and costumes by Pablo Picasso.

Granada period

From 1921 to 1939 Manuel de Falla lived in Granada, where he organized the Concurso de Cante Jondo in 1922. In Granada he wrote the puppet opera El retablo de maese Pedro (Master Peter's Puppet Show, 1923) and a concerto for harpsichord and chamber ensemble (Harpsichord Concerto, 1926). The puppet opera marked the first time the harpsichord had entered the modern orchestra; and the concerto was the first for harpsichord written in the 20th Century. Both of these works were written with Wanda Landowska in mind. In these works, the Spanish folk influence is somewhat less apparent than a kind of Stravinskian neoclassicism.

Also in Granada, Falla began work on the large-scale orchestral cantata Atlántida (Atlantis), based on the Catalan text L'Atlántida by Jacint Verdaguer. Falla considered Atlántida to be the most important of all his works; posterity has not agreed with this verdict, and performances of the piece have been extremely rare. Verdaguer's text gives a mythological account of how the submersion of Atlantis created the Atlantic ocean, thus separating Spain and Latin America, and how later the Spanish discovery of America reunited what had always belonged together.


Falla continued work on Atlàntida after moving to Argentina in 1939, following Francisco Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War. The orchestration of the piece remained incomplete at his death and was completed posthumously by Ernesto Halffter. He also premiered his Suite Homenajes in Buenos Aires in November 1939. In 1940, he was named a Knight of the Order of King Alfonso X of Castile. Franco's government offered him a large pension if he would return to Spain, but he refused.

Falla did spend some time teaching in exile. Among his notable pupils was composer Rosa García Ascot. His health began to decline and he moved to a house in the mountains where he was tended by his sister María del Carmen de Falla. He died of cardiac arrest on 14 November 1946 in Alta Gracia, in the Argentine province of Córdoba. In 1947 his remains were brought back to Spain and entombed in the cathedral at Cádiz. One of the lasting honors to his memory is the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at Complutense University of Madrid. His image appeared on Spanish currency notes for some years. Manuel de Falla never married and had no children.


Adapted from Wikipedia 

The Three-cornered Hat - Complete Ballet Score


El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat or Le tricorne) is a ballet choreographed by Leonide Massine with music by Manuel de Falla commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev and premiered complete in 1919. The story – a magistrate infatuated with a miller's faithful wife attempts to seduce her – derives from the novella by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (born in Granada) and has been traced in film several times, usually in Spanish. The music has these sections:

  • Introducción y escena — Introduction and Scene
  • La tarde — Afternoon
  • Danza de la molinera (Fandango) — Dance of the Miller's Wife
  • Las uvas — The Grapes
  • Danza de los vecinos (Seguidillas) — Dance of the Neighbors
  • Danza del molinero (Farruca) — Dance of the Miller
  • Danza del corregidor — Dance of the Magistrate
  • Danza final (Jota)

1 Composition History

1.1 As El corregidor y la molinera

During World War I Manuel de Falla wrote a pantomime ballet in two scenes and called it The Magistrate and the Miller's Wife (El corregidor y la molinera). The work was scored for a small chamber orchestra and was performed in 1917.

1.2 As El sombrero de tres picos

Sergei Diaghilev, of the Ballets Russes, saw the premiere of El corregidor y la molinera and commissioned Falla to rewrite it. The outcome was a two-act ballet scored for large orchestra. It was then called The Three-Cornered Hat (El sombrero de tres picos) and was first performed in London at the Alhambra Theatre on 22 July 1919. Sets and costumes were created by Pablo Picasso. Choreography was by Léonide Massine. Diaghilev asked Falla to conduct the premiere but the composer felt he was not experienced enough to conduct a work so complex, and he handed the baton to Ernest Ansermet after one rehearsal.

2 Synopsis

2.1 Act One

After a short fanfare the curtain rises revealing a mill in Andalusia. The miller is trying to teach a pet blackbird to tell the time. He tells the bird to chirp twice, but instead it chirps three times. Annoyed, the miller scolds the bird and tells it to try again. The bird now chirps four times. The miller gets angry at the bird again and his wife offers it a grape. The bird takes the grape and chirps twice. The miller and his wife laugh over this and continue their work.

Soon the local magistrate, his wife, and their bodyguard pass by, taking their daily walk. The procession goes by and the couple returns to their work, but the dandified, lecherous, magistrate is heard coming back. The miller tells his wife that he will hide and that they will play a trick on the magistrate.

The miller hides and the magistrate sees the miller's wife dancing. After her dance she offers him some grapes. When the magistrate gets the grapes the miller's wife runs away with the magistrate following her. Finally he catches her, and the miller jumps out of a bush with a stick. The miller chases the magistrate away and the miller and his wife continue working.

2.2 Act Two

That night, guests are at the miller's house. The miller dances to entertain them. His dance is interrupted by the magistrate's bodyguard, who has come to arrest him on trumped-up charges. After the miller is taken away, the guests leave one by one. The miller's wife goes to sleep and soon the magistrate comes to the mill. On his way to the door the magistrate trips and falls in the river. The miller's wife wakes up and runs away.

The magistrate undresses and hangs his clothes on a tree and goes to sleep in the miller's bed. Meanwhile the miller has escaped from prison and now sees the magistrate in his bed. The miller thinks that the magistrate is sleeping with his wife and plans to switch clothes with the magistrate, and avenge himself by seducing the magistrate's wife. The miller leaves, dressed as the magistrate, and the magistrate soon wakes up. He goes outside and sees that his clothes are gone, so he dresses in the miller's clothes. The bodyguard comes and sees the magistrate dressed as the miller and goes to arrest him. The miller's wife sees the bodyguard fighting with what looks like her husband and joins in the fight. The miller comes back and sees his wife in the fight and joins it to protect her. The magistrate explains the entire story and the ballet ends with the miller's guests tossing the magistrate up and down in a blanket.

3 The Music

Throughout the ballet Falla uses traditional Andalusian folk music. The two songs sung by a mezzo-soprano are examples of cante jondo singing; this typically accompanies flamenco music and tells a sad story.

Adapted from Wikipedia


Picasso's Minimalist Set

Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Nights in the Gardens of Spain, G. 49 (Noches en los jardines de España) is a musical composition by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. Falla was Andalusian and the work incorporates elements of his region's folk-music.

Falla began this work as a set of nocturnes for solo piano in 1909, but on the suggestion of the pianist Ricardo Viñes he turned the nocturnes into a piece for piano with orchestra. Falla completed it in 1915 and dedicated it to Ricardo Viñes. However the pianist at the first performance was neither Viñes nor Falla (who was a competent pianist), but José Cubiles. The first performance was given on April 9, 1916, at Madrid's Teatro Real with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós.

Viñes first played the work in its San Sebastián premiere, shortly after the world premiere, with the same forces. Arthur Rubinstein was in the audience that night, and he introduced the work to Buenos Aires. The Paris premiere took place in January 1920, with the pianist Joaquín Nin playing under Fernández Arbós. The composer himself was the soloist at the London premiere in 1921, at a Queen's Hall concert under the baton of Edward Clark.

The work depicts three gardens:

  • En el Generalife (In the Generalife): The first gardens are in the Generalife, the jasmine-scented gardens surrounding the summer palace of the king’s harem at the Alhambra.
  • Danza lejana (Distant Dance): The second garden is an unidentified distant one in which there is an exotic dance.
  • En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba (In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba): The third gardens are in the Sierra de Córdoba in Spain and feature lively gypsy dancing and singing for the feast of Corpus Christi.

Falla referred to Nights in the Gardens of Spain as "symphonic impressions." The piano part is elaborate, brilliant, and eloquent but rarely dominant. The orchestral writing is lush. It is Falla’s most "impressionistic" score.

The score calls for piano, three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, celesta, harp, and strings. Performance time usually runs in the range of 22 to 26 minutes.


Adapted from Wikipedia 


The Ritual Fire Dance

In De Falla's ballet, El amor brujo, a young Andalusian gypsy girl named Candela is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband. To get rid of him, all the gypsies make a large circle around their campfire at midnight. Candela then performs the Ritual Fire Dance. This causes the ghost to appear, with whom she then dances. As they whirl around faster and faster, the ghost is drawn into the fire and vanishes forever.



Serenata Andaluza