Enrique Granados y Campiña (1867-1916) lived most of his early life in Barcelona. He was trained primarily as a pianist but also studied, probably informally, with the great Spanish musicologist Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922). It is reasonable to assume that the clear nationalist-folk element in Granados’ music came to be, at least partially, as a result of Pedrell’s strong influence. Like so many of his compatriots, Granados also spent time in Paris as a young man attending classes at the conservatoire and basking in Parisian intellectual society. He enjoyed modest success in his career, particularly in his native Barcelona, but also more widely in Spain and abroad. He was invited to the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1916 to attend the premier of his recently completed operatic work, Goyescas, which was based in turn on his famous piano piece of the same name. After the premier, his journey home was delayed when he accepted an invitation to meet U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. On the second part of his re-scheduled trip home, the ship he was on was torpedoed, the impact throwing Granados, his wife, and several other passengers overboard. Granados was picked up by a life boat, but seeing his wife in distress, he dove back into the water in an attempt to save her. Both were drowned.
His music, like the music of the many composers of similar experience, is in many aspects the natural synthesis of dual influences, local and cosmopolitan. But in the specific case of Granados, the rugged core of Spanish folk idiom at the nucleus of his music is polished to a gleam, kept in place and at bay and couched in an unfailing elegance of gesture and aristocratic reserve.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Doce danzas españolas, presented here in arrangement for two guitars. Granados first started performing these works, to considerable acclaim, in the 1890’s, when they also began appearing, serially, in print. They were published as a numbered set in around 1900. The titles by which they are now often recognized were a later editorial addition. The twelve dances, while almost all in tripartite form with an initial dance recapitulated after a contrasting middle section, are at the same time highly varied in melodic and rhythmic content. The first dance, Minuetto or Galante, quickly invokes the fandango with it’s opening hemiola, but the dance is almost immediately halted and an andante passage follows. The lyrical middle section moves to the parallel minor key. The second dance, Orientale, is slow and haunting, with an even slower middle section. It is perhaps the most frequently performed of the dances, at least in duo guitar arrangements. Dance No. 3’s jaunty and forceful opening is transformed into a mournful song in the middle section. The infectious, courtly melody of No. 4, Villanesca , is treated almost like a rondo refrain and also mutates in the middle section, this time into a stormier, unsettled discourse. The famous Andaluza, No. 5, is often cited for its ’guitar effects,’ and features persistent off-beat emphasis. The Rondalla Aragonesca, No. 6, is comprised of a repeated melodic fragment treated in a prolonged accellerando in the outer sections and No. 7, Valenciana, formally the most free in the set, is similarly constructed from short melodic epigrams. The Sardana, No. 8 is one of the slower pieces in the set and is inspired by the circle dance common in Cataluña. Dance No. 9, Mazurka, is rhythmically intricate with hemiolas and syncopated accent patterns which once again seem to recall guitaristic, repeatedchord textures. The oddly titled but commonly performed Melancolico follows. Zambra, No. 11, and Arabesca, No. 12, are the most clearly Andalusian, or more precisely, Moorish, in inspiration with allusions of Koranic chant in the melodies and a phrygian essence in the harmonies.
Valses poéticos was first published, along with the composer’s Valses íntimos, in the influential journal Ilustración musical hispano-americana (Barcelona) in 1894. It features a fluency of melodic invention and a modest, grounded diatonicism that makes its musical expression conspicuously unforced, lucid, aristocratic and elegant at the core. In it, the waltz is explored with a ranging inventiveness; the opening one sounds like a picture of equilibrium, there are invocations of Strauss in No. 4, the Parisian cafe in No. 5, a lyrical, reflective melancholy in No. 6 and true exuberance in No. 8.