May 28, 2012. Isaac Albéniz. When Isaac Albéniz was born on May 29, 1860, Spanish classical music was in a long decline. Spain was the country where music flourished during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. In the early 16th century Spanish composers were in the forefront of the polyphonic development. Local musicians traveled to Burgundy, France and the Flemish cities, studied and made music with the best of them; many of the best composers went to the courts of Spanish kings. The music of Cristóbal de Morales (1500 – 1553) was known in many European countries. Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 –1611) is considered one of the greatest composers of the late Renaissance, on par with Giovanni da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso. During the Baroque period, music continued to thrive. Gaspar Sanz (1640 – 1710) was one of the most important composers for the guitar. Domenico Scarlatti spent a large part of his productive life in Spain. Padre Antonio Soler (1729 –1783) followed in his steps; Soler’s keyboard sonatas are part of the regular piano repertory and are played often. Luigi Boccherini, like Scarlatti, was born in Italy but spent most of his life in Madrid. By the 1800s, however, classical music waned, as did much of the Spanish culture in general. Albéniz was the oldest of the first group of talented composer (together with Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla and Joaquín Turina) to revive Spanish music in the late 19th century and bring it into the 20th.
We’ll hear three piano pieces by Albéniz. First, Jorge Federico Osorio plays Granada, from Suite Española no. 1 (here). Then the young American pianist Pia Bose performs El Albaicín, from one of the most important Albéniz’s compositions, the suite Iberia (El Albaicín comes from Book III), here. And finally (here), the Russian-American pianist Dmitry Paperno plays Cordoba, Op. 232, No. 4. Here’s what Paperno writes about Cordoba: "The slow introduction to this beautiful piece describes the stillness of a Spanish night. One moment in particular strikes me because it comes extremely close to the sound of Russian Orthodox choir music. This is apparently coincidental, although there are definitely some links between Spanish and Russian music (starting with two Spanish Overtures by Glinka). The faster part of Cordoba is like a melancholic serenade accompanied by guitar. Its victorious major key culmination is interrupted at its peak. The piece never gets all that fast, however, because Spanish music always contains a feeling of dignity and melancholy." We’ll use this quote to segue into yet another anniversary, that of the above-mentioned Mikhail Glinka. Glinka, who was born on June 1, 1804, was, like Albéniz, a pioneer: there was practically no original classical music before his time. Here is Glinka’s piano piece, The Lark, it is performed by the American pianist Tanya Gabrielian.
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