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ClassicsOnline Home » GRANADOS: Goyescas / El Pelele (arr. for 3 guitars)
Granados is best remembered today for his two albums of piano pieces, the beautifully evocative Goyescas: Los majos enamorados (The Majos in Love), inspired by Francisco Goya’s paintings and tapestries of eighteenth-century life in Madrid. Both Goyescas and the exuberant El Pelele (The Straw Man) are heard on this recording in new transcriptions for three guitars by Christophe Dejour of the Trio Campanella. The Trio’s recording of Albéniz’s masterpiece Iberia can be heard on Naxos 8.557064.
By Anthony Clarke
Enrique Granados is today best remembered for his piece for solo piano, Goyescas: The Majos in Love. The work, which evokes the life and times of the great Spanish painter Goya, is here transcribed for three guitars by Christophe Dejour, who performs it with his partners in Trio Campanella, Franck Massa and Thomas Winthereik. So successful is his transcription that we quickly forget the original piano work, and become immersed in this world of eloquent, plangent Spanish guitar. The pieces are performed with great tenderness, but also with expressive brio, even outright swagger. The six pieces making up Goyescas are here supplemented by another work by Granados inspired by goya, el Pelele (The Straw Man). It shares the same care in transcription which makes these performances worthwhile in their own right, as evocative complements to the original work. Naxos found a wonderful venue for this 2006 recording: the Torpen Chapel in Denmark. The acoustic result is astonishing. The chapel provides tactile warmth and resonance, while the engineers have captured the full dynamism of the instruments, from the deepest rich bass notes to the highest plucked notes. Trio Campanella seems to play as a single person, with its six hands creating richer textures than a single player could produce. We’re not swamped with over-elaboration of Granados’ original themes; these are deceptively simple arrangements which get to the heart of the music. Lovers of guitar and lovers of Granados have equal cause to rejoice.
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
The Spanish composer Enrique Granados is best remembered today for his Goyescas suite for solo piano, inspired by the art and times of Francisco Goya. The work is of great significance in Spanish music history, for unlike many of the nationalist creations of his contemporaries Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla, and Joaquín Turina, it affirmed the enduring distinctiveness not of Andalusia but rather of the city and region in which Goya spent most of his life: Madrid and Castile. Ironically, Granados was not himself from Castile. He was born in the Catalonian city of Lleida, on 27 July 1867. His father, a captain in the army, was from Cuba, and his mother was from Santander. The family moved to Barcelona in 1874, and Granados remained there for the rest of his life.
Granados began serious piano study with Joan Baptista Pujol in Barcelona and then studied for two years with Charles de Bériot in Paris. After returning to Barcelona in 1889, he became a central figure in the city's cultural life, as a performer, teacher, composer, and conductor. Granados first came under the spell of Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) while viewing an exhibition of his works at the Prado Museum in Madrid, in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the artist's birth. Granados soon concluded that Goya was "the representative genius of Spain". In particular, the bohemian characters of the majo and maja that had captivated Goya also dominated the highly romanticized image of old Madrid embraced by Granados.
Although Granados composed a number of works inspired by Goya, the most famous and enduring among them is the piano suite in two "books" entitled Goyescas: Los majos enamorados (Goyescas: The Majos in Love). Work on this suite began in 1909, and by 31 August 1910, the composer was able to write that he had composed "great flights of imagination and difficulty". He completed Book II in December 1911. Granados gave the première of Book I at the Palau de la Música Catalana on 11 March 1911; he gave the first performance of Book II at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on 2 April 1914. El pelele, subtitled Escena goyesca, is usually programmed as part of the Goyescas suite; Granados gave the première in Terrasa on 29 March 1914.
Los requiebros (Flattery) was inspired by the fifth of Goya's Caprichos, Tal para cual (Two of a Kind). In it, Granados quotes the song Tirana del Trípili, by the eighteenth-century composer Blas de Laserna (the tirana was an Andalusian song and dance in triple meter at a moderate tempo). Granados, however, recasts Laserna's tonadilla as a jota, complete with the alternation of copla (verse) melodies and an estribillo (refrain). Like the real jota, Los requiebros presents inexhaustible variations and ornamentations of its thematic material. Evocations of the punteo (plucking) and rasgueo (strumming) of the guitar enliven the setting, and thus this work, like the whole suite, invites transcription for that instrument. There are too many notes for a solo guitarist to cope with, but the Campanella Trio handles this arrangement with great aplomb.
Coloquio en la reja (Dialogue at the Window) was actually the first number that Granados composed, and every other movement of Goyescas, except for Quejas o La maja y el ruiseñor, uses excerpts from it. Granados's intricate intertwining of thematic material creates an effect resembling the ornamental iron grill (reja) in a window, through which majos and majas carried on their courtship.
Interestingly, there is no portrayal in any of Goya's works of a Fandango de candil (Fandango by Candlelight); a sainete (musical skit) by his contemporary Ramón de la Cruz, however, had exactly that title, and it served as the inspiration for Granados's movement. What Cruz conjured up in his little drama was a celebration held at someone's home in which dancing by candlelight was accompanied by guitars and other instruments. The persistent triplet rhythms of the fandango animate Granados's musical canvas, unifying the entire movement and generating a kind of tension that finds release only at the conclusion.
Quejas o La maja y el ruiseñor (Complaints or The Maja and the Nightingale) is a fanciful dialogue between a heartsick maja and a nightingale, which sings a virtuosic cadenza ad libitum at the end of the movement. The principal theme is a Valencian folk melody that Granados heard a young girl singing in the countryside during one of his trips to that region. Granados employs a changing background technique in this piece, in which each repetition of the song features a variation of the accompaniment. The overall effect is almost hypnotic and creates a mood of forlorn reverie.
The two movements of Book II form a colossal recapitulation of themes earlier presented. El amor y la muerte (Love and Death) was inspired by another of Goya's Caprichos, of the same title. The etching depicts a young woman holding in her arms her dying lover, a look of terror and dismay on her face as he breathes his last. The very opening of this movement presents a quintuplet turn from Coloquio, now in ominous octaves as the lover collapses, mortally wounded, into the maja's arms. The ensuing delirious succession of dominant-seventh chords suggests his fatal swoon. A reminiscence of the folk-song theme from Quejas occurs at bar 12, as the maja experiences the pangs of love and death. A recitativo dramático towards the end heralds the death of the majo. According to Granados, "The final chords are struck in short bass notes that represent the renunciation of happiness."
In the concluding movement, Epílogo: Serenata del espectro (Epilogue: The Ghost's Serenade), the spirit of the departed majo appears in a macabre vision, serenading his beloved on a ghostly guitar. The simplicity and austerity of Epílogo create a striking contrast with the rest of the suite. There are three "verses" preceded by "refrains", and each refrain introduces new themes as well as references to Coloquio. At the conclusion of this fascinating piece, the ghost disappears plucking the strings of his guitar. We hear the open strings of the instrument, symbolizing the idea that the work is over and there are no more chords to play, except the final E major
Granados justifiably wrote of Goyescas, "Finally I have had the good fortune to write something important". He had indeed sealed his reputation and legacy with this defining triumph. It was, as he claimed, "a work for the ages".
Granados composed other Goyescas, which, though they do not appear in the set of pieces so entitled, nonetheless owe their inspiration to the same source. Prominent among these is El pelele (The Straw Man). The influence of Scarlatti is especially marked here, in the sheer delight Granados takes in sensual virtuosity and irrepressible bonhomie. The pelele was a life-size straw man that young women enjoyed tossing up in the air, using a blanket that they held at the corners as a kind of trampoline. Goya portrayed the scene unforgettably in one of his tapestry cartoons, and the giddy exuberance of this music makes El pelele one of Granados's most memorable compositions.
Walter Aaron Clark
author of Enrique Granados: Poet of the Piano (Oxford, 2006)
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GRANADOS: Goyescas / El Pelele (arr. for 3 guitars...