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ClassicsOnline Home » GRANADOS, E.: Piano Music, Vol. 1 (Riva) - 12 Danzas espanolas / Improvisation on the Jota Valenciana
Enrique Granados performed extensively in Spain, France and the United States, collaborating with many of the leading artists of his day. His first masterpiece was the collection of 12 Danzas españolas, refined and expressive evocations of the richness of Spain’s regions and dances, which gained high praise by composers as diverse as Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Grieg and Cui. By turns vivacious, melancholy and hypnotic, they are as fresh as his poetic Improvisation on the Valencian Jota, heard here in a transcription from a piano roll recording made by Granados himself.
The first piano masterworks of Granados
This CD is part of the 10-disc Naxos series of the complete piano music of Enrique Granados, with the American pianist Douglas Riva. It's odd, though, to see this March 2009 recording billed as volume one in the series, even though most of the other discs were recorded and released much earlier in the 2000s. Riva is obviously at home in the piano music of the Spanish master, and he makes a strong showing, if not the strongest, in the Spanish Dances. These were Granados's first masterpieces, and they contain some of his most appealing piano music.
This music is extraordinarily well served on CD. Martin Jones on Nimbus is outstanding, and I also really enjoyed Angela Hewitt on CBC Records. You can even hear the composer play four of the Dances, on a Nimbus disc called The Composer Plays. But the gold standard in this music, is, of course, Alicia de Larrocha, available in various CD incarnations on RCA.
I quite like Riva's approach to this music. His version of the famous Andaluza (#5) is impressive, and I also liked what he did with the final two pieces Arabesca (#11) and Bolero (#12). But like many others in the lovely Orientale (#2) Riva pushes forward the full beauty right away, while the composer holds something back at first and lets it unfold later in the piece. Meanwhile, de Larrocha somehow has it both ways, and it's perfectly poetic from beginning to end.
Riva has an advantage over some of his rivals in his sound. His producer and engineer John Taylor has provided him the most natural, open sound, which suits both the open-air music and Riva's way of playing. This is must-hear music, and a fine disc to include in your collection, though everyone must have de Larrocha!more....
By Oleg Ledeniov
By Brent Auerbach
American Record Guide
Enrique Granados (1867–1916)
Piano Music • 1
Enrique Granados was born on 27 July in Lleida, near Barcelona. After his family moved to Barcelona, Granados began piano study there in 1879 and the following year he continued with Joan Baptista Pujol (1835–1898). In 1883 he won a competition performing Schumann’s Sonata, Op. 22. One of the jury members was the noted composer Felip Pedrell (1841–1922), who began giving Granados classes in harmony and composition the following year. In 1887 Granados went to Paris where he studied with Charles de Bériot (1833–1914). He was highly influenced by Bériot’s insistence on tone-production and pedal technique. In addition, Bériot emphasised improvisation in his teaching, reinforcing his pupil’s natural ability in the skill. After returning to Barcelona in 1889, Granados published his Danzas españolas, which brought him international recognition.
Both a pianist and conductor, during his career Granados performed concerts in Spain, France and New York collaborating with violinists Eugène Ysaÿe and Jacques Thibaud, pianists Mieczysław Horszowski and Camille Saint-Saëns and conductors such as Isaac Albéniz and Pau Casals. Granados was also a fine teacher. In 1901 he founded the Academia Granados, which continues today as the Academia Marshall.
In 1912 Granados met the American pianist Ernest Schelling, who was the first pianist to perform Granados’s music outside Spain. Schelling arranged for his works to be published by G. Schirmer in New York and encouraged Granados in his plans to convert his piano suite Goyescas into an opera, later arranging for its première at the Metropolitan Opera. Terrified of the ocean, Granados nevertheless sailed to New York for the première of the opera on 28 January 1916. While in the United States he performed numerous concerts, made piano-roll recordings, and also performed at the White House. Granados and his wife set sail back to Europe via Liverpool but while crossing the English Channel on the British ship Sussex, their boat was torpedoed by a German submarine and they both perished.
About the year 1912 Granados wrote: “My motto has always been to renounce an easy success in order to achieve one that is true and lasting.” Today he is universally recognised as one of Spain’s most important composers. His music is multi-faceted, although it is essentially Romantic with some Nationalist characteristics. He has been variously described as “the Spanish Chopin”, “the last Romantic”, and by his compatriots as “our Schubert”. No single characterization adequately describes his personality, since Granados had a distinctive voice that is instantly recognisable and entirely his own.
Granados was primarily influenced by mid-nineteenth century European Romanticism, especially the music of Schumann and Chopin, and, like most composers of his era, by Wagner. The introverted luxuriance of his luminous harmonies, his rich palette of pianistic colour, loose formal structures and his vivid imagination, always tinged with nostalgia, place him firmly within the Romantic School. It has frequently been commented that large forms such as sonatas and concertos did not attract Granados. His artistic personality was better suited to shorter, rhapsodic forms, especially those based on variations.
Granados’s first masterpiece was the collection of 12 Danzas españolas. Rich in melodic expression and rhythmic variety, the Danzas españolas are the product of a highly refined and delicate sensibility. Had Granados composed only these twelve Danzas españolas he would have merited a lasting place in Spanish music. Unlike Grieg in his Slätter (Norwegian Peasant Dances), Op. 72, Granados did not utilise any folk themes in his Danzas españolas. Instead, he sublimated typical Spanish characteristics into his own personal musical style, infused with the ambience of Spain. Almost all of the Danzas españolas are in ternary form and clearly rooted in their respective tonalities. Although many of Granados’s early works have the final cadence on the dominant, only one of the Danzas españolas, Arabesca, No. 11, has this type of cadence.
There has been considerable confusion about the date of composition of the Danzas. Henri Collet stated that Granados was working on the Danzas in Paris during 1888. Although a letter written by Granados seems to date them to 1883, it is probable that the final number was mistaken as a “3” rather than an “8”. Given the composer´s age in 1883 (age sixteen) it is improbable that such mature works could have been written at such an early age. More likely, Granados began composing them between September 1887 and July 1889 in Paris, and completed the set in Barcelona the following year, when he offered them to Casa Dotesio (today Unión Musical Española) for publication. The Danzas españolas reveal a remarkable step toward maturity from the works of Album de melodías, París, 1888 (Naxos 8.557142).
Granados was highly praised for the Danzas españolas by Massenet, Saint-Saëns and Grieg. César Cui pronounced them “exquisite“ and was impressed by their rich, popular expression. Massenet affirmed that Granados had captured the purity of Spanish dance forms and revealed himself as the Spanish equivalent of Grieg.
Granados himself gave titles to only two of the Danzas españolas: No. 4, Villanesca and No. 7, Valenciana or Calesera. The other titles were added in later editions. Although they are not original to the composer, these added titles are often evocative.
No. 1, Galante, is appropriately gallant and flirtatious. Granados composed a number of works inspired by “oriental” themes (Naxos 8.555325), in which the “orient” refers to countries where Arabic is the spoken language. In the collection of Danzas españolas there are two “oriental” works, Oriental, No. 2, which is both exotic and filled with compelling charm, and Arabesca, No. 11. The vivacious Fandango, No. 3, follows the melancholy Oriental. The first and last sections of Villanesca, No. 4, are bucolic while the middle section, labeled Canción y estrebillo (Song and Refrain), is one of Granados’s most haunting evocations of Spain. Known both as Andaluza and Playera, No. 5 is without doubt the most popular and well known dance in this collection, if not even in his entire output. Granados recorded Andaluza as well as Valenciana, No. 7, and Melancólica, No. 10, for both the Welte-Mignon Reproducing Piano and the Duo-Art Reproducing Piano systems. Rondalla aragonesa, No. 6, is a jota, in which the ever increasing tempo of the sprightly opening is in great contrast to the lyric poetry of its copla. Granados frequently performed Valenciana, No. 7, in concerts, including his final performance as a pianist at the White House on 7 March 1916, only three weeks before his tragic death. The resonant Sardana was inspired by the national dance of Granados’s native Catalonia. The extravagant drama of Romántica, No. 9, is in sharp contrast to the gentle Melancólica, No. 10. Arabesca, No. 11, is based on a hypnotic, undulating melody. Bringing the collection to a close, Bolero, No. 12, begins as mysteriously as it ends.
Granados was highly gifted in the art of improvisation. In fact, many of his completed works retain the air of an improvisation. Granados recorded Improvisación sobre la jota valenciana in New York in January, 1916 for the Duo-Art Reproducing Piano. This piano roll recording captured the freshness and freedom of Granados’s famed improvisations. In this one Granados presents a simple melody which is enveloped in delicate harmonies and rich pianistic textures, alternately poetic and dramatic.
This performance of the Danzas españolas follows the critical edition of the Complete Works for Piano of Enrique Granados, published by Editorial Boileau, S.A., Barcelona, Spain, Alicia de Larrocha, Director and Douglas Riva, Assistant Director.
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