Thursday, 5 January 2012

Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

Looking through Granados's Op.1, the Cuentos de la Juventud, I realized I knew very little about this composer apart from his tragic death (he drowned while trying to save his wife after a ship bringing him back from New York in 1916 was torpedoed). So I listened to the programme about him  on the excellent Spanish Radio series Documentos:

The key names and dates are all available in the usual places, so no need to repeat them here. Some themes in the programme which struck me were:

Granados was a Romantic, with a strong Spanish idiom. But these are very broad categories. The same could be said of Albéniz, who sounds quite different. There were many elements to the Granados recipe:
  1. The Romantic repertoire, which  studied at Barcelona and then in Paris (he won his first big prize playing Schumann) 
  2. The French sound: Granados studied privately in Paris, knew Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saens & co. and lived the Bohemian life.
  3. The Catalan / Barcelona scene. Granados was apparently influenced by Modernista artists like Santiago Rusiñol, who placed a great importance on the importance of the garden and landscape as a source of inspiration. He gave the first perfomance of Goyescas in 1911 in the temple of Modernism, the Palau de la Música in Barcelona.
  4. The Spanish tradition, including the zarzuela, which was a huge thing in Madrid at the time. Broadly speaking, the chamber music, opera, orchestral and vocal works have a more traditional feel, while his piano music is perhaps more distinctively personal.
As composers do, Granados synthesised these influences (and no doubt others - he was born into a military family, his very first teacher was an army captain, and the last piece of 'Cuentos' is, after all, a March) to make something very personal, but also expressive of the Spanish world at the time, simultaneously looking back to its past, embracing Romanticism and peering over the Pyrenees to Parisian modernity.

There are amazing traditions in instrumental teaching. Granados's first major teacher was Juan Baptista Pujol, who trained and inspired a whole school of Catalan pianists (Albéniz was another student). According to one expert on the programme, Pujol belongs in a line which goes all the way back to Scarlatti. Then in Paris Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot, who also taught Ravel and Ricardo Viñes, insisted on refinement of tone production. This was apparently the foundation of Granados's own Academy, and of his innovative work on pedalling. Granados's Academy (now the Academia Marshall, still thriving) was passed on to Frank Marshall and then Alicia de Larrocha. Which I suppose puts de Larrocha in a story going back to Scarlatti! Granados is remembered as a great piano teacher as well as a great pianist, notable for a free, flowing and rather improvised feel in his playing.

Music and Image
Santiago Rusiñol is mentioned above, and Granados's masterpiece for piano, the Goyescas, are inspired by some of Goya's paintings ('inspired' seems a weak word: he was captivated by them). The early miniatures in 'Cuentos' are pictures in sound: 'La mendiga' (the beggarwoman), and 'Viniendo de la fuente' (Coming from the fountain) suggest genre-type paintings. No surprise to discover that Granbados painted himself.

Sadly, no one on the programme mentioned that Granados's music transcribes brilliantly to the guitar, and is now standard guitar repertory. In fact, put his name into YouTube and you might get more guitar than piano. I wonder if he ever heard his music played on six strings? Would Llobet have played to him, perhaps?

Also sadly, for many of us, Granados's piano works are very difficult. The Goyescas are virtuosic works. But there are other pieces within reach of the keen amateur, and there is an interesting monograph on how they may be played in an authentic style, by Harumi Kurihara.

Great moustache as well!