Manuel de Falla is one of the most notable composers of the generation. I’d like to point out his important involvement with the cultural movement in Granada, and especially, the friendship with the poet Federico García Lorca and French composer Claude Debussy.
This article is about Falla’s only guitar work, “Homenaje pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy”.
To begin with, I’d like to quote some lines of these artists that represent their friendship and mutual respect.
“I have learnt from the maestro Falla who is not only a great artist but also a saint, a model lesson. He used to say: «The people who do music job like us…» The pianist Wanda Landowska heard these humble and magnificent words of the maestro, which sounded to her like an insult. I’m with Falla. The poetry is like a gift. I do my job and fulfil my duty”
The poetry, the music, the art, each of them is simply a job. A job that simultaneously requires a gifted talent. That’s why these jobs make many demands on them. Therefore, they loathe any kind of exhibitionism.
Lorca was only 19 years old when he befriended with Falla, whom he admired not only his talent but also his quality as person. Falla was very strict with the ethic and his conduct was a good example to young Lorca.
Falla (on a letter to some friends):
“If I say this poet and musician is a friend of mine, it is half-truth because, in many aspects, he is one of my pupils who I respect the most from all point of view. Moreover, with regards to the folk music, he is an excellent collaborator. When God desires an artist of this quality to be born who is capable of not only technically assimilating those requirements for a job, but also of going beyond the simple technical job, we see an enormous existing difference between what is a product of an education and what is a personal creation that emerges from the talent that is supported by the education.”
Manuel de Falla: Homenaje pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy
Two years after the death of Claude Debussy in 1918, a French musicologist Henri Prunières, also the founder/editor of the music magazine La Revue Musicale, commissioned 6 o 7 leading composers including Falla to commemorate this great French pianist/composer. Miguel Llobet, the famous guitarist, pupil of Tárrega and Casals, also a friend of Falla, also repeatedly requested Falla to compose a guitar piece. Falla decided to kill two birds with one stone. This piece was composed entirely in Granada with the partial collaboration of Llobet. According to José Rey de la Torre, well-known Cuban guitarist, pupil of Llobet, when the work was almost finished, Falla, Llobet, and many writers and artists of Granada met up at Lorca’s house. There, Falla and Llobet worked together in a small room for the last refinement.
From my point of view, this composition is a good example of the spirit of the generation: the duality. We can find full of contradictions in this music. For instance, this composition is supposed to be an elegy, which tends to be a sad and solemn song. Here, Falla, surprisingly, chooses the habanera rhythm! He specifically indicates the tempo as “Mesto e calmo (sadly and calmly)” which seems very suitable for an elegy. Contradictory, he also specifies with a metronome mark saying "a crochet (quarter note)=60″ which is rather un unexpected tempo, probably too fast for ”Mesto e calmo”! As to the mood of the music, I'm sure that there will be many people saying: "What is this all about? Why Habanera to pay homage to a French composer Debussy?”
Despite this apparent confusion, there is an interesting and long story of friendship with a spirit of the evocation behind this.
This piece “Homenaje” is evoking two compositions of Debussy, ”Soirèe dans Grenade (The Evening in Granada)” and “La Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate)“. Both are related to Granada and based in the habanera rhythm.
Debussy composed ”Soirèe dans Grenade”, which is a part of “Estampes (1930)” evoking some Spanish friends, especially Falla.
La Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate) is supposed to be one of the oldest constructions of the Alhambra palace in Granada.
Debussy’s inspiration of “La Puerta del Vino” from “Préludes. Book II (1913)” came from a postcard of Granada that Falla had sent him. According to Falla, Debussy intends to evoke a calm and bright hour of siesta in Granada. The Arabic scale and the habanera evoke the “cante hondo“.
Surprisingly, Debussy hardly knew Spain, except for from his only visit to San Sebastián (North Spain) for some hours! In both pieces, Debussy beautifully portrayed the atmosphere of Granada that he had never visited, using his comprehensive knowledge of Spanish music and brilliant intuition.
Falla said: “There is not even one measure of this music borrowed from the Spanish folklore, and yet the entire composition in its most minute details conveys admirably what Spain is”.
Falla’s “Homenaje” was the last correspondence between these two geniuses. The contrast between the lively and happy fragment of Debussy´s “Soirèe dans Grenade” and the way the music ends suggests Falla’s last goodbye to his artist friend Debussy.
I think this composition is a highly complex metaphorical piece. All the apparent things are just symbolising something different and more profound in the same way Góngora and Lorca do for their poem. The duality of the lightness and darkness (and the lightness is a way to highlight the darkness) and its complexity makes the music more transcendental.
For me, this “Homenaje” is an emotional composition of a profound friendship, respect, and humanity. With the rhythm of habanera…
Puerta del Vino
Soirèe dans Grenade
You will find the tune quoted by Falla at the ending of “Homenaje” at 0:48 for the first time.
Audio sample below: Homenaje pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy
Schmitz, Robert E. The Piano Works of Claude Debussy. New York: Duyell, Sloan and Pearce Publishers