All Together Now...

By Laura Carlo

November 23, 2010

I always appreciate reading stories about composers who are willing to learn from others in order to make themselves better. I guess it’s because I am this way, too, and I’ve always been drawn to composers whose approach was collaborative.

Manuel de Falla was born on this day in 1876 and died just shy of his 70th birthday. It’s generally agreed that he was the last of the great Spanish composers for Spain’s musical renaissance. It might have struck this modest man as very strange because he didn’t write a lot of music and a lot of what he did write he disowned. Falla had humble beginnings---his father had gone bankrupt---but there was always music in his house. His mother, a respected pianist, was his first teacher and he first appeared in public with her playing a piano-duet version of the “Seven Last Words” by Haydn. Although it wasn’t his original intention, Falla wrote zarzuelas to make money.

When he was 28 he was encouraged to enter a competition for “Spanish Lyrical Drama” and won the next year in 1905. He also was encouraged to enter a piano competition as a soloist and won that. The prize allowed him to open a piano studio, although he grew tired of teaching and after several months he took off for Paris where he stayed for 7 years. It was there in Paris, hearing the music of Albeniz, Debussy and Dukas, that he found he had to rethink what it meant to be a composer, learning from other great composers of the day and changing his style somewhat to reflect contemporary musical taste. He really enjoyed composing pieces for the stage, whether for opera or ballet, and there are a number of stories about him not having success at the premiers of his pieces, but rather than giving up he’d re-work the music with advice from the great composers of the day and then find success with it at its next performance. Falla and others who realized that no composer is an island can proudly take their place in classical music history.

Join me this morning for Manuel de Falla's “The Three Cornered Hat.”

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