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ISAAC ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)


November 2, 2014: Sharon Isbin, guitar

Composer and piano virtuoso Isaac Albéniz became one of the most influential figures in Spanish music history, creating a national idiom based on his native folk music. An amazing child prodigy, he was nevertheless such an unruly youth that he ran away from home several times, and by age thirteen he had journeyed to Argentina as a stowaway, and to Uruguay, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, San Francisco, and back to Spain. He later traveled throughout Europe, composing his most Spanish-sounding pieces when he was away from his native land. In 1903 he moved to Nice, where he composed his most famous works for piano, collected in the Suite Iberia, published in four books between 1906 and 1909. He died in Cambô-les-Bains, Pyrenées, just before his forty-ninth birthday.

Albéniz composed mostly for the piano though he wrote several works for the theater, of which Pepita Jiménez and San Antonio de la Flórida achieved a certain success. Many of his colorful piano works have been arranged for a variety of instruments—the present Asturias is more often heard on guitar than on piano, thanks to the popular arrangements by guitarists Andrés Segovia and Francisco Tárrega, among many others.

Asturias dates from the early 1890s, probably during the time Albéniz was living in London. It was published as “Preludio” in two different collections before it ended up in the collection of eight pieces that German publisher Hofmeister issued two years after Albéniz’s death. Hofmeister titled the group Suite española, op. 47, after a work that had been advertised in 1886 but had never materialized. No. 5, Asturias, was subtitled “Leyenda” (Legend). One of the many nostalgic pieces he wrote outside of his native land, Asturias evokes the beautiful Asturias region of northwest Spain. Albéniz knowledgeably suggests the flamenco guitar style by using a pedal point on an open string and broken chord figurations. The slower central section imitates the improvisatory style of flamenco singing in which Gypsy, Indian, and Arabic influences are all present.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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