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MANUEL DE FALLA (1876-1946)

Siete canciones populares españolas

arr. Emilio Pujol/Miguel Llobet

November 2, 2014 – Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano; Sharon Isbin, guitar

In 1907 Spanish composer Manuel de Falla went to Paris, where he formed friendships with Debussy, Dukas, and Ravel that greatly influenced his career. At the time of the Paris production of his opera La vida breve in the winter of 1913–14, a Spanish singer in the cast asked Falla for advice about which Spanish songs she should include on a Paris recital. He decided to arrange some Spanish songs himself using his own system of harmony, which he had just tried out for the harmonization of a Greek folk song that had been requested by a Greek singing teacher.

This system stemmed from Falla’s study of Louis Lucas’s L’acoustique nouvelle, a mid-nineteenth-century treatise that he had picked up as a young man in Madrid at an open-air book stall, and which was to influence his later style profoundly. It consisted of deriving harmonies from the natural resonance of a fundamental tone, that is, its harmonics, then using these harmonics as new fundamental tones. Though Falla never lost sight of traditional harmony he claimed that this system, which anticipated harmonic theories of the twentieth century, revolutionized his entire conception of harmony.

He completed the Siete canciones (from which various instrumental arrangements were made, often titled Suite populaire espagnole) in Paris before the outbreak of World War I forced him to return to Madrid in 1914. He did not permit the singer who had sought his advice to perform them on a Spanish-themed program in Paris because of a bad experience he himself had had performing on a similar Spanish program. They were first performed by Luisa Vela (who had just sung in the Madrid premiere of La vida breve) accompanied by the composer in Madrid on January 14, 1915. The first Paris performance was delayed until May 1920. The songs are dedicated to Madame Ida Godebski, a great friend of Falla; Cipa and Ida Godebski’s famous salon in Paris was a gathering place for many other composers and writers including Roussel, Stravinsky, Ravel, Gide, Valéry, and Cocteau.

Falla chose to set seven folk songs from various regions of Spain. García Matos, in his detailed study of Falla’s sources in the Madrid periodical Música in 1953, found that the first and third songs closely follow the folk sources as to the tunes and texts, the second and sixth songs were retouched slightly, the seventh was modified slightly and expanded, the fifth reworked considerably, and the fourth was probably created from a combination of sources.

The plaintive “El paño moruno” (The Moorish Cloth) comes from the province of Murcia; Falla later characterized the Murcian miller in Three-Cornered Hat by employing the first fours bars of the song’s bass line. The lively “Seguidilla murciana” takes up a popular Murcian dance form. Its original piano accompaniment imitates a guitar playing in punteado (plucked-sting) style—returned in this arrangement to the instrument of its inspiration. “Asturiana” moves the listener to the North of Spain for a peaceful lament. The passionate “Jota” takes the name of one of the most widely known Spanish song and dance forms, associated with the region of Aragon. Falla employs the characteristic alternation of sections of rapid accompaniment in 3/8 meter with those in a slower tempo for the voice.

“Nana” is a lullaby, which Falla said he heard as a child from “his mother’s lips before he was old enough to think.” The tune stems from Andalusia, and as such differs from other Spanish cradle songs because, according to the composer, much Andalusian vocal music originated in India. The geographical origin of the “Canción” is uncertain, although Falla followed the popular theme fairly faithfully according to Matos. At the end a canon between the voice and the accompaniment provides textural interest. The last song, “Polo,” of Andalusian origin, reflects the flamenco or Gypsy world. The original piano accompaniment again evokes the guitar’s punteado style—again returned to its source of inspiration—and the accents represent palmadas (hand-clapping) of the spectators.

The songs have been performed far and wide in all manner of arrangements. Ernesto Halffter, student and friend of Falla, orchestrated the accompaniment, and subsequent adaptations have appeared for various instruments taking the vocal part, as well as transcriptions of the piano accompaniment for guitar—here adapted by Miguel Llobet from the version by Emilio Pujol.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

Texts and Translations

Siete canciones populares españolas

El paño moruno
Al paño fino en la tienda
una mancha le cayó
por menos precio se vende,
porque perdió su valor ¡Ay!

Seguidilla murciana
Cualquiera que el tejado
tenga de vidrio
no debe tirar piedras
al del vecino.
Arrieros semos;
¡puede que en el camino
nos encontremos!

Por tu mucha inconstancia
yo te comparo
con peseta que corre
de mano en mano;
que al fin se borra
y creyéndola falsa
¡nadie la toma

Por ver si me consolaba,
arriméme a un pino verde;
por verme llorar lloraba.
¡Y el pino, como era verde,
por verme llorar lloraba!

Dicen que no nos’queremos
porque no nos ven hablar;
a tu corazón y al mío
se lo pueden preguntar.

Ya me despido de ti,
de tu casa y tu ventana;
y aunque no quiera tu madre,
adiós, niña, hasta mañana.

Aunque no quiera tu madre . . .

Duérmete, niño, duerme,
duerme, mi alma,
duérmete, lucerito
de la mañana.
Nanita, nana,
duémete, lucerito
de la mañana.

Por triadores, tus ojos,
voy a enterrarlos;
no sabes lo que cuesta
(“Del aire . .”),
niña, el mirarlos.
(“Madre, a la orilla . . .”)

Dicen que no me quieres,
ya me has querido . . .
váyase lo ganado
(“Del aire . . .”)
por lo perdido.
(“Madre, a la orilla . . .”)

Guardo un “ay”
Guardo una pena en mi pecho
Que a nadie se la diré!
Malhaya el amor, malhaya!
Y quien me lo dió a entender!

Seven Popular Spanish Songs

The Moorish Cloth
On the fine cloth in the shop
there fell a stain;
it sells at a cheaper price,
for it has lost its worth. Ay!

Seguidilla from Murcia
Whoever has a roof
that is made of glass
ought not to throw stones
at that of his neighbor.
We are the muleteers;
perhaps on the road
we’ll meet!

For your great inconstancy
I would compare you
to a peseta that passes
from hand to hand;
which finally gets worn down
and, believing it false,
no one will take it!

From Asturia
To see if it would console me
I lay under a green pine;
it wept to see me weeping.
And the pine, because it was green
wept to see me weeping!

They say we’re not in love
because they don’t see us speak;
they ought to question instead
both your heart and mine.

I take my leave of you,
of your house and your window;
and though your mother forbids it,
farewell, sweetheart, till tomorrow.

Though your mother forbids it . .

Go to sleep, child, to sleep,
to sleep, my dearest,
go to sleep, little star
of the morning.
Lullay, lullaby,
go to sleep, little star
of the morning.

Since your eyes are traitors
I’ll bury them;
you know not what it costs
(“Del aire . . .”),
my child, to look at them.
(“Madre, a la orilla . . .”)

They say you don’t love me,
but you loved me once . . .
you are the winner
(“Del aire . . .”)
for having lost me.

I keep a…Ah!
I hold a pain in my breast,
that to no one will I tell!
Wretched is love, wretched,
And he who gave it to me to understand!

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