Manuel de Falla (1876 - 1946)
The Three Cornered Hat
This ballet was Falla’s most successful score, and its premiere was a spectacular collaboration of 20th century artists. Yet it took some time to take on its final form. Originally it was a mimed farce, a kind of pantomime, with a text by Falla’s friend Gregorio Martinez Sierra, who based it on a novel “The Three Cornered Hat”. Gregorio ran a theatre in Madrid, and Falla’s friendship with Gregorio and his wife Martina was a fruitful one. The work was titled “The Corregidor and the Miller’s Wife”. The orchestra was a small band of only 17 players, and when produced in Madrid in 1917 it was a success with the public.
When the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes company visited Madrid, discussions turned on making two works into ballets – Nights in the Gardens of Spain, and The Corregidor. The former idea never came off, but Falla set to work adapting The Corregidor. He reduced it to about 35 minutes in length, added a completely new final dance, re-orchestrated it for full orchestra, and re-titled it The Three-cornered Hat. It was first performed by the Ballet Russes in London in 1919, with sets and costume designs by Picasso and choreography by Leonid Massine. It was a great success, and for several years was the most popular ballet in Diaghlev’s repertoire. The score includes several characteristic Spanish Dances, and also a wealth of amusing detail.
The story is fairly simple. The miller, who is successful but not very handsome, has a very pretty wife, and they love each other. The Corregidor (the name means a chief magistrate, and the hat is his badge of office) thinks his important position means he can flirt with any pretty woman – especially if she’s married to an ugly tradesman, and the Corregidor can persuade the police to arrest the miller and get him out of the way. But the miller and his wife show him that he can’t!
Outline of the music and the story ---
Part 1 – After a short formal introduction, the curtain rises on a hot afternoon. It is 2pm, and the miller tries to persuade the blackbird to call the right time. It takes three attempts. We hear the squeaks of the well being wound up, and then a procession as the Corregidor rides by. Return to the music of the hot afternoon, then the Corregidor waddles on (clearly he is overweight and unfit). The miller’s wife dances a fandango, teasing the Corregidor. She offers him grapes, still teasing and he leaves in offence. Return to the fandango as the miller and his wife celebrate getting rid of the Corregidor – or so they think.
Part 2 – The evening. The neighbours have gathered at the mill and dance a gentle seguidillas. Then the miller dances a strutting farruca, which accelerates to its end. After chat, there is a knock at the door (yes, it is Beethoven’s fifth) and the police arrive to take away the Miller. His wife is left alone, disconsolate. The cuckoo clock calls 9pm, echoed by the blackbird, and the Corregidor reappears, to try his luck again with the miller’s wife. He seems a little tipsy. His dance features the castanets, and it ends with his falling in the river with a great splash. He climbs out and, soaking wet, still tries to pursue the miller’s wife. She runs off, and he goes into the mill to change and dry out. The miller reappears having escaped the police, sees the Corregidor’s clothes lying in his mill, and fears the worst. The confusion is unravelled in a final jota, and ends with the unfortunate Corregidor being tossed in a blanket by the crowd.
Nights in the Gardens of Spain
I - En El Generalife
II - Danza Lejana
III - En Los Jardines De La Sierra De Cordoba
Noches en los jardines de Espana is the nearest Falla came to writing a normal concerto. He started writing it in 1909 as a set of nocturnes for solo piano; over the next few years it changed in form and was completed and premiered in 1916. It is not quite a “normal” concerto because the piano part, though important, is not as dominant as in other concertos, and there are no long solo passages or cadenzas. The writing for the piano is unusual, often imitating the sound of the guitar. Perhaps with Debussy’s La Mer in mind, Falla referred to this work as “symphonic impressions”. He went on to say “The themes are based on the rhythms, modes, cadences and ornamental figures which distinguish the popular music of Andalusia. The music has no pretensions to being descriptive – it is merely expressive. But something more than festivals and dances have inspired the evocations in sound, for melancholy and mystery also have their part.”
It is divided into three movements, and the first is the longest at about 10 minutes. The title In the Generalife refers to the gardens of the Alhambra, the beautiful summer palace of the Islamic kings of Spain in Granada. If you can find a quiet time and avoid the tourist hordes, the gardens are still stunningly beautiful today. Starting quietly, the music works up to a passionate climax before dying away peacefully.
The second and third movements run together, beginning as a quick but light dance in triple time. A more powerful theme is followed by menacing high violin notes, which lead into the third movement, faster and energetic. This has a more obvious gypsy and flamenco influence. After a rich climax, the movement subsides into a nostalgic epilogue of half remembered dreams.