Suite Iberia. Isaac Albéniz
Óscar Martín, piano
From beginning to end (with the only exception being ‘Lavapiés’, which evokes a certain Madrilenian district) Iberia is a triumphant and lively musical reflection on Andalusia through the profound sight and hearing of Isaac Albéniz, and his great instinct and knowledge of the piano. From the delicate and impressionistic ‘Evocación’ (“evocation”) which opens the series, until the luminous and virtuosic sevillanas in ‘Eritaña’, Albéniz absorbs, paints, describes and sings the light and shadow, the lightness and depth, the sadness and joy of an Andalusia which he, being of Catalan origin understood very well.
Albéniz often dreamt of Spain whilst being far away in Paris (where he resided from the year 1894), and culturally as well as artistically identified Spain with Andalusia. Many Romantic composers fell into this recurrent synecdoche. Even in the complex ‘Lavapiés’, the only piece of the suite which does not evoke Andalusia directly, the “Spanish Liszt” (as he was known in certain Parisian circles) disregards the Madrilenian chotis and returns instead to an intricate rhythm that presents a difficult balance between binary and ternary figurations, a feature common in Andalusian song.
Albéniz knew Andalusia very well. He gave many recitals and exhibition-concerts in Southern Spain as a child prodigy. As early as 1872, when he was only twelve years old, Albéniz toured through the provinces of Falla and Turina, delighting the inhabitants of Úbeda, Jaén, Sevilla, Córdoba, Granada, Lucena, Loja, Salar and Málaga. The boat that took Albéniz to America for the first time departed from the Andalusian harbor of Cádiz on April 30th, 1875. Later on, in 1882, Albéniz visited Andalusia twice to give recitals in Málaga, Córdoba, San Fernando, Cádiz and Sevilla.
This close and inherent knowledge was essential for the construction of an idealized memory of Andalusia from which Iberia would emerge years later in within the extraordinary (as well as contrasting to Andalusia) vibe of Paris. It is important to point out Albéniz’s Andalusian connection to reject once and for all the theories that suggest a French kind of Andalusian picturesqueness in Iberia, close to Bizet’s, Chabrier’s and so many others. The pages of Iberia are certainly no less Andalusian nor less authentic than the quintessential pentagrams of the Fantasía bética. In the words of Enrique Franco, Iberia is “the great poem of Spanish music”, but it ca also be seen as an exultant and passionate musical reflection on a diverse and plural Andalusia” .
The twelve movements of Iberia were written between December 1905 and January 1908, a relatively short period in which the composer was seriously affected by health problems that would ultimately lead to his death in May 1909. The vitality, ease and richness of this lengthy work do not reveal the painful personal struggle of the composer, whose unstoppable genius prevails over any adversity. Albéniz did not stop “putting his heart into it”, as Debussy said, alluding to the infinite creative power of his Spanish colleague, even in those last moments of pain and exhaustion.
The frequent ascription of Iberia to impressionism, emergent at that point in history, is as arbitrary as any other. Iberia is a unique and unclassifiable collection due to its deep connection with popular music, to the richness of its fertile rhythmic exploration and to the diversified cluster of vectors that meet in its score. Universal, incomparable and atemporal, each of its twelve movements revolves around three basic elements which have their roots in Spain: the falseta and its derivations, the copla, and the rhythm of various popular spanish dances.