After all the vibrancy and jubilant cacophony of December, January always feels a quiet month to me: the silence of a snow-covered field, the gentle crackle of logs on the fire, the scratch of my pen moving over the paper, and – most notably – the lulling melodies of classical music playing on the stereo.
This week, I have been rediscovering the works of composer Manuel de Falla. Here is one of my favourites; it’s a nocturne called ‘Noches en los jardines de España’ (Nights in the Gardens of Spain):
Beautiful, don’t you think? So passionate and arresting. Falla described this work as ‘symphonic impressions’; it was inspired by three gardens in Spain, one of which is the jasmine-scented garden at the Alhambra, Granada, as described in my novel Indiscretion.
In fact, Falla was a great inspiration for me for all the books of my Andalucían Nights series, which is why, as a nod to him, I named the heroine of Indiscretion Alexandra de Falla.
Manuel de Falla was born in Cadiz, setting for Masquerade and Legacy, in 1876, but it was at the Real Conservatorio de Música y Declamación in Madrid that he learned his craft: piano from José Tragó and composition with Felipe Pedrell. Pedrell was particularly important, instilling in Falla a passion for Andalusian flamenco music, which would inspire his later classical compositions.
Travel broadened Falla’s horizons, and in Paris he was influenced by composers like Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky. His rising star caught the attention of King Alfonso XIII, who gave Falla a royal grant to remain in Paris, but when World War I broke out he had to return to Spain. What followed was a fertile creative period, during which he wrote Noches en los jardines de España and other works that entered the annals of classical music history.
When Franco came to power after the civil war in Spain, he offered Falla a sizeable pension to work in Spain, but Falla preferred exile. He chose Argentina as his home, and lived out the last few years of his life there, teaching and composing. He died in 1946, and the following year his remain were repatriated to Spain, and he was laid to rest in the beautiful crypt at Cadiz Cathedral (pictured below).
Falla’s musical legacy is a body of musical work that continues to define a time and place, and to inspire so many other artists and music lovers. He is also honoured as the namesake of the Gran Teatro Falla in Cadiz, setting for all manner of artistic performances, including those that are integral to the annual carnival in the city.
Where better for my heroine of Masquerade, Luna, to spend the evening watching the opera Carmen? Here is Luna’s first glimpse of the theatre:
A first night at the Gran Teatro Falla had a charm of its own. Standing in the Plaza Fragela in the north-west quarter of the Old Town, the grand and atmospheric theatre welcomed its visitors with beckoning mystery, like a magician inviting one to step back in time. The century-old coral brick building, with its distinctive red- and white-banded arches wrapped around three vast keyhole-shaped doorways, was filling up when they arrived. There was a festive atmosphere about the place and the lobby was buzzing with different languages. The audience was a mixed assortment of Spaniards and foreigners, an attractive, cheerful crowd made up of distinguished-looking men and women, all of them united by their love of opera.
Ultimately, that unity is the lasting legacy of any great composer like Falla. All over the world people from all walks of life can listen to his music, and be transported to a dimension where they are connected by their mutual appreciation for the sound and the emotions it stirs.
I hope you will give Manuel de Falla’s music a try, and ‘meet’ me in those jardines de España.