Enrique Granados is possibly best remembered for his songs and
evocative solo piano music. However he also composed various orchestral
works and six operas. His music relies heavily on Spanish and
Catalan folklore. Granados was instrumental in bringing this to
the attention of his countrymen, as well as to the European musical
scene at the turn of the century. He was one of the representatives
of musical nationalism, a movement that swept across Europe mainly
during the nineteenth century but which extended into the early
twentieth century as well.
best work and undoubtedly his most famous, the piano suite
Goyescas, was composed between 1909 and 1911. It was
inspired by paintings by Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828),
specifically a set of sketches of Spanish life that Granados
saw at the Prado Museum in Madrid as well as some of the artist’s
famous series of etchings Caprichos, published in 1799.
Goyescas comprises two books: the first is in four
pieces and the second two. Besides being a composer, Granados
was also a virtuoso pianist and the Goyescas are indeed
a show-piece, fiendishly difficult in certain passages. Granados
premiered Book I himself in 1911 at the Palau de la Música
Catalana, in Barcelona, and Book II in 1914 at the Salle Pleyel
in Paris. The complete piano suite had such an impact and
was so successful that the composer was persuaded to convert
it into an opera. Due to World War I, the piece could not
be performed in Europe, however Goyescas, the opera,
received its premiere in 1916 at the Metropolitan Opera House
in New York, in Granados’s presenc. This was indirectly to
be the reason of the composer’s premature death. The success at the Met led to an invitation by President Woodrow Wilson
for Granados to give a piano recital at the White House. Granados
accepted; and so he and his wife missed
the ship on which they were booked to return to Europe. The
boat that they eventually took was torpedoed by a German submarine.
The composer abandoned the life-raft where he was in an attempt
to save his wife. Tragically, they both drowned.
Goyescas is not only a piece that demands technical virtuosity but also possesses
great warmth, beauty and dramatic expression. One of its most
interesting features that makes the piece rather attractive
is the transfer of the rhythms of the flamenco guitar
to the keyboard. The performance of Goyescas demands
a pianist with a fabulous technique, an excellent insight
into the composer’s intentions, a good understanding of Goya’s
paintings and, most of all, an ability to narrate the story
of each piece and subtly express its emotions and melodic
lines. The American pianist, of Dutch-Bolivian origin, Ana-Maria
Vera completely fits the bill.
of Goyescas, as performed by Ana-Maria Vera, offers
the suite in its entirety (nearly 55 minutes), with all four
pieces of Book I and the two from Book II, all in their logical
order, as Granados created them. The first, Los Requiebros
(Compliments or Flirtation) is the one I most enjoyed:
it is vivacious, warm, full of wit and humour; with a lively,
catchy melody and contagiously sunny rhythm. Vera’s rendition
is as sparkling and expressive as her technique is brilliant.
One can easily imagine flirtatious looks being exchanged and
people making humorous comments in the background. Marvellous!
After this effervescent
opening, Ana-Maria Vera continues to dazzle throughout the
remaining five pieces. She plays the second, Coloquio en
la Reja (Dialogue at the window) with a delicate melodic
sense, then she is wonderfully romantic and evocative in the
third, El Fandango de Candil (Candlelit Fandango);
effectively creating the image of two people courting by candle-light.
The fourth piece, Quejas, ó la Maja e el Ruiseñor (Laments, or the Maiden
and the Nightingale), which is written almost like a nocturne,
full of hidden voices, trills and arpeggios to reproduce the
sounds of the bird, is given a beautifully lyrical interpretation,
suitably poetic but never sentimental and always underlined
by subtle emotion. In the fifth work (the first of Book II)
El Amor y la Muerte: Balada (Love and Death: Ballad)
the composer on occasions gives one the impression that the
piece is an improvisation and not something that he very specifically
wrote. Vera effectively captures and expresses this feeling,
giving the piece a fresh touch that makes it incredibly attractive.
Finally, the sixth, suitably named Epílogo: Serenata del Espectro (Epilogue: The Ghost’s Serenade)
is as with all others beautifully interpreted with a supreme
delicate touch in the closing bars to indicate how the ghost
has a delicate musicality supported by technical brilliance
and a fresh, focused approach. She imparts new insight into
a popular piece so often used as a mere vehicle to display
sheer virtuosity but where the feeling is lost. Her sensibility
is always present. Her style is subtle and the sound luminous.
She never allows her undeniable technical prowess to overcome
the soul of the piece. Thus the listener is rewarded with
an interpretation full of lively, Latin spontaneity and recognisable
Spanish flair; possibly fulfilling Granados’s intentions when
he composed Goyescas.
I thoroughly enjoyed
this performance of Granados’s crowning work and I dare say
that it is possibly one of the best and most pleasing interpretations
of this famous piano suite that I have ever heard.