Isaac Albeniz (1860–1909) was a piano prodigy who was known for using Spanish nationalism in his music. It is only fitting that we listen to his music during our series on nationalism in music.
After studying at conservatory and dabbling in composition, Isaac Albeniz found his musical voice after working with Felipe Pedrell, who sparked Albeniz’s interest in nationalism and writing music inspired by the folk tunes from his native country. Albeniz is primarily known for his piano works, many whose melodies, harmonies, and rhythms find inspiration in the sounds of Spain. One of his most famous works, Iberia, is a suite of twelve piano works broken into four books. Written in the early twentieth century, Iberia is not necessarily meant to be performed in its entirety, and may be played in any order the pianist prefers. The work is known for its difficulty and since its conception, has been orchestrated by various composers over the last century. Like many of Albeniz’s works, Iberia draws from Spanish influences. A piece in Book 1, for instance, is a musical portrait of Cadiz. A selection in Book 3 depicts the gypsy quartet in Granada. Let’s listen to a portion, “El Albaicin,” from Book 3.
It’s interesting to note that, while Albeniz was born in Spain and quite nationalistic, he actually spent the majority of his life living outside of his native land.
Who else can you think of who writes in a Spanish flavor? We’ll look at another example next time!