Manuel de Falla - Biography


Manuel de Falla, the greatest of modern Spanish composers, was born on November 23rd, 1876 in Cadiz, Spain and died in exile in Alta Gracia, Argentina on November 14th 1946. His mother was, as so often is the case, the source of his early musical instruction. After further instruction in Cadiz, he moved to Madrid for intensive study in piano with Tago and composition with Pedrill, both of who were the foremost Spanish pedagogues of the era.


De Falla wrote a number of early songs and piano music, but his first major composition was the opera, La Vida Breve, written in 1905. In 1907 he moved to Paris where he quickly established friendships with Debussy, Dukas and Ravel. While in Paris, he wrote the songs Trois Melodies (to the texts of Gautier) and Four Spanish Pieces for Piano. Though Falla was well established in Paris he decided to return to Spain after the outbreak of the First World War. He oversaw the first Spanish production of La Vida Breve and an embryonic short version of what was to become the ballet, El Corregidor y la Molinera (The Magistrate and the Miller's Wife) based on the Alarcon short story. In 1915, de Falla composed his most famous work, the ballet El Amor Brujo, which includes the famous Magic Fire Dance.


The next year (1916) he composed the well known Noches en los Jardines de Espana for piano and orchestra. In 1919, de Falla expanded El Corregidor to a full ballet and renamed the work El Sombrero de Tres Picos (Three-Cornered Hat) for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. The following year he wrote the short chamber opera, El Retablo de Maese Pedro, and in 1920 he wrote a very moving elegy (Homenajes, Pour le Tombeau de Claude Debussy) on guitar for his friend Debussy who had died in 1918. De Falla next wrote a Concerto for Harpsichord (1923-1926), dedicated to the great harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska. Other famous works composed by de Falla during this decade were Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas (1914), Psyche (1924), and Soneto e Cordoba (1927).


After this outpouring of great works, de Falla's productivity dropped off drastically. Little is known about his personal life, as he was a very solitary man who became more and more involved in Catholic mysticism. De Falla's last completed work was the orchestral Homenajes (1938-1939). He spent his last years attempting to complete his monumental scenic cantata, Atlantida, which concerned the Spanish Conquistadors' search for the continent of Atlantis (South America). The work was unfinished at the time of his death and was completed by his friend and disciple Ernesto Halffter. De Falla's health was not good but he was also disturbed by the Fascist Franco regime emerging in Spain, so he exiled himself to Argentina to live with a married sister for his remaining years. He became more reclusive as his health deteriorated. He died on November 14th, 1946 at age 69.


Though De Falla's body of work was not vast it was of extraordinary quality. He was a master of form and economy, and was as much of an aristocratic artist as the great 17th century artists and writers of Spain’s past, like Calderon and Cervantes. One of de Falla’s earliest interpreters the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet has left superb recordings (vocal music superbly performed by Victoria De Los Angeles and Teresa Berganza and piano magnificently performed by Alicia de La Roccha and de Falla’s friend Artur Rubinstein).   

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