Falla Matheu, Manuel de

Mauel de Falla at his home in Antequeruela Street.

One of the most important Spanish composers of the first half of the 20th century and one of the great innovators of European music at the beginning of the century. Friend and teacher of Federico García Lorca since the musician moved to Granada in 1920. At that time the rapport between the two was “very deep”, according to Isabel García Lorca, to the point that both undertook car trips around the province of Granada in search of popular songs, such as The Three Leaves. From that period they collaborated in the Flamenco Song Contest of 1922 and in the puppet show on Three Kings Day in 1923.

Falla began his musical studies at a very early age. He received his first lessons from his own mother and grandfather. He was also interested in literature and journalism from a very early age, and even edited a literary magazine (El Cascabel, 1890). In 1896, he began to attend the Conservatory of Music in Madrid. He soon began to compose. In 1899, he premiered his first works. In the following years he continued composing and giving piano lessons as the family’s financial situation was not very good. He met Felipe Pedrell, who was to have a decisive influence on his work. In 1904, he composed The Short Life and won the competition of the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1920, he settled permanently in Granada. He became friend with artists and intellectuals in the El Rinconcillo tertulia. He became one of the focal points of Granada’s cultural life.

In 1907, he settled in Paris. There he came into contact with artists of the time such as Debussy, Ravel, Albéniz and Picasso. In 1908, he began to compose Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Also that year he met Igor Stravinsky, Ignacio Zuloaga and Wanda Landowska. During the following years, he traveled to London, Switzerland, Italy… During these years his works were premiered in Spain, Paris and Milan. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he returned to Madrid. In the tribute paid to him at the Athenaeum, he presented the Seven Popular Spanish Songs. In 1915, The Bewitched Love was premiered in Madrid, and in 1916, Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

The Centro Artístico of Granada paid tribute to him in September 1919. Falla travelled to the city with his sister and a married couple who were friends. They stayed at the Pensión Alhambra (booked earlier by Ángel Barrios from Paris) and then at the Pensión Villa Carmona, in Calle Real de la Alhambra. There he joined the group at the El Polinario tavern, owned by Antonio Barrios, father of the guitarist and composer Ángel Barrios, where he met Federico García Lorca, among others.

In 1920, the musician decided to move his final residence in Granada. In early 1922, he moved to the Antequeruela Alta House. He became friends with artists and intellectuals such as Fernando de los Ríos and Hermenegildo Lanz, among other members of the El Rinconcillo tertulia. It became one of the axes of Granada’s cultural life. He organized together with García Lorca, Manuel Ángeles Ortiz and Miguel Cerón the Flamenco Song Contest that took place in the Plaza de los Aljibes in the Alhambra in 1922 to recover and give dignity to primitive Andalusian singing. Falla managed to rally the support of numerous intellectuals and commissioned the sets to his friend Ignacio Zuloaga.

Falla at Antequeruela House.
Mauel de Falla at Antequeruela House.

In 1923, on Three Kings Day, at the home of the Lorca family, he took part in the puppet show organized by Federico. On that day they performed the entréeThe Two Talkers, The Mystery of the Three Kings and The Girl Who Waters the Basil and the Enquiring Prince, a folk tale that Federico adapted for the stage. Finally, the piano version of Stravinsky’s History of the Soldier, which Falla played on Federico’s piano, was premiered. There were also pieces by Debussy, Albéniz, Ravel, as well as medieval songs and carols.

When the Civil War broke out, he did not hesitate to try to save his friends on either side. It is well known that he went to the Gobierno Civil when Federico was arrested and that he interceded through José María Pemán so that the dictatorship would return his teaching post to Hermenegildo Lanz.

That same year, on March 23 and 24, he premiered the concert version of Master Peter’s Puppet Show at the San Fernando Theater in Seville. The official premiere of the work took place in Paris, at the palace of Princess Edmond de Polignac, in June 1923. The sets and costumes were by Manuel Ángeles Ortiz and the puppets with heads and flat figures by Hermenegildo Lanz.

In Granada, as well as working on the unfinished oratorio Atlántida, he composed the Concerto for harpsichord. The relationship with Lorca cooled after the appearance in 1928 in the Revista de Occidente magazine of the Ode to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, conceived as a tribute but which the musician, a strict Catholic, considered very daring.

Bust of Mauel de Falla in the garden at Antequeruela House.
Bust of Mauel de Falla in the garden at Antequeruela House.

Falla, according to his epistolary, received with joy the news of the proclamation of the II Republic, but he repeatedly complained to his friend Fernando de los Ríos about the fact that the authorities did not intervene more harshly in the attacks against the Church. Falla was all his life a devoted Christian. When the Civil War broke out he did not hesitate to try to save his friends on either side. It is well known that he went to the Gobierno Civil when Federico was arrested and that he interceded through José María Pemán so that the dictatorship would return his teaching post to Hermenegildo Lanz. Thanks to his intervention he saved the life of Gerda Leimdörfer, the Jewish wife of the dean of the University of Granada, Salvador Vila Hernández, who was shot by the rebels on October 23, 1936.

In 1939, he went into voluntary exile in Argentina and never returned to Spain. The Franco regime repeatedly offered him financial and other gifts to return to Spain, but Falla, ill, tired and aged, resisted at all times. He died in Argentina in January 1946. His remains were taken on a warship to Cádiz. A state funeral was held there with his family, José María Pemán and various ecclesiastical, civil and military authorities.

He was buried in the crypt of Cadiz Cathedral.


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