Notes 59.2 (2002) 342-344
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Manuel de Falla: Modernism in Spain, 1898-1936. By Carol A. Hess. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. [xiii, 347 p. ISBN 0-226-33038-9. $50.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.
The plangent lyricism of the slow movement of Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra is often interpreted as a lament for the horrific suffering of the Spanish Civil War, which ended in the same year as the concerto's composition. That it expressed instead the composer's grief over the death of his newborn baby does not diminish the meaningful conjunction of the two events, and no work better conveys the tragic loss that the Civil War and the victory of the forces of Franco represented for Spain and Spanish culture. Just how much of a loss this was becomes readily apparent in Carol Hess's brilliant analysis of modernist culture in Spain between the two seminal events in modern Spanish history: the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Spanish Civil War (1936- 39). Manuel de Falla, foremost among Spanish composers of the modern era, joined many of Spain's leading intellectuals and artists by leaving his homeland in a state of disillusionment; he remained in Argentina from 1939 until his death in 1946. Almost four decades of cultural florescence [End Page 342] came to an end as Franco put his country into a sort of "deep freeze," from which it emerged only in the 1970s.
Hess uses Falla's music as a lens through which to examine the complex tapestry of modernist and antimodernist aesthetics in Spain during this epoch to bring into sharperrelief our received (usually French) understanding of Spanish culture. As she cogently puts it, "only by considering the views of Spaniards themselves can we test the validity of our own perceptions, and perhaps rethink how we arrived at them in the first place" (p. 2).
Though Spanish composers like Falla, Isaac Albéniz, and Enrique Granados have been derided by some foreign critics for writing apparently cliché-ridden, "sunny Spain" musical postcards, several Spanish commentators criticized their works for containing elements (again, French) they deemed insufficiently autochthonous. Furthermore, the emphasis on Andulusia in Spanish nationalist music (and Spanish-style works by foreign composers) has been a source of controversy, insomuch as Castille is actually the dominant region in the country (hence its association with universalism rather than local color).
Beyond competing regionalisms, however, is the ineluctable notion of race, which seems to permeate nearly all of the critical writing of this period, especially in response to World War I and the fragmentation of Europe into competing power blocs. The result was some strangely contrived alliances, in which a "Latin" aesthetic (represented by France and Spain) bonded with pan-Slavic sensibilities. This served as a counterpoint to the menacing German-dominated European tradition and was of special importance to neoclassicism: by "articulating ... this [anti-German] sensibility, Falla effectively introduced the racial dimension of neoclassicism's ideology into Spanish musical circles" (p. 9).
There were two fundamental reactions to Spain's defeat by the United States and its indisputably demoted status in the world. One camp, the xenophobic españolistas, sought to strengthen Spain's unique cultural and historic identity by insulating the nation from outside influence as much as possible. The other camp, the modernistas, urged a broader engagement with the outside world, especially France. Falla's location in this dialectic has been difficult to pin down, for though he was a devout Catholic, he was also closely associated with the cultural avant-garde. He became a follower of Claude Debussy during his Paris years (1907-14), collaborated with Diaghilev and Pablo Picasso on the Spanish production of his ballet El sombrero de tres picos ("The Three-Cornered Hat") in 1921, and followed Stravinsky's lead by embracing neoclassicism. In fact, Falla was an independent person who belonged in a group neither reactionary nor socialist, a "Third Spain."
This intellectual history is clearly driven by the issues that the momentous historical events of Falla's...