Iberia (Albéniz)

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Iberia is a suite for piano composed between 1905 and 1909 by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz. It is composed of four books of three pieces each; a complete performance lasts about an hour and a half.

It is Albéniz's best-known work and considered his masterpiece.[by whom?] It was highly praised by Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen, who said: "Iberia is the wonder for the piano; it is perhaps on the highest place among the more brilliant pieces for the king of instruments". Stylistically, this suite falls squarely in the school of Impressionism, especially in its musical evocations of Spain. Technically, Iberia is one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire, requiring immense strength from its interpreters and flexible hands.

Score of El Corpus Christi en Sevilla, which gives an idea of the complexity of the writing for piano.

Composition[edit]

Book 1[edit]

Dedicated to Ernest Chausson's wife.

  • Evocación ("Evocation", A-flat minor, 7 flats), an impressionist reminiscence of Albéniz' native country, combining elements of the southern Spanish fandango and the northern Spanish jota song forms. The rarely-seen key signature is itself part of the Evocación.
  • El puerto (D-flat major), a zapateado inspired by the port town of Cádiz.
  • Fête-dieu à Seville (F-sharp minor - F-sharp major) (alternative titles sometimes found: "Corpus Christi"; "El Corpus en Sevilla"), describing the Corpus Christi Day procession in Seville, during which the Corpus Christi is carried through the streets accompanied by marching bands. Musically, this piece consists of a processional march that eventually becomes overwhelmed by a mournful saeta, the melody evoking Andalusian cante jondo and the accompaniment evoking flamenco guitars. The march and saeta alternate ever more loudly until the main march theme is restated as a lively tarantella that ends abruptly with a flamboyant fort-fort-fort-fortissimo climactic chord; the piece concludes with a gentle coda again evoking flamenco guitars along with distant church bells.

Book 2[edit]

  • Rondeña (D major), after the Andalusian town of Ronda. A variant of the fandango, it is characterized by the alternation of measures of 6/8 and 3/4.
  • Almería (G major), relating to the Andalusian seaport, features the rhythm of the tarantas, a dance characteristic of the region of Almería.
  • Triana (F-sharp minor), after the Gypsy quarter of Seville.

Book 3[edit]

  • El Albaicín (B-flat minor - B-flat major)
  • El Polo (F minor)
  • Lavapiés (D-flat major), after the district of Madrid.

Book 4[edit]

  • Málaga (B-flat minor - B-flat major)
  • Jerez (A minor (arguably E Phrygian) - E major)
  • Eritaña (E-flat major)

Vision of Spain presented[edit]

The topic of the work is Spain. (He could not call it España, since two pieces had recently appeared with that title.) Yet the vision of Spain it presents is primarily Andalusian. Non-Spaniards may not realize how unusual this is, how this is really "taking a position" with regard to the ongoing debate within Spain over just what Spain is. Cádiz ("El puerto"), Granada ("El Albaicin"), Ronda, Málaga, Jerez, Almería, are all Andalusian, and three of the twelve pieces are dedicated to Seville, that most musical of Spanish cities, where more operas have been set than in any other city (es:Anexo:Óperas ambientadas en Sevilla): Holy Week in Seville (Fête-Dieu à Seville), Triana, and Eritaña (a vanished Sevillian Inn). Nothing about castles or palaces. The only appearance of Madrid - of Castile, in fact - is the working-class Plaza of Lavapiés.

Premiere performance[edit]

The twelve pieces were first performed by the French pianist Blanche Selva, but each book was premiered in a different place and on a different date. Three of the performances were in Paris, the other being in a small town in the south of France.

Recordings[edit]

Iberia was first recorded in its entirety by Alicia de Larrocha in 1960. (She recorded it twice more.) It has also been recorded by Claudio Arrau (Books 1 and 2 only), Miguel Baselga, Michel Block, Guillermo González (according to his own critical edition of the score), Marc-André Hamelin, Yvonne Loriod, Artur Pizarro, Jean-François Heisser and Esteban Sánchez, among others.

Arrangements[edit]

Enrique Fernández Arbós and Carlos Surinach each arranged pieces from Iberia for full orchestra. There is an orchestral arrangement of the Fête-dieu à Seville by Leopold Stokowski, from the mid-1920s, which he recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1928.

More recently, Peter Breiner arranged the whole work for full orchestra. A version for three guitars was made by Christophe Dejour and recorded by Trio Campanella. A two-guitar overdubbing version has been released by French guitarist Jean-Marc Zvellenreuther.

An invitation to Ravel to orchestrate six pieces from Iberia was the genesis of that composer's Boléro.[citation needed]

External links[edit]