Granados: Danzas españolas

Sheet Music Review

Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was one of the great composers to expand the piano repertoire in the twilight years of the Romantic era, and must be counted among Spain’s most marvellous writers for the instrument; so it is a shame that so much of his output remains too little-known and rarely performed.

Less than a handful of easy miniatures have been picked up by exam boards and anthologies, the same few repeatedly so, revealing not only a lack of imagination but too limited a knowledge of Granados’s music, which in fact includes a significant body of music suitable for intermediate and early advanced players.

Meanwhile, the mighty cycle Goyescas belongs aside his compatriot Albéniz’s Iberia suites, but alas, only a couple of movements appear on concert programmes with any frequency.

At the centre of Granados’s output, the twelve Danzas españolas are a fabulous collection suitable for the advanced player (around UK Grades 6-8).

And while (unlike Albéniz) much of Granados’s solo piano music is closer in tone to Schumann than to Spanish flamenco, these pieces are replete with the regional flair and the sunny countenance that lends colour and a hint of exoticism to the best Spanish music. This is Granados at his most rustic.

That much of Granados’s music is difficult to find in good, widely available editions doesn’t help. Those wanting to play the Danzas Españolas relied on old editions by IMP and Dover. Happily, these marvellous pieces can now be explored in a superb new urtext from Henle Verlag, the subject of this review…


The Music

Granados was born in the Catalan town of Lerida, grew up in Barcelona (where he also studied), and completed his piano education privately in Paris. It was towards the end of this time, still only just in his 20’s, that he began to compose his Danzas Españolas, the twelve Spanish Dances.

Originally collected in four volumes each of three pieces, published between 1892-5, the Spanish Dances had no individual titles with the sole exception of Villanesca. Not that they perhaps needed them: audiences of the day soon identified with their strong Spanish characteristics, regional rhythms and colours.

Granados established his reputation overnight with these technically accessible pieces, with their approachable melodies, nationalistic character and colourful hues, a Southerly counterpoint to Grieg’s then ubiquitous Lyric Pieces.

The composer recorded some of the pieces on piano rolls towards the end of his life; his performances (typically for the time) divert significantly from the written scores, and remain a useful document for the performance practice of his music.

By the time the twelve pieces were collected as a single volume, the following titles had become fairly standard:

  1. Galante
  2. Oriental
  3. Fandango
  4. Villanesca
  5. Andaluza
  6. Rondalla aragonesca
  7. Valenciana
  8. Sardana
  9. Romántica
  10. Melanchólica
  11. Arabesca
  12. Bolero

If the music seems at times very familiar, it is perhaps in part because the pieces have been popularised by Segovia and others as transcriptions for guitar. But perhaps more than most of Granados’s music, and alongside Albéniz’s Suite espagnole, the Danzas españolas became the prototype for so much subsequent Spanish music.

The Edition

Henle’s new urtext edition is the work of Ullrich Scheideler, and uniquely among the editions I’ve seen, includes fingering suggestions (which are supplied by Rolf Koenen).

Although both this and the IMP edition present the twelve pieces across 63 pages of music, for those of us used to the latter, the characteristically clear Henle engraving is a relief and the inclusion of fingering a helpful addition.

Henle additionally include a very detailed critical commentary listing sources, their background, and identifying divergent readings. There are also comments on the composer’s recordings.

The edition is, of course, also available digitally within the Henle Library app.

In short, those wishing to discover these fabulous pieces only need turn immediately to the Henle edition, which can be recommended without reservation.

Conclusion

Whenever playing or teaching these deliciously Spanish miniature masterpieces, I have found them hugely appealing and popular.

And I have no doubt that readers newly discovering them for the first time will be similarly enamoured.

Whatever the time of year, this music will bring welcome sunshine into your piano life!


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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