Biography

Isaac Albeniz

Though celebrated as a composer for the piano, Isaac Albéniz by no means confined himself to piano music. Indeed he devoted more than a decade of his almost forty-nine years to writing music for the stage (which has recently received attention with the revival of his most successful operatic work Pepita Jiménez and concert performances and recording of Merlin), while intermittently throughout his career he wrote songs – more than two dozen of them – as well as several orchestral and chamber works.

Born in Camprodón, Gerona on 29 May 1860, Albéniz began life as a prodigy and after many adventurous concert tours that took him as far away from home as the Americas (trips that constantly interrupted his classes at the Madrid Conservatory), he settled down to a serious course of studies in Belgium. With a pension from King Alfonso XII of Spain, he entered the Brussels Conservatory in 1876, graduating in 1879 with first prize in piano, which was awarded unanimously. He returned to Spain to establish himself as an accomplished virtuoso; in addition he began to compose and conduct. He soon became director of a traveling zarzuela company and wrote three zarzuelas (none of which survives today). In 1883 he settled in Barcelona, studying composition with Felipe Pedrell. Increasingly Albéniz incorporated his own compositions on his recitals. In 1885 he moved to Madrid where his works would be published by the leading music publishers of the day: Benito Zozaya and Antonio Romero.

Antonio Guerra y Alarcón in his 1886 monograph Isaac Albéniz: Notas crítico-biográficas de tan eminente pianista reveals that along with dozens of piano works and the three zarzuelas, Albéniz had composed several songs: four romances for mezzo-soprano to French words, three romances to Catalan words, and an "Album Bécquer". No trace of the romances survives, but the Album Bécquer most likely refers to the Rimas subsequently published by Zozaya in 1888. Also in that same year Romero published the Seis baladas. Another set of songs, "Seis melodías" with text by Alfred de Musset, was announced for publication by Romero in 1889. However, except for Albéniz's Chanson de Barberine, no other songs with text by Musset have come down to us.

Albéniz's reputation as a pianist and a composer continued to grow. In the spring of 1889 he traveled to Paris, appearing with the Colonne Orchestra in a concert that included his Piano Concerto, op. 78. From Paris he proceeded to England, where his performances brought him instant success and return engagements. In 1890 he came in contact with the entrepreneur Henry Lowenfeld who contracted Albéniz's services both as a performer and composer. As a result, Albéniz moved with his family (his wife, Rosina, and three children) to London and through Lowenfeld eventually became involved with musical theater. Working at the Lyric and later the Prince of Wales theaters, he provided extra numbers as required for their musical comedy adaptations. At Lowenfeld's behest Albéniz composed the Magic Opal. This lyric comedy in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan was premiered at the Lyric on 19 January 1893 (it was subsequently translated into Spanish by Eusebio Sierra and presented in Madrid in 1894 as La sortija; that same year, his zarzuela San Antonio de la Florida with a libretto by Sierra was also performed in Madrid).

His theatrical contacts in London brought him to the attention of an amateur poet and playwright and heir to the banking fortune of the renowned firm of Coutts and Co., Francis Burdett Money-Coutts, who had bought into and by July 1894 taken over the contract Albéniz had with Lowenfeld. Coutts, whose financial support allowed Albéniz to live in comfort for the rest of his life, was interested in writing librettos. His collaboration with the composer produced Henry Clifford (premiered in Barcelona's Teatro Liceo, 1895), Pepita Jiménez (Teatro Liceo, 1896; Prague's Neues Deutsches Theater, 1897; Brussels's Monnaie, 1905), and Merlin (composed between 1898 and 1902 but not produced in Albéniz's lifetime), the first opera of a proposed trilogy entitled King Arthur (Lancelot was left incomplete in 1903, and as for Guenevere, nothing was attempted). Thus, for approximately a decade Albéniz devoted much of his talent and energies to the creation and production of music for the stage. During this time he had moved from London to Paris.

In the French capital he came in contact with Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, Charles Bordes, and later Paul Dukas and Gabriel Fauré, forming close ties with the French musical community. From 1898 to 1900 he taught advanced piano at the Schola Cantorum, but because of poor health, in 1900 he returned to the warmer climate of Spain. He became involved with Enrique Morera and the promotion of Catalan lyrical works. When, however, his efforts failed to have his own stage works produced, he returned to Paris where his music was accepted, praised, and performed. Albéniz's Paris residence became a haven for Spanish artists (among them Joaquín Turina and Manuel de Falla); here they found support and encouragement for their own endeavors.

Albéniz's preoccupation with larger musical forms brought about a change in his compositional style from the basically light, attractive pieces of his early career to a more complex art. And although he did not stop performing, his appearances diminished as he became absorbed with the composition and production of his operatic works. From this period come the songs Il en est de l'amour and Deux morceaux de prose de Pierre Loti (Crépuscule and Tristesse) as well as those set to poems by Coutts: To Nellie (a set of six songs); Art thou gone for ever, Elaine; Six Songs (of which only Will you be mine? and Separated survive); and Two Songs (The Gifts of the Gods and The Caterpillar). There also exist the opening measures of a song setting the text of Jean de La Fontaine's fable "Conseil tenu par les rats", the concluding fragment to a Coutts song "Laugh at loving", and references to other Coutts songs for which no music can be found.

As Coutts began to tire of writing librettos, Albéniz gradually returned to the piano and his native landscape for inspiration. La Vega (1896-98) foreshadows his later style, which blossomed with his masterpiece, Iberia (1905-1908). The compositional texture and language that define Iberia are characteristic of Quatre mélodies (to poems by Coutts), Albéniz's last vocal work and last completed pieces. Suffering from nephritis, Albéniz died in Cambo-les-Bains in the French Pyrénées on 18 May 1909.

Work

Stage Works

Year Title Condition Op. Format
1881 El canto de Salvación lost Zarzuela
1881 Ai cuanto mas viejo lost Zarzuela
1882 Catalanes de gracia lost Zarzuela
1883 The Magic Opal out print Comic Opera
1893 Mar i Cel inc Zarzuela catalana
1894 San Antonio de la Florida out print Zarzuela
1895 Henry Clifford out print Dramatic Opera
1896 Pepita Giménez out print Lyric Comedy
1898 Merlin out print 1 of epic drama
1902 Lancelot inc 2 of epic drama
1902 Guenevere inc 3 of epic drama
1899 La Serenade inc Lyric drama
1902 La real hembra inc Zarzuela
1905 La Morena inc Lyrical drama
1906 Song of songs inc after play

Songs

Year Title Condition Op. Format
1888 Besa el aura
(Rimas de Bécquer)
Boileau
1888 Del salón en el Angulo oscuro
(Rimas de Bécquer)
Boileau
1888 Me ha herido rescatándose
(Rimas de Bécquer)
Boileau
1888 Cuando sobre el pecho inclinas
(Rimas de Bécquer)
Boileau
1888 A Donde vengo?
(Rimas de Bécquer)
Boileau
1888 Barcarola
(Seis baladas Marquesa de Boloños)
Boileau
1888 La Lontanzanza
(Seis baladas Marquesa de Boloños)
Boileau
1888 Una rosa in dono
(Seis baladas Marquesa de Boloños)
Boileau
1888 Il tuo sguardo
(Seis baladas Marquesa de Boloños)
Boileau
1888 Moriró
(Seis baladas Marquesa de Boloños)
Boileau
1888 T'ho riveduto in sogno
(Seis baladas Marquesa de Boloños)
Boileau
1889 Chanson de Barberine Boileau
1890 Conseil tenu par les rats inc
1896 Home
(To Nellie)
Boileau
1896 Counsel
(To Nellie)
Boileau
1896 May-day song
(To Nellie)
Boileau
1896 To Nellie
(To Nellie)
Boileau
1896 A Song of Consolation
(To Nellie)
Boileau
1896 A Song
(To Nellie)
Boileau
1896 Laughing at Love inc
1897 Il en est de l'ámour Boileau
1897 Crépuscule
(2 morceau en Prose)
Boileau
1897 Tristesse
(2 morceau en Prose)
Boileau
1897 Will you be mine?
(Six Songs)
Boileau all but 2 & 3 lost
1897 Seperated
(Six Songs)
Boileau all but 2 & 3 lost
1903 The Catepillar Boileau
1903 The gifts of God Boileau
1909 In sickness and in health
(Four Songs)
Boileau
1909 Paradise regained
(Four Songs)
Boileau
1909 The retreat
(Four Songs)
Boileau
1909 Amor. Summa injuria
(Four Songs)
Boileau

Orchesta Works

Year Title Condition Op. Format
1887 Rapsodia Española 70
1887 Piano concierto 78
1888 Escenas Sinfonicas
1889 Suite característica
1892 Piano concierto No. 2 in E inc
1899 Suite catalonia 1st movt

Piano solo

Year Title Condition Op. Format
Pavana-capricho 12
1884 Primera barcarola 23
1884 Seis pequeños valses 25
1884 Sonata no.1, A 28
1886 Granada, Serenata
(Suite española)
1886 Cataluña, Corranda
(Suite española)
1886 Sevilla, Sevillanas
(Suite española)
1886 Cádiz, Saeta
(Suite española)
1886 Asturias, Leyenda
(Suite española)
1886 Castilla, Seguidillas
(Suite española)
1886 Cuba, Capricho
(Suite española)
1886 Deseo, estudio de concierto 40
1886 Serenata Árabe 54
1886 Gavota, Minuetto
(Suite ancienne)
54
1886 Estudio impromptu 56
1886 Diva sin par, mazurka
1886 Sarabande, Chaconne
(Suite ancienne no.2)
64
1886 Siete estudios en los tonos naturales mayores 65
1886 Seis mazurkas de salón 66
1886 Sonata no.3, A 68
1886 Angustia, romanza sin palabras
1887 En el mar
(Recuerdos de viaje)
1887 Leyenda-Barcarola
(Recuerdos de viaje)
1887 Alborada
(Recuerdos de viaje)
1887 En la Alhambra
(Recuerdos de viaje)
1887 Puerta de Tierra, Bolero
(Recuerdos de viaje)
1887 Rumores de la Caleta, Malagueña
(Recuerdos de viaje)
1887 En la playa
(Recuerdos de viaje)
1887 Sonata no.2 lost 60
1887 Sonata no.4, A 72
1887 Arbolapian, zortzico
1897 Minuetto, Gavotta
(Suite ancienne no.3)
1887 Seis danzas españolas
1888 Sonata no.5, G 82
1888 Pavana fácil para manos pequeñas 83
1888 Doce piezas caracterásticas 92
1888 Dos mazurkas de salón
1888 Amalia 95
1889 Ricordati 96
1889 Zaragoza
(Suite espagnole no.2)
1889 Sevilla
(Suite espagnole no.2)
1889 Cadiz-gaditana 
(Suite espagnole no.2)
1889 Zambra granadina
(Suite espagnole no.2)
1889 Jota aragonesa
(Spanish national songs)
164
1889 Tango
(Spanish national songs)
164
1892 Preludio
(España)
165
1892 Tango
(España)
165
1892 Malegueña
(España)
165
1892 Serenata 
(España)
165
1892 Capricho Catalan
(España)
165
1892 Zortizo
(España)
165
1892 Les automne valse 170
1892 Mallorca, barcarolle 202
1892 Prelude
(Chant d'Espagne)
232
1892 Orienta
(Chant d'Espagne)
232
1892 Sous le palmier
(Chant d'Espagne)
232
1892 Córdoba
(Chant d'Espagne)
232
1892 Seguidillas
(Chant d'Espagne)
232
1892 Sonata no.7 111 only second movt
1899 The Alhambra Suite: no.1; La vega
1899 Souvenirs
1899 Asturias
1905 Yvonne en visite
1907 Evocación, El Puerto, Fete deu a Séville
(Iberia)
1907 Rondeña, Almería, Triana
(Iberia)
1908 Albaicín, El polo, Lavapiés
(Iberia)
1908 Málaga, Jerez, Eritania
(Iberia)
1909 Navarra com. Severac
1909 Azulejos com. Granados

Recordings

gArias & Romanzas

Isaac Albéniz

Intérpretes: Isabel Monar, Louise Toppin, Claudia Schneider, Antonio Comas, Enric Martínez-Castignani y Mac McClure.

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mAlbéniz integral 

Isaac Albéniz

Intérpretes: Mac McClure y Antoni Comas.

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