Accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by the legendary Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, Daniel Barenboim plays Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Spanish: Noches en los jardines de España), G. 49 by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.
Manuel de Falla y Matheu (23 November 1876 – 14 November 1946) was Andalusian (Andalusia is a south-western European region established as an autonomous community of the Kingdom of Spain. The Spanish Language Academy recognizes Andalusian Spanish as a distinct dialect.). The work refers to the Hispano-Arabic past of this region – Al-Andalus, also known as Muslim Spain or Islamic Iberia.
Falla began this work as a set of nocturnes for solo piano in 1909, but on the suggestion of the Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes 5 February 1875 – 29 April 1943) he turned the nocturnes into a piece for piano and orchestra. Falla completed it in 1915 and dedicated it to Viñes. However the pianist at the first performance was neither Viñes nor Falla (who was a skilled pianist), but the noted Spanish pianist, conductor and teacher José Cubiles (15 May 1894 – 5 April 1971). The first performance was given on April 9, 1916, at Madrid’s Teatro Real, with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós.
Viñes first played the work in its San Sebastián premiere, shortly after the world premiere, with the same orchestra. Arthur Rubinstein was in the audience that night, and he introduced the work to Buenos Aires. The Paris premiere took place in January 1920, with the pianist Joaquín Nin playing under Fernández Arbós. The composer himself was the soloist at the London premiere in 1921, at a Queen’s Hall concert under the baton of Edward Clark.
The work depicts three gardens:
- En el Generalife (In the Generalife): The first gardens are in the Generalife, the jasmine-scented gardens surrounding the Alhambra.
- Danza lejana (A Distant Dance): The second garden is an unidentified distant one in which there is an exotic dance.
- En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba (In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba): The third set of gardens are in the Sierra de Córdoba. The best-known inhabitant of the gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba was the Sufi philosopher Ibn Masarra, and the dances depicted here are presumably Sufi dances (Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam).
Falla referred to Nights in the Gardens of Spain as “symphonic impressions.” The piano part is elaborate, brilliant, and eloquent but rarely dominant. The orchestral writing is lush. It is Falla’s most “impressionistic” score. The Spanish composer Joaquín Turina called it “the most tragic and sorrowful of his works,” in which is expressed “an intimate and passionate drama.”
The score calls for piano, three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, celesta, harp, and strings.