Isaac Albeniz: Iberia (First Book) Piano Solo - Urtext Edition


Catalogue No: HN647
ISMN: M-2018-0647-1
Shop Product Code: 191130C

Status: Usually despatched within 7 working days

Department: Piano, Keyboard & Organ - Piano Solo

Publisher: Henle

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Spanish music with a universal touch: that is what Isaac Albeniz set out to compose, and he brought it off to perfection in his Iberia Suite. At last all four books of this late-romantic masterpiece will be issued in an Urtext edition worthy of the name, with top-quality appearance and engraving. Being manageable in their technique, Evocation, El Puerto, and Fete-Dieu a Seville -- the three pieces in volume 1 -- are especially popular. Enjoy these pieces in the same manner as Debussy, who wrote of Iberia: One closes one's eyes and is bedazzled by the sheer wealth of invention in this music!


Iberia, by Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909), is a central masterpiece of late romantic piano music at the threshold to modernity. As early as 1913 no less a musician than Claude Debussy summed up the singular position occupied by this Spanish composer and his opus magnum of 1905–8: “Now let us consider Isaac Albéniz. Having first achieved fame as an incomparable virtuoso [pianist], he quickly acquired an outstanding grasp of the art of composition. In the grandeur of his ideas he recalls Liszt, to whom he otherwise bears no resemblance whatsoever. Albéniz was the first to take advantage of the melancholy harmonies and idiosyncratic humor of his native land (he was a Catalonian).[...] Although he does not directly quote folk music, the piece [El Albaicín from volume 3] was nonetheless written by a man who breathed folk music until it entered his own without leaving a discernible boundary between the two.[...] Never has music attained such a multifaceted and richly colored guise. One closes one’s eyes and is bedazzled by the sheer wealth of invention in this music.” (Original in Revue musicale S.I.M., ix/12, 1 December 1913, p. 43.)

For Albéniz, who was at that time very ill, Iberia meant a return of his creative faculties to piano music after many years spent focusing on the musical stage. From 1902 he lived repeatedly in Parisian “exile,” having made the painful discovery that no man is a prophet in his own country. His attempts to interest Spanish theaters in his final operas, Pepita Jiménez and Merlin, had foundered on the conservative establishment. Now he received advice from all quarters to devote himself once again to compositions for the piano. In December 1905 he completed the first volume of a new collection of piano pieces in which the central European compositional tradition is brilliantly combined with the local color of Spain and, as Albéniz reluctantly admitted, the burgeoning impressionism of France.

Although the twelve pieces in the collection do not form a unified cycle, the order of the three pieces in volume 1 can be said to follow a certain dramatic design. The above-mentioned musical horizons are outlined in the opening Evocation (still entitled Prélude in the manuscript): echoes of songs and dances from the world of the fandango and malagueña and the Andalusian jota copla are combined with whole-tone harmonies à la Debussy and placed within the framework of a sonata like design. El Puerto (Cadix in the manuscript) leads us from this oppressive, melancholy atmosphere to an exuberant character study of the harbor town of El Puerto de Santa María near Cadiz, in sounds much beholden to the rhythms of the lively zapateado. Finally, Fête Dieu à Séville (Séville ‹La Fête-Dieu› in the manuscript) raises the tempo and dynamic level another notch to depict a Corpus Christi procession, in which the statue of the Virgin Mary is borne through the streets of the city accompanied by march music and song.

All twelve of the pieces have survived in fair engraver’s copies written and dated in the composer’s hand. They reveal that Albéniz finished the first three pieces on 9, 15 and 23 December 1905, respectively. One month later, on 23 January 1906, he completed the first piece of volume 2, Triana. It was only now that the collection received its definitive title, Iberia, instead of the initial España found at the top of Albéniz’s manuscript. (Another afterthought was the subtitle 12 nouvelles «Impressions» en quatre cahiers appended to the first edition of volume 2.) The other pieces followed by January 1908, sometimes separated by intervals of several months. Publication of the first volume began promptly at the beginning of 1906, and the copyright office of the Library of Congress in Washington received depository copies as early as 2 April, scarcely three months after the third piece was completed. The original publisher was listed as Edition Mutuelle in Paris, a firm associated with the famous Schola Cantorum. Edition Mutuelle followed a business philosophy completely different from that of ordinary publishing houses. Beginning in 1902, a group of composers headed by René de Castéra was commissioned to publicize the works of other composers through publications and performances in a spirit of mutual assistance. The authors retained all rights to the utilization of their works. (This explains why the copyright mark on the Iberia print refers to Albéniz rather than the publishing house.) As a result, each composer was allowed to dispose freely of the plates of his prints. If he was unable to finance the publication himself, the publishing house came to his assistance. The proceeds were divided between the publishers, the composer, and a fund set aside to finance other projects.

Albéniz obviously took advantage of his access to the plates in order to make further changes in the musical text. In several cases these changes were probably urgently needed prior to publication, for many passages, especially in the later pieces, proved difficult to grasp in performance and were virtually unplayable. This process not only simplified the piano writing but removed many dynamic, articulation and pedal marks in order to make the music easier to follow on the printed page. Its earliest traces can be found in the engraver’s copies for Rondeña (volume 2) and El Albaicín (volume 3). A handwritten annotation from Albéniz in the manuscript indicates that this revision was made partly at the instigation of Blanche Selva, the pianist who gave the work its French première. Other important suggestions are likely to have come from the Catalonian pianist Joaquim Malats, to whom Albéniz, in a letter of 22 August 1907, confided that Iberia was “basically written through and for you.” The process of revision continued even after the plates of the first edition had been engraved, as can be seen from the surviving proof sheets for volume 3. In this case, however, the at times extensive reworking of the notation was too severe to be incorporated in the plates, and many of the changes never appeared in print.

The first volume of Iberia was likewise revised in the above-mentioned respects after the first edition had already appeared. Albéniz’s revisions are included in the Spanish reprint of the volume, issued by the Unión Musical Española (UME) in Madrid. The exact date of publication of this volume, which was prepared from the plates of the first edition, is unknown. The frequently heard assumption that it appeared shortly after the first edition proves to be untenable. UME was not founded until 1914, and recent research reveals that the plates only arrived in Spain via the Albeniz family in the early part of 1918 (see Jacinto Torres’s Catálogo Sistemático Descriptivo de las Obras Musicales de Isaac Albéniz, Madrid, 2001,
p. 413).

Thus, the Spanish reprint issued by UME served as the principal source of our edition. It should be noted, however, that although the French first edition (and hence the Spanish reprint) were bound to have been proofread several times, many mistakes crept into the prints and can only be corrected on the basis of the autograph engraver’s copies. It is not always possible to determine whether the discrepancies are engraver’s errors or intentional changes made at the proofreading stage. Detailed information on this subject can be found in the Comments at the end of the present volume. Signs not found in the sources, but deemed necessary by the editor, have been added to the text, enclosed in parentheses.

The editor wishes to thank the libraries mentioned in the Comments for kindly placing copies of the sources at his disposal. I owe special thanks to Jacinto Torres for providing pre-publication information from his important catalogue of Albeniz's music, and to Cristina Urchueguia for assisting me during my research in Spain and in my translations from the Spanish. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to João Oliver dos Santos, who provided the initial impulse for the present edition. Our volume has profited especially from his close pianistic scrutiny of this unique masterpiece.

Munich, summer 2002 - Norbert Gertsch


Contents and Reviews

El Puerto
Fête-Dieu à Séville