Isaac Albeniz: Iberia - Third Book (Gertsch ed.)

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Iberia - Third Book (Gertsch ed.)

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Department: Piano, Keyboard & Organ - Piano Solo

Publisher: Henle

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Since their publication as Urtext editions, the first two volumes of “Iberia” issued by G. Henle Publishers have become an established part of the pianists’ world. Now comes the third book, in which Albéniz once again fuses his knowledge of European classical music with elements of Spanish folk music. In “El Albaicín” he evokes the mysterious atmosphere of the gypsy quarter in Granada, followed by hints of temperamental Flamenco in “El Polo”. At the end, Albéniz depicts the exuberant mood of a former Jewish quarter in Madrid (“Lavapiés”); in so doing he intersperses the music with some dissonant dashes of colour, an allusion to an organ grinder.

Isaac Albéniz’s (1860–1909) Iberia ranks among the central masterworks of late-romantic piano music at the dawn of modernity. As early as 1913, a musician of such eminence as Claude Debussy summarised the singular position of the Spanish composer and his opus magnum, written between 1905 and 1908: “Let us now turn to Isaac Albéniz. After first achieving renown as a peerless [piano] virtuoso, he soon acquired exceptional expertise in the art of composition. Even if he has absolutely nothing in common with Liszt, the exuberance of his ideas nevertheless recalls the latter. Albéniz was the first to make use of melancholy in harmony, and to utilise the unique humour of his native land (he was Catalan). […] Although he never literally quotes folk music, the piece [El Albaicín, third book] is clearly written by someone who absorbed it until it flowed into his own music and seamlessly intermingled with it. […] Never before had music assumed such a multi-faceted and dazzlingly colourful guise. One closes one’s eyes and reels from so much imaginative bounty in music” (in: Revue musicale S. I. M. IX/12, 1 December, 1913, p. 43; original in French).

For the seriously ailing Albéniz, Iberia represented a renewed creative focus on piano music, after many years of intensive work with the musical theatre. The Catalan musician, who had on several occasions since 1902 lived in “exile” in Paris, had painfully experienced the dictum that a prophet is without honour in his own country. Attempts to have his latest operas (Pepita Jiménez and Merlin) performed at Spanish opera houses were dashed by the conservative establishment. Everyone seemed to be advising him to devote himself to the piano again. Thus in December 1905 he completed the first book of a new collection of piano pieces that brilliantly combined the Central European compositional tradition with Spanish local colour and – though Albéniz only reluctantly acknowledged this – burgeoning French impressionism.

The manuscript engraver’s copies – autograph dated fair copies – of all twelve pieces have survived. According to these, Albéniz finished work on the fourth group of three works in July (Malaga) and August (Eritaña) 1907, and in January 1908 (Jerez); when it later came to their printing, he placed Eritaña at the end. The first edition of the fourth volume is reported twice in the Bibliographie musicale française for the first half of 1908, so it was probably published in the course of that year.

The original publisher was the Édition Mutuelle in Paris, a publishing house associated with the famous Schola Cantorum. The Édition Mutuelle followed a completely different business model from that of the regular publishing
houses. Since 1902, a group of composers under the direction of René de Castéra had been disseminating the works of other composers through publications and performances, as a kind of “mutual” support. The composer retained all rights of use to his work (which is why the copyright of the edition of Iberia names Albéniz and not the publisher). Each composer was thus free to do whatever he wanted with the printing plates of his edition. If he was not able to finance the printing himself, the publisher stepped in. The income was divided among the publisher, the composer, and a financing fund for further projects. Albéniz apparently later made use of this easy access to the printing plates, especially in the third book, to make far-reaching changes to the musical text, even though no new printing was planned at that time.

In a few cases, these interventions were already urgently needed even before the printing of the first run of copies, since there was much – particularly in the pieces of the later books – that made the works awkward to perform and sometimes practically unplayable. The earliest traces of such a revision process undertaken to facilitate performance are found in the engraver’s copies to Rondeña (second book) and El Albaicín (third book). As is confirmed in a handwritten note from Albeniz in the manuscript, this revision took place partly at the suggestion of the pianist Blanche Selva, who gave the first French performance. Albéniz also received valuable advice from the Catalan pianist Joaquin Malats, to whom the composer wrote on 22 August 1907 that Iberia had been written “essentially by and for you.” The revision process continued even after the printing plates of the first edition had been completed, as can be ascertained by the extant galley proofs of the third book, for instance. Here, a few desired changes in the prints failed to be carried out, presumably on account of the far-reaching results of the new layout and the clean-up of the notation, which burst the limits of possible plate corrections.

The Spanish reprint of the fourth volume by Unión Musical Española (UME) in Madrid contains many changes to the musical text, especially in regard to the deletion of articulation, dynamic and pedal markings, and of cautionary accidentals, that were viewed as superfluous. Since the changes were carried out
with the same engraving tools as those used for the first edition, they were assuredly, like that edition, undertaken in Paris. It can no longer be determined, however, whether this occurred during Albéniz’s lifetime or posthumously, when the plates had become the property of his heirs. At all events, the often stated theory that this print was released shortly after the first edition proves to be untenable. UME was not founded until 1914, and, according to the latest research, the printing plates did not arrive in Spain via the Albéniz family until early 1918 (see the work catalogue of Jacinto Torres, Catálogo Sistemático Descriptivo de las Obras Musicales de Isaac Albéniz, Madrid, 2001, p. 413).

The present edition assumes that the many corrections to the reused plates were initiated by Albéniz himself. The musical text presented in the Spanish reprint resolutely continues the earlierdescribed composer-derived interventions that were intended to simplify the graphical aspects of the notation. Unfortunately many engraving errors remained in the text, but they can easily be identified through comparison with the French first edition and the autograph engraver’s copies.

The Comments at the end of this edition provide detailed information about the few passages where authorisation by the composer is debatable. In this edition, markings added by the editor are only placed in parentheses in the musical text when other solutions are also plausible. Obvious errors and clear omissions in the Spanish reprint have been tacitly corrected.

We cordially thank the libraries mentioned in the Comments for providing us with copies of the sources.

Munich, autumn 2012 - Norbert Gertsch

Contents and Reviews


El Albaicín El Polo Lavapiés