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

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Iberia (Second Book) Piano Solo - Urtext Edition

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Department: Piano, Keyboard & Organ - Piano Solo

Publisher: Henle

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The first book of Albéniz' four-part cycle “Iberia” has already been published in an acclaimed Henle Urtext edition and many pianists are now eagerly awaiting the remaining ones. The second book in this collection of melodious portraits of Spanish places is now available. In “Rondeña,” “Almería” and “Triana” Albéniz once again fuses his knowledge of European classical music with elements of Spanish folk music, although he hardly ever directly cites the latter, but rather reinvents it in an authentic manner. The rhythmic and colorful effects will delight both players and listeners.

Iberia, by Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909), is a central masterpiece of late-romantic piano music at the threshold of modernity. As early as 1913 no less a musician than Claude Debussy summed up the singular position occupied by this Spanish composer and his magnum opus of 1905–1908: “Let us now 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 abundance of his ideas he recalls Liszt, to whom he otherwise bears not the slightest resemblance. Albéniz was the first to turn to account 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 music without leaving a discernible boundary between the two. […] Never has music attained such a multi-faceted and richly colored guise. One closes one’s eyes and is bedazzled by the sheer wealth of invention in this music.” (Original text in Revue musicale S.I.M., ix/12, 1 December 1913, p. 43) For Albéniz, who was very ill at that time, Iberia meant a creative return to piano music after many years spent focusing on the musical stage.

From 1902 he again lived in Parisian “exile,” having made the painful discovery that a prophet is without honor in his own country. His attempts to interest Spanish theaters in his final operas, Pepita Jiménez and Merlin, had been frustrated by 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 colour of Spain and, as Albéniz reluctantly conceded, the burgeoning impressionism of France.

Although the twelve pieces in the collection do not form an indivisibly unified cycle, the first volume does establish a dramaturgy of intensification in tempo and dynamics among its three works; this dramaturgy likewise recurs in the second volume. However, the order of the pieces in the second volume was altered for the Spanish reprint after publication of the first edition (see below), with the sequence Triana – Almeria – Rondeña altered to Rondeña – Almería – Triana. The pianist who performs the entire book thus is given the additional advantage of ending his recital with a virtuoso, brilliant ffff close at the conclusion of the third piece, rather than with a ppp whisper that ebbs away into silence.

Scholars have always been puzzled as to why Albéniz called the first piece Rondeña. It might be seen as a local variant of the fandango that was common in the region near the city of Ronda in southwestern Spain. Musically, there is hardly any connection here to the modern genre of the same name in flamenco (in this connection, see for example Walter A. Clark, Isaac Albéniz. Portrait of a Romantic, Oxford – New York, 1999, p. 231 f.). Almería and Triana, on the other hand, unequivocally evoke associations with Spanish places: the first is a Spanish port city in the southeast of the country, where Albéniz’s father worked in the 1860s, and the latter is the famous gypsy quarter of Seville, one of the birthplaces of flamenco.

Manuscript engraver’s models of all twelve pieces have survived as autograph, dated fair copies. According to their dates, Albéniz concluded his work on the second group of three pieces on 23 January (Triana), 27 June (Almería) and 17 October (Rondeña) 1906. It was only after the completion of Triana that the collection received its definitive title Iberia. Until then, Albéniz had superscribed the manuscript with España (the subtitle 12 nouvelles «Impressions» en quatre cahiers also only appeared later, in the first edition of the second volume). The pieces of the third and fourth volumes followed up to January 1908.

The copyright office of the Library of Congress in Washington received deposit copies of the three pieces of the second
volume in separate prints in March 1907, and these were copyrighted retroactively to 23 February 1907. The copyright year 1906 already printed in the copies was then changed by hand to 1907. The Parisian publisher had originally
planned to bring out the publication in 1906. The original publisher was listed as Edition Mutuelle in Paris, a
firm associated with the famous Schola Cantorum. Edition Mutuelle followed a business philosophy that completely differed from that of conventional publishing houses: beginning in 1902, a group of composers headed by René de Castéra was commissioned to disseminate the works of other composers through publication and performance, 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 to 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 publication himself, the publishing house came to his assistance. The proceeds were divided among the publishers, the composer, and a fund that was set aside to finance other projects. Albéniz evidently later took advantage of his access to the plates to make further alterations to the musical text, even though no reprint was planned at that time.

In several cases, such changes were probably urgently required prior to publication, since many passages, especially in the later pieces, proved very difficult to grasp in performance and were virtually unplayable. The earliest traces of a revision process that simplified the piano writing can be found in the engraver’s copies for Rondeña (volume 2) and El Albaicín (volume 3). A handwritten note 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 premiere. 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 “essentially written through and for you.” The revision process continued even after the plates of the first edition had been engraved, as can be seen from the surviving proof sheets for volume 3 as well as in the many deletions in the engraver’s copy of Rondeña. In this case, however, the sometimes extensive reworkings and simplifications of the notation were so abundant that it would have been impossible to incorporate them into the plates.

This is why one finds only a partial incorporation of these revisions into the Spanish reprint of the volume by Unión Musical Española (UME) of Madrid. The exact date of publication of this volume, which was prepared from the altered 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 the work catalogue by Jacinto Torres, Catálogo Sistemático Descriptivo de las Obras Musicales de Isaac Albéniz, Madrid, 2001, p. 413).

Thus the Spanish reprint issued by UME serves as the principal source for our edition. In the case of Rondeña, the many deletions subsequently made by Albéniz to the engraver’s model but not incorporated into the prints have been taken into consideration for the first time. It should be noted, however, that although the French first edition (and hence the Spanish reprint) was bound to have been proofread several times, many mistakes crept into the prints; only with the help of the autograph engraver’s copies has it been possible to correct them. One cannot always determine whether discrepancies are engraver’s errors or intentional changes made at proof stage. Detailed information on this subject can be found in the Comments at the end of the present volume. Signs placed in parentheses have been added by the editor.

The editor wishes to thank the libraries mentioned in the Comments for kindly placing copies of the sources at his disposal.

Munich, spring 2007 - Norbert Gertsch

Contents and Reviews


Rondeña Almería Triana