Rediscovery of “long-lost” Granados opera June 28 2016
Spanish composer Enrique Granados is universally hailed, alongside Isaac Albeniz, as one of the most significant and talented composers to come out of the Iberic Peninsula in the second half of the Nineteenth century.
Contrary to his slightly older colleague, Granados’ works are, although highly revered, rarely performed and a large percentage of his oeuvre still hasn’t received a major publication by an editorial house of international projection, a fact which leads his works to be difficult to access and acquire.
His most recognized works and to an extent the only ones which have actually found their way into the standard repertoire are the Goyescas (1911) for piano, a suite consisting of six individual pieces based on the composer’s musical impressions of the work of the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya.
Derived from themes of this very same suite, an opera carrying the same title was composed in 1915 and received with great success. However, the piece hasn’t really found its way onto the traditional opera repertoire and is rarely represented.
Career as a concert pianist
Much like his contemporary Albeniz, Granados’ initial career circled around the piano, specially performing in one of Barcelona’s most renowned cafes.
He was also working as a piano teacher which led him to develop a considerable income, however, Granados knew that Spain was unable to provide him with the final kickstart for his career, so he decided to emigrate.
Like most composers of the late nineteenth century coming from nations other than Germany or Italy, Granados saw in Paris the entry point for the real concert world which could lead towards an international career which he deeply desired.
The first step, however, was to finish his musical studies with some of the most renowned professors of the Paris Conservatory.
It was during this experience where Granados concluded his studies and finally decided to become a composer, fairly quickly finding his voice which was undoubtedly inherited to the unique amalgam of his traditional education mixed with Paris’ raving avant-garde scene.
The composer’s musical style can be characterized as
romantically inclined with some nationalistic tints, usually employing, just like Albeniz, references to the Spanish cultural imaginary, landscape and even folk music including dances such as the Jota, Fandango and Villanesca.
A large percentage of his work is based on the piano, an instrument of which he was a virtuoso performer.
His most famous works for the instrument are the Twelve Spanish Dances, the Poetic Waltzes, the Romantic Scenes and the Poetic Scenes.
Beyond the piano
While Enrique Granados is today seen as a fundamentally pianistic composer, during his lifetime he continuously attempted to produce orchestral, and chamber works.
Although some of them achieved initial success and some even got hailing reviews in the press, they have been mostly forgotten since and are rarely performed outside of Spain with very few exceptions.
Perhaps the most recognized of these works is Dante Op.21, a symphonic poem of massive dimensions which is based on two episodes of Dante’s Divina Comedia.
While it is undeniable that Granados’ main focus and successful compositions were stage works and piano pieces, his chamber music both of an instrumental and a vocal kind is nothing less than admirable with examples such as the Trio Op.50 and the Canciones Amatorias being widely considered amongst the greatest works in the Romantic style to ever come out of Spain.
Furthermore, these are great representatives of Granados’ lush and lyrical compositional style which usually oscillates between a Wagnerian harmonic conception and an almost impressionistic tone color palette.
Granados’ first Opera
In 1898 a thirty-one-year-old Enrique Granados was attempting to break into the lyric opera world in an attempt to both become universally recognized as a composer and to achieve some financial freedom.
For this purpose, he presented María del Carmen in the Teatro de Parish in Madrid where it was received with raving success and led Granados to develop a somewhat better and more recognizable public image.
The opera is essentially a typical late nineteenth century work of naturalist and verismo tendencies which led to many commenters to produce comparisons and connections with works such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
From a vocal point of view, the work is deeply inherited to Italian verismo, especially in terms of the employment of a deeper tessitura and requiring singers with larger voices to be able to cut through the thick orchestration.
Another important influence source which Granados was particularly receptive of was the Wagnerian conception of opera as a total work of art with Maria del Carmen containing several of the music-dramatic innovations that had appeared in Wagner’s music dramas including leitmotifs, more continuous scenes and a lesser distinction between arioso and recitative passages.
Enrique Granados and his wife Amparo perished in a terrible tragedy.
On March 24 of 1916 the couple boarded the Sussex heading from Folkstone with a destination to France, during the channel crossing, the ship met its final destination as it was torpedoed by a German submarine, the UB-29.
Both Granados and his wife drowned leaving behind six children and a considerable body of work which was just recently starting to get recognition in America.
Following their parents’ passing, the Granados children became the sole inheritors of their father’s musical works and took to heart to honor them and trying to get them published. However, these efforts led to some irregularities and a large percentage of his works becoming lost due to being sold to individual parties.
The Lost Opera
Regardless of its initial success, Maria del Carmen’s possibilities for success were halted very abruptly by the Enrique Granados’ tragic death at the young age of forty-eight.
Furthermore, the lack of exposure it had outside of Spain and the absence of a publication by a major international editorial house led the piece to be essentially forgotten, basically providing the perfect ground for its troubled history of loss and controversy over its authenticity.
Over the larger part of the twentieth century, performances of the lost opera were scarce and solely located in Spain.
As a matter of fact, the opera’s first performance outside of its origin nation occurred in 2003 in the context of the Wexford opera festival in Ireland. However, unknown at the time by the performers, this performance was based on a version of the score which was not actually following the composer’s original intentions.
Recovering the score
In the fatidic event which claimed the life of Enrique Granados, amongst the possessions which he was transporting in his luggage, the contract for the composition of the opera, signed by Granados, and the score were to be found.
Nevertheless, the score was able to survive the shipwreck, and it eventually found its way back to the Granados family.
Unfortunately, the score was eventually sold by one their sons to an American publisher in New York in 1938.
An uncertain destiny
Over the course of the twentieth century, the score became essentially lost with reports of a warehouse fire destroying it in 1970. However, performances of piece, although scarce, continued to occur based on a reconstructed version which had been patched together by one of Granados’ sons soon after his parents’ passing.
This edited score represents an attempt to alter some aspects of the orchestration to accommodate for modern tastes and make future performances easier to carry out.
For the past two decades the American musicologist Walter Clark, a professor of music in the University of California, Director of the Center for Iberian and Latin American music, and a specialist in Granados’ works became interested in tracing the history of Maria del Carmen and especially with evaluating how faithful and real the available score out of which a handful of productions had been carried out over the twentieth century was.
Being skeptical about the authenticity of the present edition Clark set forth to find the original which was deemed as lost although many irregularities in the warehouse’s inventory and a general lack of information led to believe that there was still a chance that it might have survived.
Luckily, after pasting all the pieces of the puzzle together in 2009 after contacting the grandson of the original American purchaser, the three tomes of Granados’ original score were found and recovered for posterity.
Thanks to Clark’s and The University of California’s efforts the full score in its original form has been restored from the significant smoke and water damage which it received over its long-troubled history.
Furthermore, the score has also been prepared for it to be given a proper modern typesetting and publication by the Spanish editorial house and record label Trito which is specialized in Spanish, Catalan and Ibero-American classical music.
This edition and some projected future performances in several Spanish theaters are a hopeful future for this unfortunately neglected and almost forgotten lost opera which hopefully someday might recover its place in the operatic repertoire around the world.
- Enrique Granados - Signed Contract for "Maria del Carmen" 1896
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