Celebrating the centenary of Manuel de Falla’s arrival in Granada

If a person decides to come back in a city, it is because the city has left its mark on them first. This happened to Manuel de Falla with Granada, long before he arrived a century ago. Since childhood, he had felt an enormous pull towards the city of the Alhambra. This intensified when he met a famous musician from Granada while in Paris, Ángel Barrios. That encounter was the push he needed to travel to the land of his dreams. And the truth is, he wasn’t disappointed. After a brief visit, he settled there with his sister for 20 years. These were the most productive years of his career as a musician. Would you like to know what these years were like?

Manuel de Falla’s home in Granada: 20 years in El Cármen de la Antecuerela

If you’ve visited the Alhambra, you must have surely wondered what it might be like to live there? Many of us ask ourselves this question in the present tense: What is it like to live here? To wake up and see the Generalife, the patios, the ponds… Perhaps this is what all those who have set foot in the Alhambra dream of. On his second visit, Falla had the good fortune to be able to stay in El Carmen de la Antecuerela, a typical Granada-style villa right next to the Alhambra. But as it turns out, living next to the Alhambra in 1919 was quite different to how it would be today.

The place had everything an artist could long for during this period, as was the case in Montmartre in Paris in the 1920s. Artists and musicians such as Falla were incredibly passionate about the avant-garde, as the movement centred on the roots of the people and popular art. Would there be anything more avant-garde in classical music than introducing the theme of the passions of ordinary people and the marginalised? Aside from the views, this would explain Falla’s enthusiasm for Granada, as well as the fact that those 20 years were the most productive of his career.

Thanks to his stay in this Cármen right next to the Alhambra, he was able to become acquainted with Andalusi traditions, as well as the purest flamenco of the Sacromonte gypsies. The famous Falla, much like Lorca, knew how to recognise the beauty and complexity of music without the need for sheet music, a skill which passed from generation to generation, from the cradle to the coffin. So much so that it was customary for mothers to say “my child was singing before birth”, “my little girl developed her sense of rhythm while still in the womb”. Manuel de Falla was inspired not only by a way of making music but also by understanding life through art, composing such eternal works as “Amor Brujo (Enchanted Love). He composed within the context of classical music, traditionally dedicated to the aristocracy and therefore reflecting its practices and customs.

Manuel de Falla, Federico García Lorca and the intellectuals of Granada

Any art form, however solitary it may appear in its execution, is the result of observation and conversations between other artists and friends. When Manuel de Falla arrived in Granada, he discovered a city that was intellectually rich and full of talent. For example, as soon as Federico García Lorca, also a musician, found out about the arrival of the Cádiz-born musician, he wanted to meet him and exchange ideas. Despite their contrasting characters, they soon connected: they shared their admiration of art and popular culture, along with technique and rigour in artistic works. In fact, Falla played an essential role in getting Lorca to be more disciplined with his work and to carry out much more intense research.

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They had a very intriguing relationship. At the same time as Federico García Lorca made conversation, spending time in the streets of Granada at gatherings such as the Rinconcillo, or in the tavern inside the Alhambra run by Ángel Barrios’ father, where flamenco was always present; and similarly in the Sacromonte neighbourhood, learning alongside the gypsies, Manuel de Falla concentrated on his work, studied, and waited for the visits of the young Lorca, which would turn out to be a positive twist of fate. He let him in on the gossip, the conversations had at the gatherings, the songs he had learned, and the doubts he had about his own work… For our famous poet, Manuel de Falla’s house was a temple, except inside this temple there was a friend, rather than a god.

The combination of the two and their love for popular culture at the time was so strong, that together they launched the first ever Concurso de Cante Jondo. This singing contest was a veritable milestone for flamenco worldwide, thanks in part to the presence of Falla at the event. Federico was still young, so Manuel de Falla contributed by means of his prestige. With a figure such as Falla behind this, something good was bound to come of it. For this reason, the contest attracted the attention of many people, including the bourgeoisie of Granada, at that time completely unaware of the cultural treasure hidden away in the Sacromonte. Ultimately, this contest was the beginning of the widespread appreciation of flamenco.

Considering the intensity of his work and the close contact with Granada and its intellectuals, it is not surprising that this was where he composed his best works: El amor brujo (Enchanted Love), El gran teatro del mundo (The Great Theatre of the World), El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), Homenajes (Homages), Concerto per clavicémbalo (Harpsichord Concerto), Romance de Granada (Granada Romance), and the beginning of Atlántida (Atlantis).

It’s true that Manuel de Falla and Granada lived their own amor brujo, the enchanted love that takes place between passionate lovers who know how to bring out the best in each other. Granada gave him culture, passion, friends, brothers, flamenco, and in return, Falla gave us many of the best pieces ever composed, as well as creative impulse to the timeless poet, Federico García Lorca. Furthermore, both put a cross-border art form on the artistic world map: flamenco. How could we not celebrate the centenary of their arrival in Granada?