defallaManuel De Falla: El Amor Brujo. El Amor Brujo, or “Love, the Sorcerer” is a ballet written in 1915 by prolific Spanish composer Manuel DeFalla (1876-1946) about a woman haunted by the ghost of her dead husband, whose jealous spirit is keeping her from a new love. The ghost is eventually exorcised and all ends happily, but in the attempt to exorcise the ghost we are treated to DeFalla’s greatest hit, the “Ritual Fire Dance”, made famous in the piano version performed by Arthur Rubinstein in the movie “Carnegie Hall” (1947) and later in a kitschy rewrite as a kind of piano concerto by entertainer and original “King of Bling,” Liberace (1919-1987).

The Ritual Fire Dance, although central to the piece, is simply one of many great tunes in this exciting score, including a gorgeous Tango in 7/8 time rather than the usual 2/4 or 4/4. The version we are doing is a mixture of two versions of the score. Falla included a part for contralto (the lowest woman’s voice type) in the score, although finding a singer who can manage the very particular zarzuela style of singing – a style that owes more to Spanish popular music than to opera or art song – is almost impossible outside of Spain. Knowing this, he created a version for instruments only, but cut some great numbers that required the voice. MusicaNova has reinstated those numbers with instruments – mostly English Horn, with some solo violin – taking over the vocal parts. Here is one of the songs:

Canción del amor dolido

Yo no sé qué siento,
ni sé qué me pasa
cuando éste mardito
gitano me farta.
Candela qué ardes…
más arde el infierno
que toíta mi sangre
abrasá de celos!
Cuando el río suena
¿qué querrá decir?
Por querer a otra
se orvía de mí!
Cuando el fuego abrasa…
Cuando el río suena…
Si el agua no mata el fuego,
a mí el penar me condena,
a mí el querer me envenena,
a mí me matan las penas.

Song of Suffering Love

I don’t know what I feel,
Or even what’s happening
when this damn
gypsy is missing.
This burning candle
burns more than Hell
that my entire blood
embraces the Heavens!
When rivers don’t dream,
what could it mean?
For loving her over you
you forget about me!
When this fire embraces,
When this river sleeps,
And if water never killed fire,
punish me for these condemns,
loving me will poison me,
as these will be end of me.

Manuel de Falla y Mathieu, one of Spain’s most important composers of the 20th Century, was born in the southern city of Cádiz. By 1900 his family had moved to Madrid, where he studied piano and composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music. While there he composed works for piano and cello, solo piano, and voice, and became interested in Andalusian flamenco music and dance, and zarzuelas, a uniquely Spanish form of drama combining spoken word, songs, and dance; both flamenco and zarzuela would be hallmarks of his future career. He studied in Paris for seven years, until the start of The Great War forced him to return to Madrid. While in Paris he met and worked with composers such as Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky, as well as the choreographer supreme of Russian ballet, Sergei Diaghilev. After returning to Madrid he composed many of his best-known pieces, including El Amor Brujo. The victory of the fascist dictator Franco in the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930s led to his departure for Argentina in 1939, where he continued to compose and teach until his death in 1946.

What you’ll hear at the concert:

El Amor Brujo is in 13 movements and lasts about 23 minutes:

  1. Introducción y escena (‘Introduction and Scene’)
  2. En la cueva (‘In the Cave’)
  3. Canción del amor dolido (‘Song of Suffering Love’)
  4. El aparecido (El espectro) (‘The Apparition’)
  5. Danza del terror (‘Dance of Terror’)
  6. El círculo mágico (Romance del pescador) (‘The magic circle’ – Dance of the Fisherman)
  7. A media noche: los sortilegios
  8. Danza ritual del fuego (‘Ritual Fire Dance’)
  9. Escena (‘Scene’)
  10. Canción del fuego fatuo (‘Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp’)
  11. Pantomima (‘Pantomime’)
  12. Danza del juego de amor (‘Dance of the Game of Love’)
  13. Final – las campanas del amanecer (‘Finale – The Bells of Sunrise’)

The work started as a ballet telling the story of a young woman haunted by the ghost of her jealous dead husband. She searches for a way to rid herself of this curse so she can find happiness with a new lover. Love does magically conquer all at the end.

This work is in very short sections; no part of the piece lasts for more than three minutes. The opening trumpet calls will let you know right away that you are in Spain! This is followed by a mysterious evocation of the night, then the music changes to the aggressive mode of a strong Spanish and Gypsy character. The mood continues in the Dance of Terror, but is followed by the Love Song of the Fisherman, who loves the haunted gypsy girl. The leads to the famous Ritual Fire Dance, an attempt to end the haunting that is interfering with her ability to return his love. The dance fails, and you can hear it tumbling down at the end.

The next numbers all have a more mysterious cast, as the lovers search for a solution. The solution finally comes near the end in a gorgeous tango that symbolizes love. The tango is unusual in that the rhythm is changed slightly, just enough to throw off the malevolent ghost. It works: the spirit disappears, and the music ends with bells and celebration.

See the Ritual Fire Dance