Magazine article The Spectator

Fulfilled by De Falla

Magazine article The Spectator

Fulfilled by De Falla

Article excerpt


La vida breve

(Royal Albert Hall)

Manuel de Falla's La vida breve is by far the most distinguished piece of genuinely Spanish music in the Proms Hispanic season; indeed since for some reason it's so unlikely to be performed in the usual course of things, its inclusion in a demi-- semi-staged version justified this 'theme' which has been responsible for the resurrection of some notably bad music, preeminently Revueltas's La noche de las mayas, which constituted the first part of the same concert. This is a symphonic suite from the distinguished film of the same name, made in 1938, but not a lot of film music translates effectively to the concert hall, and this lengthy dollop of Technicolor kitsch certainly doesn't. A kind of amalgam of Respighi and the Stravinsky of Le Sacre, with liberal injections of castanets and an adipose and hyper-active rhythm section, it must be about as debased as any music that has ever been presented at the Proms.

It says a lot for La vida breve that it was able, from its opening bars, to banish my ill-temper at having endured Revueltas, and to establish a mood of potent, eloquent sadness and menace. Though it tends to be regarded as less personal and representative a work than some of de Falla's later and more regularly performed pieces, and obviously shares many features with a huge number of members of the same genre, it shows its composer's genius in orchestration immediately, with the brief, louring instrumental introduction leading into an impressively subdued Anvil Chorus, the singers of which have more in common with the Nibelungs than with the exuberant gypsies of 11 Trovatore. They are so selfconsciously downtrodden that one of them raises his voice in weary lament: `Wretched is he born to be an anvil rather than a hammer!' and his colleagues all agree.

It's hard to know how deliberate this opera is in its reminiscences of other operas, but it seems to invite its listeners to recall works of other European cultures, in order to realise the difference that feeling things in terms of traditional Spanish rhythms and colours makes. The debt of the slender and sketchy plot to Cavalleria Rusticana, for instance, is manifest, in fact one almost uses the action of Cav. to fill in the gaps in Vida, but at the same time de Falla instils a mythic sense into his opera which Mascagni wouldn't have been interested in. …

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