Falla & Picasso
When we explore Picasso’s musical personality in all its facets (to put it in another way, a titanic task), the figure of Manuel de Falla stands out as an essential pillar far beyond the event of the premiere of the ballet “Le Tricorne” at the Alhambra Theatre in London on 21st July 1919. Now that Spain is expressly commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of the painter from Malaga, Manuel de Falla could be claimed as the key argument enabling Picasso to reconnect with a lush, legendary and at the same time modern Spanishness, in which he felt particularly comfortable. Moreover, without the score of “El sombrero de tres picos” (The Three-Cornered Hat), the evolution of the Spanishness in Picasso’s work, assumed as a fallow land of endless extraction, would inevitably have been different since “Guernica”, when history demanded a tragic framework for any allegorical attempt in this respect.
Furthermore, if the birth of cubism as a new mechanism for translating experience into creation transcended the plastic limits to contaminate all the visual, literary and musical arts, it is fair to consider Falla as one of the most audacious composers when it comes to articulating this contamination from a truly visionary perspective, far beyond the well-known nationalist label which, incidentally, should be revised due to its increasingly undesirable accommodating effects. It is reasonable to think that after his arrival in Paris in 1907, the same year reserved in the history of art for the birth of Cubism, the Cadiz-born composer incorporated the Cubist imprint into his compositional work, especially significant in his often-unimagined textures and suggestive harmonic attempts. His score for “La vida breve” (Life is short), premiered in Nice in 1913, although he had been working on it since 1905, reveals to what extent it was not so much Stravinsky, Fauré and Ravel his main influences in that period, but Picasso himself; or, at least, the masterly formula contained in Picasso.
It was not in vain that both used to compose from the underlying strain between the traditional Spanish legacy and the languages demanded by the new social, economic, and political paradigm in Europe. The latter was unstable, massified, marked by uncertainty and conspiratorial with a dehumanisation that only three years after the premiere of “El sombrero de tres picos” T. S. Eliot managed to crystallise into literary terms with “La tierra baldía” (The Waste Land). To keep up with the brutal development of this paradigm, Cubism was obliged to reach its apogee suddenly and rapidly. This was what happened.
The outbreak of the First World War, which brought Falla back to Spain, proved that the new approach to reality predicted by Cubism was just and necessary: it had only lacked the tragic ingredient. Thus, until the advent of the catastrophe itself, it was very difficult for any composer in the Parisian orbit to escape the influence of Cubism. Nevertheless, not everyone who accepted this influence knew how to make the most of it, and it would be appropriate to place Falla at the forefront of the musical reception of the phenomenon. It should not be forgotten that Cubism advocated a new look at daily elements and, to a large extent, traditional ones, preserved as proof of a past now distinguished as a factor of innovation and rupture. In this sense Falla personalises Picasso’s musical intuition better than anyone else; indeed, even better than Stravinsky himself, at least given the evidence that the testimonies were shared.
The best synthesis of this understanding is undoubtedly to be found in “El sombrero de tres picos” and in its metamorphosis as a ballet in “Le Tricorne”, not only because of the physical convergence of the two talents, but also because of the way in which this influence pointed to different ways which, certainly, took hold openly in Falla and Picasso, in less opposite directions than it is usually considered. The ballet had its premiere in London in 1919, the very year in which Falla decided to settle in Granada to research and get to know in depth and in all its forms the mystery of cante jondo; Picasso had already had this apprenticeship, having seen in his childhood in Malaga many of the most outstanding artists of the genre at that time. However, “Le Tricorne” somehow meant for the painter the same sinking to the roots, the same archaeological conviction that under that fallow land, even deeper, was the key opening the cell of 20th-century art.