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Enrique Granados - The Spanish Composer for Piano Music

Enrique Joaquín Granados played an important role to help establish a golden age of classical and piano music in Spain. He was himself an accomplished pianist known for his improvisation skills who composed both vocal and piano music.

Enrique Granados

Early Life 

Enrique was born to Calixto José Granados and Enriqueta Elvira Campiña de Herrera in the Catalonia region of Spain. Calixto José was a Spanish army captain while Enriqueta hailed from Santander. A young Granados got his first piano lessons in Barcelona under the guidance of Joan Baptista Pujol and Francisco Jurnet.

In 1887, he traveled to France to study music in Paris. However, he was unable to acquire admission to the famous Paris Conservatoire, settling for private lessons from Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot, a faculty member at the conservatoire. Bériot was the son of Maria Malibran, the legendary Spanish soprano, one who insisted on intricate refinement when it came to tone production. He fostered Granados’s pedal technique and also was a big influence on Enrique’s abilities in improvisation.

Musical Journey 

In 1889, Enrique returned to Barcelona and soon got his first breakthrough while working with the opera María del Carmen. His exploits even attracted attention from the Royal family and  King Alfonso XIII. In 1903, he participated in a musical competition at the Madrid Royal Conservatory, organized by Tomás Bretón. The reward for the best "concert allegro" for solo piano was 500 pesetas, a considerable sum in that era. Enrique’s “Allegro de concierto” was declared the winner with a unanimous verdict. This elevated him to the status of a national celebrity.

Barcelona, at that time, was witnessing an intense musical transformation with concert associations and programs being set up, like -  Orfeó Català, the Philharmonic Society of Barcelona, and the Catalan Society of Concerts. Granados was an integral part of this phenomenon, particularly because he was closely involved with the Catalan Lyric Theatre projects along with Enrique Morera.

In 1911, he composed his greatest piece “Goyescas,” a set of six pieces for piano based from the paintings of Francisco Goya. the critical, as well as public acclaim, was tumultuous. The success compelled him to work further on the set and expand it. In 1914, he also wrote an opera based on “Goyescas,” but the European premiere was eventually canceled due to the sudden outbreak of World War I. In 1916, the opera was finally performed in New York City and was an overwhelming success. He was soon invited to the White House to perform a piano recital for the then President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson. Soon, he collaborated with the Aeolian Company of New York City, utilizing their “Duo-Art system” to create live recorded piano music rolls.


Goya's painting

Goya's painting


Enrique’s masterpiece offers an abundance of choral writing incorporated with colorful scoring. He takes inspiration from Goya’s 18th‐century paintings. Francisco Goya depicted Spanish femininity through his “Majas on a Balcony” by depicting their earthy devotion to their men, passionate penetrating stares, and fluttering fans that obviously fascinated Granados. The six pieces of “Goyescas” are titled “Ghost's Serenade,” “Love and Death,” “Laments, or The Maiden and the Nightingale,” “Fandango of Candil,” and “Flattery.” Each one is a fascinating musical portrait exploring various aspects of the Spanish temperament.

The six pieces are over 50 minutes long, and almost all of them are programmatic and descriptive, with Spanish inflections of popular dance forms, verses, and songs - a piano style that can be traced back to Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin. The native elements are predominant throughout - twisting mordents, triplet embellishments, stamping feet, and evocations of strumming guitars that are ornamental textures of the Baroque era.

Granados was further guided by Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas, Franz Liszt’s flamboyant keyboard strokes, and Robert Schumann’s virtuoso figurations while developing his own blend of music. He offered subtle juxtapositions of harmonic pungencies, musical dynamics, and tempos with specific expressions that retained the Spanish aura of sentimentality and passion. From a technical viewpoint, “Goyescas” offers a formidable challenge for any pianist, with complex subsidiary themes, interweaving rhythmic patterns, and elaborate passageworks that a master pianist like Enrique himself could effortlessly maneuver. Every note of “Goyescas” counts as musical finesse, and articulation of one of the most distinguished virtuosos at work.

A Tragic End

In 1916, he missed his boat to Spain after accepting a recital invitation back in New York City. This compelled him to reroute through England. He boarded the ferry SS Sussex from England heading for Dieppe, France when tragedy struck. The SS Sussex was attacked by a German U-boat in the English channel, who were following their own policy of unchecked submarine warfare during World War I. Amparo, Enrique’s wife was overweight and failed to access a lifeboat as the couple drowned in front of fellow passengers. Another account states that Granados dived to save his spouse and perished subsequently. They were also extremely unlucky, as the ship had broken into two parts, and ironically, the part where the pianist was residing was the one that remained intact. Enrique and Amparo were on the other side that sunk. His personal papers and works are preserved in the National Library of Catalonia.

Enrique Granados was not only a renowned composer but an educator and acclaimed pianist who created his own school of music. He effervescently crafted chamber music, piano sheets, and orchestral poems based on essentially three diverse styles; a touch of nationalist flavors, an ingrained Spanish style with dance pieces like “Danzas Españolas,” while also delivering his inner romantic with “Escenas Poeticas,” and “Escenas Románticas.” He was also a chief instigator and was part of the movement that laid the foundation of the Basque musical culture - a true pioneer.


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