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Falla, Manuel de (23rd November 1876-15th November 1946)

He was a Spanish composer born Manuel Maria de los Dolores Falla y Mattheu in Cadiz, Spain, who took his first steps in music when he was taught by his mother and grandfather.

He began taking formal lessons in the piano when he was nine years old but he only had a relatively brief period with his tutor as she made the decision to become a nun and entered the Sisters of Charity convent.  In 1889 his piano studies continued with the teacher Alejandro Odero and he was also taught counterpoint and harmony by Enrique Broca.

Two years later when he was fifteen he began to take an interest in journalist and literature and became the founder of the El Burlon and El Cascabel magazines.

He reverted to his love of music in 1893 after realising that it was what he described as “my definitive vocation” following a concert where works of Edvard Grieg were performed.  This led to him entering the Real Conservatorio de Musica y Declamacion in Madrid in 1896 where he studied piano and composition.

Within a year of studying in Madrid he had added the “de” to his first name to become known as Manuel de Falla and composed Melodia for cello and piano, Romanza for cello and piano and Serenata Andaluza for violin and piano, Nocturno for piano and Cuarteto en Sol y Mireya, which he premiered 1899.  He also became the first prize winner of the Conservatorio’s piano competition.

When the 20th century came around he wrote his Cancion para piano and premiered Serenata Andaluza y Vals-Capricho para piano in Madrid.  He also began to teach piano to give extra income to he and his family.

He gained an interest in the traditional music from Andalusia, especially flamenco, and wrote several zarzuelas and in 1902 his Vals-Capricho y Serenata Andaluza was published and he  performed the premiere of Los amores de la Ines in Madrid.  In 1903 he performed a work by Enrique Granados in another Conservatorio competition and that same year he had his Nocturno and Tus ojillos negros published.  Around that same time he began collaborating on zarzuelas with the composer Amadeo Vives.

In 1905 he wrote the one-act opera La vida breve which won first prize at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando music competition and was premiered in Nice, France, after having the libretto  revised in 1913.

Two years later, in 1907, he moved to Paris at the suggestion of Victor Mirecki Larramatand Joaquin Turin and during this time he became acquainted with several other composers such as Claude Deubussy, Paul Dukas and Maurice Ravel amongst others.  He was prvidedwith a royal grant to remain there the following year so he could complete his Cuatropiezas espanolas.

In 1910 he encountered Igor Stravinsky and went to London, England, for a brief time.  In 1914 his Siete canciones populares espanolas was completed and after WWI had started he returned home to Spain and went back to Madrid and composed some of his most popular works such as 1915’s ballet El amor brujo with the much performed “Ritual Fire Dance”, 1916’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and 1917’s ballet The Three Cornered Hat.

In 1921 he moved to Granada, Spain, and the following year he was the organiser of the celebration of flamenco music Concurso de Cante Jondo.  In 1923 he wrote the opera El retablo de maese Padro and in 1926 he completed his Harpsichord Concerto which would be the first written in the 20th century.  He then started writing the orchestral cantata Atlantida, which he rated his most important work.

In the 1930s he attempted to stop his good friend Federico Garcia Lorca, who was a poet, being murdered in 1936.  This was sadly unsuccessful and in 1939 after the Spanish Civil War he relocated to Argentina where he premiered his Suite Homenajes and continued his work on Atlantilda which would remain incomplete until his death and finished by Ernesto Halffter.

In the 1940s he was offered a sizeable pension to go back to Spain and he was given the title of Knight of the Order of King Alfonso X of Castile, but he declined the request to return and remained in Argentina where he became a teacher and later moved to the mountains where he resided in a house with his sister.

In November 1946 he suffered a cardiac arrest which proved fatal and in 1947 his body was returned to Spain and buried in Cadiz’s cathedral.  Although he never had his own family, he left behind a legacy of being one of the most influential Spanish composers where his image was on the country’s banknotes and the Compultense University of Madrid Faculty of Philosophy and Letters has the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music.  In 1965 his house in Granada became a museum and in 1978 the Manuel de Falla Cultural Centre had its inauguration.