Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat
Notes by TŌN percussionist Luis Herrera Albertazzi
Manuel de Falla is one of the most distinguished Spanish composers of the 20th century. His music can be described as a combination of poetry and asceticism that represents the spirit of Spain at its purest. Falla started his musical career taking piano lessons from his mother, and then continued to study composition with Felipe Pedrell, who he used as an inspiration, as he loved the way Pedrell combined church music, folk music, and Spanish native opera, also known as zarzuela. Later in his musical life Falla moved to Paris, where he was influenced by the composing and orchestrating style of Debussy, Dukas, and Ravel. He then returned to Madrid where he wrote his composition El Corregidor y la Molinera (The Governor and the Miller’s Wife), which was later rescored for a ballet called El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat).
The original story is the perfect Spanish folk story: a corrupt governor, the humble and honest miller, and his beautiful wife, whom the governor tries to seduce using his power and status. Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian ballet impresario, requested Falla to expand his composition to a ballet after seeing one of its performances. Choreographed by Leonid Massine (who also danced the role of the miller), with sets and costumes designed by Pablo Picasso, and conducted by Ernest Ansermet, this ballet was set for success. It is about 40 minutes long, performed by a full orchestra, a mezzo-soprano, and, on occasion, dancers. Given its success, Falla derived two orchestral suites to be performed on different concert stages around the world. The first dance we hear is a fandango, performed by the miller’s wife. The neighbors’ dance, second in the ballet, is a seguidilla. The dance of the miller’s wife becomes a flamenco farruca, which is a very intense dance in 4/4 time, that leads to the final dance, a jota, which is a rhythm where the time signature’s feel fluctuates between 3/4 and 6/8.