Enrique Granados: Goyescas

Program notes for Tippet Rise Art Center, July 13, 2018.
© Benjamin Pesetsky 2018. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Enrique Granados was born in Barcelona and became known as an improvising pianist, chamber musician, and composer. He brushed shoulders with Fauré, Saint-Saëns, and Pablo Casals and was hailed abroad as an emblematic musician of Spain.

Goyescas—a set of six pieces—is his most famous work, begun in 1909, premiered in 1911, and inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya (1746–1828). Though specific correspondences to paintings aren’t known, the art in question belongs to a series of tapestry “cartoons.” Goya may be known best for his unnerving depictions of war, destitution, and depravity, but these paintings are entirely different: they’re sunny pictures of leisure activities enjoyed by majos and majas, flamboyantly dressed members of Spain’s lower class.

Coloquio en la Reja is the second piece in the set. It depicts a conversation, presumably between a man and a woman, in a window; the music is marked con sentimento amoroso. Granados captures his improvisational flair in a billowing Romantic style enhanced by intricate Baroque details.

After the success of the piano suite in Barcelona, Paris, and Madrid, Granados decided to adapt Goyescas, rather improbably, as an opera. This would lead to his death under circumstances appalling enough to be a different kind of Goya painting. After the opera’s 1916 premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, he was invited to meet President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. This caused him and his wife, Amparo, to miss their scheduled voyage back to Europe, so they rebooked through England. During their passage from there to France, their ferry, the SS Sussex, was torpedoed by a U-boat, throwing them both into the water. Granados was rescued by a lifeboat, but abandoned it in an attempt to save Amparo; the couple drowned in the English Channel.

Program notes for the complete Goyescas available upon request.