Manuel de Falla Biography

(One of Spain's Greatest Composers of the 20th Century)

Birthday: November 23, 1876 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Cádiz, Spain

Manuel de Falla was the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century. He was also one of the greatest pianists of his time. Born into a music-loving family, he began taking piano lessons early in his childhood; but became inspired to take up music as his vocation only after witnessing a concert of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's works, at the age of seventeen. Thereafter, he began attending Escuela Nacional de Musica y Declamacion in Madrid and although he impressed his teachers with his musical talent, the road was not easy as he had to look after his parents and sister with his meager income as a piano teacher. It was also during his time at Escuela Nacional that he started taking keen interest in Spanish folk music, eventually infusing his compositions with the characteristic of native folk song and dance, thereby creating nationalistic music that represents the pure spirit of Spain.

Quick Facts

Spanish Celebrities Born In November

Also Known As: Manuel de Falla y Matheu

Died At Age: 69


father: José María Falla y Franco

mother: María Jesús Matheu y Zabal

Born Country: Spain

Pianists Composers

Died on: November 14, 1946

place of death: Alta Gracia, Argentina

Cause of Death: Cardiac Arrest

Notable Alumni: Madrid Royal Conservatory

More Facts

education: Madrid Royal Conservatory

Childhood & Early Life

Manuel de Falla was born as Manuel María de los Dolores Falla y Matheu on November 23, 1876 in Cádiz, a port city located in southwestern Spain into a music-loving family. His father, José María Falla, was a Valencian businessman, while his mother, María Jesús Matheu, was from Catalonia.

He had at least one sister called María del Carmen de Falla, younger to him by five or six years. Little is known about his family background except that they were well-to-do enough to hire the service of a family maid called La Morilla. 

He later said that when he was two or three years old, he was introduced to the magic world of songs, dances and stories by La Morilla. Nonetheless, his first teachers were his mother and grandfather, who gave him his first lessons in piano.

In 1885, at the age of nine, Manuel de Falla made his first public appearance, playing with his mother an arrangement for a piano duet of the Seven Last Words. Also in the same year, he began taking piano lessons with Eloísa Galluzo, an excellent pianist, who was also his mother’s friend.

Possibly in 1889, after Galluzo decided to opt for monastic life, he began taking piano lessons with Alejandro Odero. Later, he would also study with Enrique Broca, taking lessons in harmony and counterpoint with him. However, at this stage he was more interested in literature than music.

In 1889, he co-founded with some of his friends, a handwritten literary magazine called El Burlon, which was shortly followed by another literary magazine, El Cascabel. He not only acted as their chief editor, but also as the main contributor.  Around this time, he also showed great disposition towards theater and painting.

In 1893, he attended a concert of Edvard Grieg’s composition and was so overwhelmed by it that he decided to devote his life to music.

By his late teens, he had started taking intermittent trips to Madrid, taking piano lessons with Jose Trago and studying composition with Felipe Pedrell at the Escuela Nacional de Musica y Declamacion. Shorty, he moved to the city permanently, earning his keep by giving tuitions.

Studying with Felipe Pedrell, he became interested in the Andalusian folk music, particularly the Andalusian flamenco and specifically the cante jondo. Such an interest would have a far-reaching impact in his career.

By 1896, his father’s business had begun to fail, forcing the entire family to move to Madrid, dependent upon Falla’s paltry earning for their sustention. In spite of their financial hardship, he continued to flourish musically composing Melodía for cello and piano in 1897.

In 1899, Falla graduated with highest honor and was awarded the first prize at the piano competition at his school of music by unanimous vote.  However, their financial situation continued to be grim; they were forced to pawn items of daily use for their survival. To mitigate the situation, he continued to give piano lessons.

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Early Career

In 1899, Manuel de Falla began his career, quickly earning a name for his works like Romanza para violonchelo y piano, Nocturno para piano, Melodía para violonchelo y piano, Serenata andaluza para violín y piano, and Cuarteto en Sol y Mireya.  In the same year, he started using de with his title Falla.

In 1905, he produced his first major work, an opera entitled La vida breve. Although it was not staged until April 1913 it won the first prize in Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando musical competition. In the same year, he won another first prize in a piano competition.

In 1907, Manuel de Falla moved to Paris, where he met several renowned composers, whose works left a huge influence on his style.  A royal grant awarded to him by King Alfonso XIII in the following year allowed him to remain in Paris for the next six years. He returned to Madrid as the First World War erupted in 1914.

In Paris, he finished Cuatro piezas españolas and revised La vida breve, premiering the latter in April 1913 in Nice. Meanwhile in 1911-1912, he also made a tour of London, Brussels and Milan, giving concerts at each place.

Back in Madrid

On returning to Madrid in 1914, Manuel de Falla started writing the music for El amor brujo, basing his work on Andalusian folk music, completing it by 1915.  By 1916, he arranged a rendition of the work for sextet and small orchestra and made a concert version, also for small orchestra, in 1917.

Also in 1916-17, he composed the music for Gregorio Martínez Sierra's two-scene pantomime, El corregidor y la molinera, employing, instead of classical ballet, the techniques of Spanish dance Commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev the work was premiered at Madrid's Teatro Eslava on April 6, 1917.

Some other important works of this period were Noches en los jardines de España (1915), Siete canciones populares españolas (1914) and El pan de Ronda que sabe a verdad (1915). Soon, he became internationally known, especially as a leading Spanish composer.

Later Career

In 1921, Manuel de Falla moved to Granada. Here in 1922, he organized a fiesta of flamenco arts, music, song, and dance called the Concurso de Cante Jondo. Since his aim was to encourage cante jondo, or deep song, the prizes were reserved for the amateurs even though many well-known artists participated in it.

While in Granada he also produced many outstanding pieces including a puppet opera called El retablo de Maese Pedro. Based on an episode from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the work was world premiered on 23 March 1923 in Seville, Spain, while the stage premier took place on 25 June in Paris.

In October 1923, he began working on Harpsichord Concerto, a chamber concerto written for harpsichord and chamber ensemble with Wanda Aleksandra Landowska, a noted Polish harpsichordist and pianist, in mind. However, the work progressed slowly and it was not premiered before November 1926.

Harpsichord Concerto was the last big piece that he completed in his life time. In 1926, he did begin working on another big piece, a ballet based on the Catalan poem L'Atlàntida. Unfinished at his death, it was later completed by his disciple, Ernesto Halffter and premiered in 1962.

In 1939, following Francisco Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War, Manuel de Falla moved to Argentina, where he continued work, but on a smaller scale. Other than Atlántida, his important works of this period include Soneto a Córdoba, Balada de Mallorca, Pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas, El gran teatro del mundo etc.

Major Works

Manuel de Falla is probably best remembered for his 1916 work, Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain). He had begun working on it in 1909 as a set of nocturnes for solo piano, later turning it into a piece for piano and orchestra at the request of Ricardo Viñes, completing it by 1915.

Awards & Achievements

Manuel de Falla was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium in 1935. 

He was created the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Alfonso X the Wise in 1940.

He was also a Member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and a Member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de Nuestra Señora de las Angustias.

Death & Legacy

Manuel de Falla died of cardiac arrest on 14 November 1946 in Alta Gracia, a city in the Argentine province of Córdoba. Although he had left in writing that he wanted to be buried in the Sierras de Córdoba in Argentina, his remains were brought back to Spain in 1947 and entombed in the Cádiz Cathedral.

See the events in life of Manuel De Falla in Chronological Order

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