Black and white drawing of dancers performing a Soka Dantza to a zortzico in Elorrio, Bizkaia  Soka Dantza in Elorrio, Bizkaia. Drawing. 

Albéniz’s Zortzico

Portrait of composer Isaac Albeniz with pipe sitting at piano

Basque Zortzico

Issac Albéniz’s zortzico is an interesting interpretation of the traditional composition. His background impacted his musical style. Albéniz’s father was Basque, and the composer used his father’s heritage for promotional purposes. Every time he performed in that part of Spain the newspapers mentioned his Basque roots, presenting him as one of their own. 

During his life Albéniz wrote two zortzicos. The first was an independent composition in 1870; it is in E minor and is not played often. The second one, composed in 1890, was one of the pieces in the composition España op.165 in E Major. I will explore the first of these two compositions.

First Part: Instrumentals

Click here to view the score for Zortzico.

imitates the tamboril with the constant use of dotted eighth notes. Meanwhile, the right hand has more freedom to imitate the melodic line of the txistu. Using this form, the pianist can perform the same job as thetxistulari, the flutist. The sound of the txistu is imitated in the piece with the use of grace notes, a typical style of playing the flute.

mm. 11-12

While the drums are portrayed with the repetition of a pedal note by the left hand, sometimes the bass holds a longer note. In this case there are two pedal notes, one in the tonic and other in the dominant. In my opinion this portrayal exemplifies the occasional use of a bigger tambor by a drummer in the zortzico, apart from the txistulari that keeps the rhythm. Another example of the imitation of the drum in the left hand is shown below.

Music score composed by Albéniz: zortzico mm. 5-6
mm. 5-6
Music score composed by Albéniz: zortzico mm. 33-36
mm. 33-36

Albéniz stays true to tradition by using eight measures to form each of the musical phrases. This musical piece has two different parts that are well differentiated. The first part of this piece clearly references the instrumental zortzico by using the 5/8-time signature. It has a perpetual motion with a clearly marked accent in the second and fourth dotted eighth notes.

Music score composed by Albéniz: zortzico mm. 1-4
mm. 1-4

Second Part: Voice

The second part starts when the time signature in the right hand changes to 2/4 while the left hand keeps the 5/8 time. The piece becomes more reminiscent of the vocal zortzico. Depending on the edition, some markings reference singing in this part (bien chanté). The double symbol of the crescendo remarks it, differentiating the right hand and the left hand.

Music score composed by Albéniz: zortzico mm. 56-61
mm. 56-61

After some time developing this instrumental part the tempo changes again to recreate another vocal section with some jumps. This time the right hand imitates the cThe constant changes between the time signatures in the right hand reflect the freedom that Albéniz tries to recreate for the voice. This imitation is especially noticeable in the triplet of quarter notes against the dotted eight notes in the left hand. The end of the phrase is marked ritardando.

Music score composed by Albéniz: zortzico mm. 139-144
mm. 139-144

Third Part: Instrumentals

The third part returns to the A section, finishing with the instrumental part.

The technique in this piece does not require the pianist to stretch more than an octave. Only at the end does the music reach to a 9th before finishing in an octave; this would be possible to arpeggiate if necessary. Albéniz did not have big hands himself. In the words of the Spanish cellist Pau Casals, “His hands, which were rather small, had an astonishing strength and suppleness.”