Granados’s Oriental

“Oriental” from the Spanish Dances

After returning from Paris sometime around 1890, Granados individually published each of the 12 Spanish dances he had started composing before and during his time in France. Many composers, including Camille Saint-Saëns and Edvard Grieg, valued these dances as great compositions. The work was divided into four books with three dances each, similar to how Albéniz composed the Iberia suite.

The dances are early compositions and most of them are in ternary form. Many of them repeat thematic material. Granados did not use any recognizable Spanish tunes. However, he’d already connected with Felipe Pedrell during the time he composed these pieces, so the use of certain nationalistic elements probably resulted from Pedrell’s influence. Granados premiered some of the Spanish dances on April 20, 1890 at Barcelona’s Teatre Líric.

Jane Magrath mentions in her book that the difficulty of all the Spanish dances is 9-10. I agree with her opinion. Without a doubt, these pieces can be very tricky to perform. It is necessary to have a lot of control in the accompaniment, singing, pedal, thirds, and ornaments.

The name “Oriental” can be related to “exotic,” an element often found in nineteenth century Spanish art. The term can also be related to Andalusia due to certain chromatic tones and augmented-second intervals that create the sound and harmonies that people associate with flamenco. Andalusia is located in the south of Spain. The name is an evolution of the Arabic word “Al-Andalus” that was used when most of the Iberian Peninsula was part of the Muslim kingdom, starting in 711 CE. Muslims remained in Spain until the catholic kings expelled them during the reconquest in 1492. Moorish culture influenced Spanish music, including flamenco, which is now the most recognizable music in Andalusia. The term “flamenco,” however, was not until almost two centuries after the reconquest. Groups of Roma, also known as gypsies, moved into the area and influenced the development of flamenco during that time.

Four female flamenco dancers in traditional dresses performing flamenco dance on stage with band.
Creator: Diego Delso Copyright: CC-BY-SA 4.0

Cante jondo, or deep singing, is one of the elements of flamenco music. The origin of cante jondo is associated with chants of communities from Africa, especially Moorish chants. They later became a symbol of ethnic identity for the Roma. Although the guitar is recognized as the main instrument in the flamenco, it is often an accompaniment for the voice, creating harmonies and rhythms that help with the music.

Section A

Click here to view the score for Oriental.

“Oriental” perfectly displays the influence of the guitar and the cante jondo in flamenco. The piece uses ternary form in A-B-A. The first part, measures 1-47, starts with the accompaniment in the left hand that is similar to a typical guitar accompaniment. The right hand starts the melody with thirds, also imitating the touch of a guitar but in a solo style. The guitar duo Duo Françaix created a transcription that recreates this feeling.

Although Granados wrote a legato, a recording of the composer playing his piece supports the intention of imitating the guitar. The thirds are not legato in a typical pianistic way. It is essential to practice the independence of the fingers in the left hand, as it can be tricky to maintain the accompaniment rhythm without the proper fingerings. The trills in the right hand can be difficult. It is necessary for the left hand to avoid ritardando for the correct interpretation. The key, C minor, creates an evocative and Romantic tone that the interpretation needs to reflect.

mm. 1-10
mm. 11-20

The second part of the A theme starts with the change of the accompaniment in the left hand, where the dynamics are fundamental to help with the undulating waves in the left hand and guide the right hand to the third in measure 13. In the right hand, it is necessary to practice the fingers independently for playing thirds with equality. After this part Granados repeats the theme one octave higher. The theme repeats again before moving to section B.

In the recording of Granados playing “Oriental,” he arpeggiates the first chord (G B F D) instead of working on the big jumps. This style is used to imitate the guitar technique rasgueado. He only plays this way when there is a big arpeggio. For example, he doesn’t use this style in measure 31, despite only a slight difference in notes (B flat instead of B natural).

As previously mentioned, Granados tended to revise his pieces after playing and improvising the tunes. He did not publish these revisions, so we need to listen to his recordings (if they are available) or read comments made by his students, as he provided them with most of his ideas for his own works. Unfortunately, Granados did not write any indications on pedaling for “Oriental.” Although he wrote these dances before he became a pedagogue, we can appreciate the use of an offbeat pedal in his recording.

mm. 27-40

Section B

The B section has a different feeling from the A section. The left hand becomes the accompaniment of the guitar, and the right hand adopts the tone of a singer, similar to a cante jondo. For this purpose, Granados uses many ornamentations, accents, and syncopations to imitate flamenco singing.

In his recording, Granados highlights this sound by always playing the bass before the right hand to create the sensation that the singer is improvising over the accompaniment. This style also provides freedom of tempo and rhythm as the accompaniment always adapts to the soloist. 

Granados changes his legato to a more pianistic approach, achieving an expressive sound characteristic of the imitation of the voice. This sound is recognizable in other later works such as Goyescas.

As previously stated, he did not indicate any pedal markings in this section. I think he uses the slow pedal that he mentions in his treatise due to the use of tempo Lento assai. Granados also changes the pedal depending on the harmony or the embellishments of the right hand.  In both times that the octave G appears (the first time in measure 53), he always arpeggiates to give more importance to the accent on the top. 

In order to be able to play this pedal, he works on a legato in the left hand to make sure that everything is connected. If the student is not capable of playing legato in the left hand to connect the sound on the big jumps, I suggest using a little bit of pedal to ensure that there is not a gap in the accompaniment. 

mm. 48-54
mm. 48-54

Curiously, Granados adds ornamentation and styles that he didn’t write and omitted a part in the recapitulation in his recording. Did he have a memory lapse?

In short, this piece is a great introduction to the vocal sound that Granados requires in some of his most complicated pieces. It’s also a great introduction to the imitation of the guitar and the history of Spain and Spanish music.