Falla and the Guitar (main instrument) - man playing a Spanish guitar

Falla and the Guitar

Portrait of composer Manuel de Falla seated in front of books

Falla and the Guitar

The Importance of the Guitar

Falla considered the guitar the main Spanish instrument because of its important role in the history of Spanish music and music in general. In his archives there are various drafts of the preface that he wrote for Emilio Pujol’s method for guitar. Falla affirms that the guitar is the most complete string instrument due to the possibilities of harmonic and polyphonic playing. He also mentioned how Spanish composers such as Soler, Granados, Albéniz, and Turina display the influence of this instrument in their compositions.

In another draft, Falla defines the guitar as the synthesis of Spanish music for various reasons:

  • The Latin guitar and the use of strumming or rasgueo
  • The disappearance of the vihuela and the replacement by the guitar
  • Recovery of classical music for laud and vihuel
  • Establishment of the guitar as “our most truly national instrument”
  • Guitar influence as a transmitter of Hispanic instrumental values in international music since the 18th century

In general, the guitar was not considered a concert instrument for large concert halls. This notion was partially due to the instrument’s lack of power. Unfortunately, many people in Spain did not believe that Romani music was an integral part of the Spanish cultural landscape. In large part due to the efforts of eminent guitarist Andrés Segovia, the guitar moved from the bars to the concert halls, providing the instrument prestige.

Falla and the Guitar (main instrument) - Image of Spanish opera hall with red chairs, ornate columns, glass ceiling, organ, and piano.

Values of the Guitar

In a publication written on cante jondo by Falla but published anonymously, Falla defended the idea that the popular guitar represented two important musical values. First, the rhythmic value and second, the purely tonal-harmonic value. The use of the guitar during the cante jondo is defined by Falla as toque jondo (deep touch). Falla differentiated between the Castilian guitar, also called Spanish Latin guitar, and the Moorish guitar. The Moorish guitar is considered a melodic instrument and it is normally plucked. The Castilian way of playing the Latin guitar is to strum, making it more of a harmonic instrument, producing mostly chords. The last phrase of this publication represents Falla’s vision of the guitar and the cante jondo. “Many will say that those chords are barbarian. We affirm instead, that they are a marvelous revelation of unsuspected possibilities of sounds.”

Falla did not only study the history of the guitar, but also studied scores for guitar. Most were transcriptions of popular music and flamenco pieces. The one that is most annotated is Aires andaluces by Rafael Marín. This transcript contains examples of different flamenco rhythms. Falla annotated different ideas on rhythm, such as cadences, and figurations. He also took a similar approach to the scores of other guitar pieces by Julián Arcas, Francisco Cimadevilla, and Francisco Rodríguez “El Murciano.”

Example of the Spanish guitar.
Example of the Moorish guitar.

From Guitar to Piano

The guitarists’ forms of arpeggiation captivated Falla. He provided ideas on how to imitate this sound at the piano. He also used the technique of creating a figuration with the thumb over a chord, creating interesting dissonances, as expressed in the different types of rasgueos.

Falla was fascinated with the way musician Claude Debussy understood Spanish music. Debussy was able to create great compositions of Spanish music despite having visited Spain only once. In words of the Spanish composer, Debussy portrayed certain harmonic effects that are characteristic of Spanish music. These characteristics, produced naturally in Andalusia due to the use of the guitar, were not appreciated by Spanish composers because such harmonies were considered barbaric.

This lack of appreciation is certainly one of the main reasons why Falla created a new work originally composed for solo guitar after Debussy’s death. He later transcribed it for piano. However, this is not the only piece in which he portrays the guitar on the piano. Other examples are found in Noches en los jardines de España and Fantasía Baetica.