Falla’s Homage

Composing “Homage to Debussy”

Writing “Homage”

Manuel de Falla composed “Homage to Debussy” in 1920, originally writing for the guitar. The musical piece has been published with under various titles, including “Homage to Debussy,” “Homaja pour Guitare” and “Homenaje para Debussy.” This piece is one of the most accessible for piano students but has some challenges. These include rhythm, adequate tempo freedom, and imitating the sound of the guitar.

 La Revue Musicale commissioned different pieces in homage to Claude Debussy after his death. Among these renowned composers who contributed to the project for the musical magazine were Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Paul Dukas, and Béla Bartók. During the time Falla composed “Homage to Debussy,” he wrote an essay titled “Claude Debussy et l’Espagne.” In this essay, he explored the influence of Spain and music on Debussy’s “La soirée dans Grenade.” Notably, Falla used quotation from Debussy’s composition at the end of “Homage.”Falla also explored the ornamentation and cadential forms associated with flamenco, even though the piece wasn’t inspired by the toque jondo. Rather, it was influenced by Debussy’s perception of Spanish music. Falla imitated the harmonic structures of Debussy, including structures like “parallelism and quartal harmonies.”

Composing for the Guitar

One person who asked Falla to compose for guitar was Miguel Llobet (1878-1938), a Spanish guitarist. He was a student of Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909) and later became the professor of the renowned guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893-1987). Llobet insisted on many occasions that Falla should compose specifically for the guitar. He’d already adapted several of Falla’s piano compositions, which ultimately led to his encouragement for Falla to compose guitar-focused works.

In fact, many guitarists asked Falla to compose pieces for the guitar before this commission, but he refused. After Debussy’s death, Falla found it an appropriate time to compose for this instrument. Debussy’s style of composing Spanish music and its strong connection to the guitar may have also influenced Falla’s decision. It is interesting that he composed this piece around the same time he worked on “Fantasía Baetica.” Together these works provide a complete vision of Falla’s ideas about the guitar and how he translated them into an original transcription for the piano.

During this time, most of the repertoire for guitar by Spanish composers was based on transcriptions made by the performers themselves. Spanish guitarists began to request the foremost composers to write directly for the instrument. This contributed to the expansion and development of the guitar repertoire. However, on the occasions that various Spanish composers attempted to write for guitar, the guitarists had to correct the compositions. These composers did not know how to use the appropriate musical language for the instrument.

Debut

Falla created three different versions of his tribute: the original for the guitar, and two adaptations—one for the piano and another for the orchestra. In these adaptations, he did not write with the piano or orchestra in mind. Instead, he based his adaptations on the intent of replicating the sound of the guitar.

Immediately after completing “Homage to Debussy,” Falla sent it to Llobet for review to ensure the piece was well-written. He then submitted it to the magazine for publication. Llobet debuted the guitar version in Burgos on February 13, 1921. However, the real premiere of the piece was performed by Marie-Louise Casadesus on a harp lute on January 24 of the same year in Paris, France. The unusual choice of instrument occurred because a guitarist was unavailable for the scheduled presentation by the sponsoring institution. Despite having already composed a piano version, Falla insisted on a premiere with an instrument that had more in common with the guitar.

According to Falla, many guitarists performed “Homage to Debussy,” but few managed to capture the atmosphere envisioned by Llobet. Falla and Llobet collaborated to create a concert program for the guitarist, with “Homage set as the last piece.  Two transcriptions of El amor brujo: “Romance del Pescador” and “Canción del fuego fatuo”preceded “Homage.”


Variations

Click here to view the score for “Homage to Debussy.”

Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 1-2 ex.1
mm. 1-2
Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 1-2 ex. 2
mm. 1-2

Falla created a special marking for “Homage” that appears for both the guitar and the piano versions. The example above shows an “x” in some of the notes. According to Falla’s instructions at the end of the first page, these notes should be accented and slightly held. This marking helps create the sensation of freedom in the tempo. The performer is allowed the space to find their expression to portray the homage. For this reason, there are numerous recordings of the piece with varying durations, reflecting the interpretative latitude offered by this notation.

Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy

These examples also demonstrate a difference in the dynamic markings found in different editions. In the original manuscript, Falla wrote “mezzo forte” to evoke an intimate sound. In this specific version for guitar, it is marked as “forte. The issue of discrepancies between markings and nots in the manuscript and Chester editions is not unique to “Homage.” They also occur in “Fantasia Baetica.”

For the Guitar

As previously mentioned, Falla conceived this piece for guitar. Even in the piano transcription, he maintained the distinctive musical language of the original instrument. An example of the guitar style is the use of open strings and the imitation in the piano:

Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy open strings in the guitar (E,B,G,D,A,E)
Open strings in the guitar (E,B,G,D,A,E)
Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy - Falla imitating the open strings, modifying G and D for A and F (m.3)
Falla imitating the open strings, modifying G and D for A and F (m.3)

Another example of the style is the fast notes going down and up, with a decrescendo and crescendo finishing in a staccato, imitating the arpeggiation in the guitar.

Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy - mm.4
mm. 4
Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy - m.4 piano version
m.4, piano version

Falla employs the use of big chords in the guitar, a typical style for the instrument. He also uses harmonics on the guitar to differentiate the chords (marked in the score as harm. 12 in m. 30 and harm. 5 in m. 31).

Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 27-32 (27-31)
mm. 27-32
Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 27-32 (31-32)

For the Piano

In the piano version, Falla recreates the big chords of the guitar. He occasionally added a grace note to the bass (m. 28) to imitate the natural arpeggiation of the guitar for the big chords. There are no markings in the score for the harmonization in the last chords of mm. 30 and 31. However, Falla tried to supply this lack of harmonics in the piano by adding two repeated notes of the chord (B and E) in a higher octave than the guitar (as the guitar is written an octave above how it sounds). 

Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 27-32
mm. 27-32

Towards the end of the piece, Falla directly quotes Claude Debussy’s “La Soirée dans Grenade” from Estampes L. 100.

Music score by Debussy: La Soirée dans Grenade mm. 17-20
mm. 17-20
Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 63-66
mm. 63-66
Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 63-66 (63-65)
Music score composed by Falla: Homage to Debussy mm. 63-66 (66)
mm. 63-66

In the manuscript for piano by Falla, there is an added G-sharp grace note marked in the piano version (mm. 63 and 65) to imitate the octave marked in the guitar. The small writing can be confusing. For example, in measure 65 of the manuscript, the grace note could be mistaken as F-sharp, A-sharp, or C-sharp. This confusion is due to how the lines down the staff are written; and because the location of the pp moves the sharp and the note higher from the G.

The quotation and the imitation of the guitar idioms was not the only inspiration that Falla took from Debussy. The rhythm for Debussy’s piece is marked as “Mouvement de Habanera,” or movement in the rhythm of Havana. Falla used the habanera rhythm in his “Homage” since he considered this type of rhythm a form of “Andalusian tango.”