When Spain meets France
Spain is a European country. Unlike other nations in Western Europe such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, it is on the periphery and separated from the African continent only by a strip of water. Moreover, Spain was once, for seven hundred years, ruled by the Moors, a group of Muslims from the North Africa, so it has been deeply influenced by Muslim culture. When you travel there, don't be confused by the wide variety of architectural styles. After the Catholic Monarchs replaced the Moors as rulers, Spain rose to power rapidly and the country gradually entered its most glorious period. Over the next two to three hundred years, Spain sponsored innumerable explorers to find new trade routes for the country (the most famous was Christopher Columbus) and established overseas colonies to exploit resources from the New World. In the seventeenth century, its superior status was finally lost to the emerging sea power – the Britain.
The development of Spanish music during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was mainly facilitated by the import of different musical styles from other European countries with a rich musical background. The sixteenth century is generally regarded as the first golden age of Spanish music, during which religious fervour fuelled a huge number of religious works. According to historical documents, over fifty composers were working for the Vatican at that time.
After over 300 years of stagnation, Spanish music had its second spring towards the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, many young composers and musicians became famous both at home and aboard. The most representative figure was probably Manuel de Falla, famous for his 'nationalistic' themes. He was born in 1876 in Cadiz, a city in southwestern Spain. The city had been ruled by the Moors for five hundred years during the Middle Ages and so had retained deep Muslim culture. Growing up there, Falla had naturally been deeply influenced by this culture. He later moved to Madrid and studied at a music college there. During his seven-year stay in Paris from 1907 to 1914, Falla met many local musicians, like the impressionist master Claude Debussy, as well as Maurice Ravel and the young Igor Stravinsky. Their composing styles influenced him greatly. But of course, the appearance of Falla also widened the vision of these musicians greatly and inspired them to compose music with a distinctive Spanish character.
While living in Paris, Falla wrote a Nocturne for piano which won him critical acclaim among his peers. At their suggestion, he expanded it into a three-movement piece movements for piano and orchestra. After the news broke, Parisians eagerly awaited the debut of this Nights in the Gardens of Spain . Unfortunately, the work had not been completed even by the time Falla returned to Spain. Some experts believed that Falla got the last inspiration from a chance visit to an art exhibition featuring various gardens in Spain, and was then able to complete the whole piece. But some academics did not agree with this theory and claimed that a poetry collection written by the French poet F. Jammes was the source of inspiration. No matter who is correct, it is evident that Nights in the Gardens of Spain represents the considerable influence of both Spanish and French musical styles. The elements of this work, like its scales and rhythms, follow the musical styles of Spanish national music, while the orchestration of the whole piece reminds us of French impressionism. When you listen to this work, do pay attention to its overall timbre effects besides the melodies and the feelings they arouse.