El Amor Brujo

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El Amor Brujo

Manuel de Falla 
Born November 23, 1876 in Cádiz, Spain
Died November 14, 1946 in Alta Gracia, Argentina

By Marianne Williams Tobias
The Marianne Williams Tobias Program Note Annotator Chair


Manuel De Falla was one of Spain’s most influential and defining composers. He truly fulfilled Ralph Vaughn Williams’ dictum that “The composer must love the tunes of his country and they must become an integral part of him.” De Falla stuffed his works with the sounds, rhythms, folksongs, and folk-like melodies of Spain. But, he cautioned that in this process “You must go really deep so as not to make any caricature.  You must go to the natural living sources, study the sounds, the rhythms, use their essence, not their externals.” He was determined that the Spanish musical voice needed a broad forum, and that his music could and would provide that. He stated, “It has been occasionally asserted that we have no traditions. But in our dance and our rhythm we possess the strongest traditions that none can obliterate. We have the ancient modes which, by virtue of their extraordinary inherent freedom, we can use as inspiration dictates.” What he said indicated not only national pride, but conviction in musical authenticity and potential.

An opportunity to do just that came when the gypsy dancer and singer, Pastora Imperio asked him to collaborate with the poet Gregorio Sierra to create a song and dance for her. The composer was engaged. He listened carefully to the songs sung by the dancer’s mother, Rosario de la Mejorana, and Sierra, who provided a story from old gypsy tales. The outcome at first was a rather small “song and dance” which grew into a chamber ballet. The ballet premiered at the Teatro Lara of Madrid on April 15, 1915. Acclaim came mainly from gypsies in the audience, not from the Spanish constituency in general. An expanded version emerging in 1927 was a far greater success, saving the music from a languishing destiny.

El Amor Brujo (Love, the Sorcerer) is a ballet-pantomime in one act based on a story concerned with love, death, exorcism, and release. The story concerns two gypsies, the sensual Candela and the handsome Carmelo. The ghost of Candela’s first husband haunts their love affair. Candela, knowing her husband’s infidelities, entices her friend, Lucia to flirt with the ghost and distract him from her new love affair. Lucia is successful, and Candela and Carmelo proceed to have a fulfilled relationship. 

In the original setting El Amor Brujo has twelve parts, three using a contralto voice. Different conductors often use a horn rather than a singer, though these performances will feature Ms. Rearick. The parts are as follows:

Introduction and Scene: wild, furious beginning symbolizes the rage of the jealous ghost.

At the Gypsies (The Evening): colorful music from the gypsy world, featuring an oboe solo forecasting Candela’s forthcoming song.  This tune will appear throughout the ballet, emerging finally in a strong and optimistic setting.

Songs of Love’s Sorrow: a sensual love song.

The Ghost: a muted horn represents the arrival of the dead husband.

Dance of Terror: Candela recalls the terror of living with a man she did not love, who was quite cruel to her, and fears that he may return because she is not sure he is securely dead.

The Magic Circle (The Fisherman’s Story): a calming interlude

Ritual Fire Dance: The most famous section of the ballet.  Candela dances an exorcism to rid herself of the ghost and its powers.

Scene: a brief interlude with the ghost flitting about.

Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp: a song about the vanishing nature of love.

Pantomime: features a marvelous cello solo, representing the gentle new lover, Carmelo.

Dance of the Game of Love: the contrived flirtation scene of Candela’s former husband and Lucia.

Final (The Bells of Daybreak): a celebratory conclusion. Carmelo and Candela are now free to enjoy the bliss and happiness their love has promised.

El Amor Brujo and the suite derived from the ballet were stunning ambassadors to the world for the best of Spanish musical expression, freed from the grafting of extensive European influences. Its DNA is precisely Spanish. At times fiery, at times soulful, and at all times passionate, this music speaks perfectly to its home country and its identity. 

The last ISO performance of El Amor Brujo was in February 2005, conducted by Maximiano Valdes. 

 © Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016

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