About this work
The Romantic-era pianist and composer Isaac Albéniz was a restless soul who was one of the first to develop internationally famous, modern concert music adopting authentic Spanish elements, affecting all that came after him. His greatest masterpiece is the very large piano cycle Iberia (1905), a piece whose title makes clear its intention to depict all the regions of Spain in its 12 movements. Cantos de España, a five piece set in very similar style from around 1896, has the same sort of color and virtuosity as the more famous Iberia. In 1918, some of it was added by his publishers to a new edition of his 1886 work Suite española, Op. 47.
Cantos de España (Songs of Spain) was compiled from various piano pieces that Albéniz had written or refurbished in a few years previously. The opening movement, called here "Preludio," is one of the works that is also found in the final published movement of Suite española, where it is the fifth piece and is retitled "Asturias." It has been pointed out that this is not a very appropriate title, as the music is Andalusian in spirit rather than Asturian. This is a fine example of Albéniz adopting the sound of the guitar in the left hand of the piano texture. The second movement is called "Oriental" and is designed to reflect the Moorish influence in Spanish arts and architecture. In common with a lot of Albéniz' music, it is popular in guitar transcriptions. (Albéniz actually composed nothing for guitar.) The third movement is "Baja la palmera," or "Under the Palm Tree." It is a simple and irresistible song. In this case, Albéniz himself went back to the original version of Suite española and adapted this music from that work's original fourth movement (the eighth movement in the final published version), where it is called "Cuba." The fourth movement, "Cordoba," is one of the composer's most famous pieces, a majestic portrait of the city in the form of an Andalusian dance. It is also played as an individual concert piece and is, again, one frequently found in transcription form. The finale and shortest piece in the suite is a "Seguidillas," another popular excerpt. The infectious rhythm of this dance makes it a dynamic conclusion; it is also present in the Suite española, where it is the penultimate movement, "Castillas."