Musical comrades: The friendship between Manuel de Falla and Florent Schmitt (1907-31).

Manuel de Falla statue Alta Gracia Cordoba Argentina

This bust of Manuel de Falla y Matheu (1876-1946) stands on the grounds of the composer’s final residence in Alta Gracia, Córdoba province, Argentina. (Photo: Javier Oviedo, August 2023)

Throughout nearly all of Florent Schmitt’s long career as a composer, he was at the heart of artistic life in Paris. Not only was he well-acquainted with all the notable French composers, writers and painters of the day, he was quick to make friends with numerous composers from foreign lands who  made the artistic pilgrimage to Paris in the early years of the twentieth century.

Igor Stravinsky Florent Schmitt

Igor Stravinsky and Florent Schmitt, photographed in about 1910.

Among the most notable of these musical expatriates were Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Heitor Villa-LobosIgor Stravinsky, Georges Enescu and Alfredo Casella.

To this musical “Who’s Who” we can also add Manuel de Falla, the Spanish-born composer who arrived in Paris in 1907, thanks to a grant from the Spanish government arranged for by the famed Spanish composer (and then-French resident) Isaac Albéniz.

Manuel de Falla in Paris

A photograph of Manuel de Falla, taken in Paris during the time he was a resident there. The city was Falla’s home from 1907 until the outbreak of World War I in late 1914.

Paris is where Falla would live for the next seven years, departing only upon the outbreak of World War I. Those years were consequential ones for the young Spanish composer, who was 31 years old when he arrived in the city. Although Falla had already created a number of compositions prior to his move to Paris, only two of them were significant enough to have been published.

As it turned out, Falla’s time in Paris was one of tremendous artistic growth – a period during which he would develop his mature compositional style.

Unlike some of the more outgoing and gregarious “expat” composers living in Paris during those times – the aforementioned ones in particular – Falla was a more introverted character who was described in 1910 by the French music critic and impresario G. Jean-Aubry as “a nervous little man … at once resolute and thoughtful, eager and uncommunicative.”

Ricardo Vines photograph inscribed to Manuel de Falla 1913

This photograph of the Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943) was inscribed to Manuel de Falla in 1913. As a fellow Spanish-born musician who was nearly the same age, Viñes was instrumental in introducing Falla to many Parisian composers, artists and writers in the years leading up to World War I. He also played the premiere performances of Falla’s Pièces espagnoles and Nocturnes (Nights in the Gardens of Spain). In addition to being a noted piano talent, Viñes was a respected teacher; among his best-known students were Marcelle Meyer, Joaquín Nin-Culmell and Francis Poulenc. (Photo: Archivo Manuel de Falla)

No matter, as it turned out. When introduced to artistic Paris by his fellow-countryman, the pianist Ricardo Viñes, it didn’t take long for Falla’s raw musical talent to be recognized. Any sort of awkward social shyness on the part of Falla mattered little.

From historical notes and correspondence as investigated by Christopher Guy Collins in preparation of his 2002 dissertation “Manuel de Falla and his European Contemporaries: Encounters, Relationships and Influences,” it appears that the young Spanish composer met both Maurice Ravel and Florent Schmitt within a few days of moving to the French capital — and those two composers would be among Falla’s closest professional acquaintances during his years in Paris.

Christopher Guy Collins

Musicologist and conductor Christopher Guy Collins is director of the School of Languages, Literature, Music and Visual Culture at the University of Aberdeen. He is an authority on the life and work of Manuel de Falla.

Collins writes of the significance of these relationships as follows:

“Manuel de Falla was the only Spanish composer of his generation whose music was – and is – widely performance and admired outside his own country. The universal acceptance of his work is due in no small part to the cosmopolitan elements of his musical language – elements which developed as a result of his wide experience of music by contemporary composers of other nationalities.”

… And composers in Paris would prove to the most important of those outside influences.

Maurice Ravel, French composer

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

In the case of Maurice Ravel, one can easily understand the keen interest that Ravel took in his counterpart from Spain. The two composers were nearly the same age, born just a year apart, and Ravel’s heritage was Basque as well as French. Always partial to Spanish musical idioms, Ravel was already working on both Rapsodie espagnole and L’Heure espagnole at the time he met Falla.

As for Florent Schmitt, Ricardo Viñes’ diaries reveal that Falla was very partial to Schmitt’s piano compositions; Schmitt had inscribed to Falla several scores of his piano music, including the second book of Musiques intimes and Nuits romaines, both composed several years prior to Falla’s arrival in Paris.

Such a “deep dive” headfirst into the artistic milieu of Paris could well have been a little overwhelming to a naturally reticent personality such as Falla’s – but instead it seems to have brought out the best in him. In a 1907 letter he wrote to the Spanish painter Salvador Viniegra, the young composer excitedly described who he had already met since arriving in the city mere weeks before:

Isaac Albeniz Spanish composer

Isaac Albéniz (1864-1909) with Felipe Pedrell is considered the founder of the modern Spanish school of composition. Best-known for his piano music, Albéniz later branched into opera. From the 1890s onward he lived in London and France, where he encouraged younger Spanish musicians and assisted in funding their development. Albéniz’s untimely death at the age of just 48 — followed several years later by the tragic loss at sea of Enrique Granados during World War I — suddenly thrust younger Spanish composers like Manuel de Falla into the spotlight.

“The way they’ve received me here has been beyond my wildest dreams … I had Paul Dukas listen to my work … I’d never imagined the effect of doing so. Then the same thing happened to me with Albéniz, who’s very famous here; with Maurice Ravel; with Florent Schmitt; with Ricardo Viñes, our compatriot; with Nin; with [Dimitri] Calvocoressi, and with the librettist of Massenet’s Werther, who wants to premiere [La vida breve] here next season.”

Establishing such valuable contacts with the “up-and-comers” of musical Paris, it was only a matter of time before Falla would be inducted into the circle of artists that made up Les Apaches, the renegade group of composers, musicians, artists and literary figures representing every aspect of the avant garde in Paris in those days.

Reunion de musiciens chez les Godebski Georges d'Espagnat 1910

Les Apaches, pictured in Georges d’Espagnat’s painting of 1910 titled Réunion de musiciens chez les Godebski. Florent Schmitt stands at far left, Ricardo Viñes plays the piano, and Maurice Ravel is at far right. The painting is on exhibit at the Paris Opéra Library-Museum.

Georges d’Espagnat’s famous 1910 painting of a gathering at the home of Cipa Godebski may not show Falla in the company of his fellow Apaches Schmitt, Ravel, Roussel and others, but contemporaneous written accounts make it clear that he was present at many such gatherings during his years in Paris. Numerous Apache meetings were held at the home of Maurice Delage located in an industrial section on the outskirts of Paris – events that were fondly remembered by Falla years later.

G. Jean-Aubry ca. 1916

G. Jean-Aubry (Jean-Frédéric-Émile Aubry), French music critic, author, impresario and translator (1882-1950). (Photo ca. 1916)

The untimely death of Isaac Albéniz in 1909 served as a catalyst that suddenly thrust Falla even further into the spotlight. As G. Jean-Aubry wrote in an article published in The Musical Times (London) on April 1, 1917:

“On October 30, 1910, the desire to pay pious homage to Albéniz having induced me to promote the first concert of modern Spanish music ever given in France, Falla came to accompany some of his own songs and play his Pièces espagnoles; and it was in the course of the following spring that I succeeded in bringing him to London. At that time we became fast friends, and the friendship brought me true relief from the loss of Albéniz and the great expectations for the modern Spanish School. 

At that time, Falla lived simply, unobtrusively, working unheeded, faithful to a few friends – for whom he was ever-ready to cross the whole of Paris to meet them at a station, or so see them off if they merely came through.”

Florent Schmitt SNdM poster March 27 1909 Salle Erard

The 362nd concert of the Société nationale de musique featured the premiere performance of Manuel de Falla’s Pièces espagnoles, played by  pianist Ricardo Viñes. Florent Schmitt’s monumental Piano Quintet (1902-08) was also on the program. The concert was held at the Salle Érard on March 27, 1909.

As for the music of the composers that Falla encountered during his years in Paris, the scores were all new to him; no pre-1908 concert programs housed at the Falla Archive include pieces by any of them, and none of the scores by these composers in Falla’s personal music library appear to have been obtained before that date. But once ensconced in Paris, Falla was quick to soak up all that he could in terms of the creative output of his contemporaries.

Judging from the evidence (programs from concerts attended by Falla as well as references in his own correspondence), between 1908 and 1914 he experienced concert or theatre performances of at least nine pieces by Ravel, six by Schmitt, two by Delage, and one each by Séverac, Roussel, Inghelbrecht, Caplet and Ladmirault … and there are likely many more beyond these.

[The Florent Schmitt compositions we know that Falla saw performed included Soirs, Chansons à quatre voix, Psaume XLVII, La Tragédie de Salomé, Une semaine du petit-elfe Ferme-l’oeil and the Piano Quintet.]

Florent Schmitt

Florent Schmitt as a French soldier during World War I. Garrisoned at Toul (where he served alongside the noted harp player Carlos Salzedo), Schmitt would later refer to his service as “two less-than-amusing years of militarism.”

Falla’s seven-year sojourn in Paris would come to an abrupt end with the outbreak of World War I. As most of his Parisian friends departed for the front lines – including Schmitt to the garrison at Toul and Ravel to work as an ambulance driver – Falla bid a fond adieu and returned to Spain. While he would travel to Paris on various occasions during the 1920s and 1930s, it was never for more than a few days or weeks at a time.

But Falla took his passion for contemporary French music with him back to his home country. As G. Jean-Aubry has written:

“He was one of the first to spread in Spain a curiosity and taste for modern French music, including in his concerts the latest French musical productions.”

Florent Schmitt Quatre lieds score cover Chapelier

A vintage copy of the score to Florent Schmitt’s Quatre lieds, set to the words of poets Jean Richepin, Catulle Blée and Maurice Maeterlinck. Composed in 1913, the music was published by S. Chapelier (Editions Philippo).

For instance, during the war years Falla accompanied French mélodies on the piano — among them selections from Schmitt’s Quatre lieds, composed in 1913 as well as Demande from 1901 – and also presented a range of French music for solo piano in recital, including selections from Schmitt’s Musiques intimes (dating from 1904) and Nuits romaines (from 1901).

Manuel de Falla Vida breve set decor Paris Opera-comique 1914

The décor for the Paris Opéra-Comique’s production of Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve, mounted in January 1914. This image appeared in the February 1914 issue of Musica magazine.

It was a two-way street; Paris was hospitable to Falla’s musical output as well. Indeed, Falla had scored a coup with the successful staging of his La vida breve in 1914 — first in Nice and later at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. In this and in three significant works that he would complete shortly after his return to Spain — El amor brujo, Nights in the Gardens of Spain (originally titled Nocturnes) for piano and orchestra, and the ballet The Three-Cornered Hat (originally titled The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife) — Falla demonstrated how he could successfully incorporate musical influences absorbed during his time in Paris, even as he developed his own personal style that was true to the Spanish idiom.

La Vida Breve de Falla score inside front cover page

The inside front cover page of Manuel de Falla’s score to La vida breve, inscribed by the composer. While several earlier works of Falla were published by Durand, Eschig would become the composer’s main publisher from 1913 onwards.

One could say that what Falla gleaned most from French influences was an admirable sense of proportion and the absence of superfluous phrases — along with qualities of orchestration that reveal themselves to maximum effect via a minimum of means. Christopher Collins states as much in the conclusion of his dissertation, writing about these French influences:

“The greatest significance that the work of these composers held for Falla was not so much that he was influenced by it, but rather that he identified with it …

Collins goes on to summarize Falla’s feelings about Florent Schmitt’s music as follows:

“In Falla’s 1916 article Introducion a la música nueva, Schmitt is grouped with none other than Dukas, and the work of both is described as ‘admirable.’ 

In another article written the same year, there is a hint that his admiration withstood their significant aesthetic differences:  ‘How can we forget Florent Schmitt, who by the force of his wild will drew the unanimous admiration of spirits separated from him by the most opposed tendencies?’”

During World War I and in the years following, Falla would keep up a regular correspondence with his Parisian friends — particularly his fellow-Apaches. Letters and postcards that survive include those to and from Ravel, Schmitt, Roussel, Émile Vuillermoz and the Godebski family, among others.

Manuel de Falla Leonid Massine 1917 Granada Spain

This photograph of Manuel de Falla (l.) with dancer and choreographer Leonide Massine was taken at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain in 1917. At the time, Massine was working with Falla on the creation of the ballet The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife (The Three-Cornered Hat) which would be premiered later in the year by the Ballet Russes in London, followed by Paris. The production also featured sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso.

In his correspondence with Falla, Schmitt reveals his keen interest in Falla’s recent works including El amor brujo and the Nocturnes, the latter of which received its Paris premiere in January 1920. Schmitt may have attended the Ballets Russes London premiere of The Three-Cornered Hat and definitely attended several additional performances of the ballet during its second run in Paris (Diaghilev’s company had commissioned the work). In a witty exchange that’s quite typical of Florent Schmitt, the composer wrote of Falla’s new address after his move to Granada, “Are you now the curator of the Alhambra?”

Falla Three-Cornered Hat costume designs Picasso

This poster announcing the Ballet Russes’ 1919-20 premiere production of Manuel de Falla’a ballet The Three-Cornered Hat features costume designs created by Pablo Picasso.

From the surviving correspondence we can deduce that Schmitt and Falla visited each other during Falla’s visits to Paris in 1920, 1923, 1930 and 1931 at least. Moreover, the correspondence between the two men was characterized by a personal familiarity that was rare for Falla. As Collins notes:

[A June 19, 1923 letter is] the first of several in which Schmitt addresses Falla by [his] first name (a custom which is extremely rare in Falla’s correspondence, and, as far as the Apaches are concerned, unique to Schmitt); Falla returned the courtesy in his next two letters.”

Manuel de Falla biography Alexis Roland-Manuel 1930

This biography of Manuel de Falla, authored in 1930 by Alexis Roland-Manuel, was the first biography of the composer written in the French language.

The final batch of surviving correspondence between the two composers dates from 1931, and concerns Falla’s request for Schmitt to be his patron for Falla’s nomination to become an associate member of the Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique (SACEM). Regarding this request, Collins writes:

“It is not certain why Falla chose Schmitt (above his many other Parisian acquaintances) to perform this duty: the most eminent French composer among his friends was certainly Ravel (though Schmitt probably held second place) … [one] possibility is that Falla encountered Schmitt – but not Ravel – during his stay in Paris in May-June 1930, and so felt more inclined toward the former when it came to asking favors … a further possibility is that Falla was simply closer to Schmitt than to Ravel … ”

Manuel de Falla early 1920s

Manuel de Falla (early 1920s photo)

Falla would consider Granada his home city from 1921 to 1939, while also visiting Barcelona and the Catalan province frequently. Those experiences provided further inspiration and influences on the composer, but we can also see that Falla became noticeably less productive after his initial postwar flurry of creative activity. (In fact, the composer’s last work, the large-scale orchestral cantata L’Atlántida, was left unfinished at the time of his death and was completed posthumously by Ernesto Halffter.)

Wanda Landowska harpsichord

Wanda Landowska (1879-1959), photographed at the harpsichord in 1937.

This isn’t to suggest that Falla’s output ceased completely, as happened with Jean Sibelius in the decades before the Finnish composer’s death. Several notable works by Falla from the 1920s include El retablo de maese Petro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show) as well as the Harpsichord Concerto, written for the Polish-born, Paris-based harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. Additionally, his suite Homenajes (Tributes) was premiered in Buenos Aires in 1939. But there was little other new material that came from the composer’s pen.

Manuel de Falla Festival Barcelona 1926

A November 1926 poster announcing a concert in Barcelona, featuring the music of Manuel de Falla. Note the star-studded roster of musicians including Pablo Casals and Wanda Landowska.

What caused this diminution in Falla’s creative output? Several things, probably. For one, Falla created a relatively few number of compositions overall — and in this regard he could be compared to French composers like Ravel, Chausson and Dukas, who also left us a body of work that was small in number but (nearly) all of very fine quality. By nature an introverted person who never chose to marry, Falla thrived best in the camaraderie of the fellow-composers he trusted — and who in turn respected him. It was the sort of support mechanism that nurtured him in Paris, but that eluded him following his return to Spain.

Falla Homenajes manuscript page

A page from Manuel de Falla’s manuscript for Homenajes (Tributes), his last orchestral work. Premiered in Buenos Aires in 1939, each of the suite’s four movements honored a composer that Falla held in high esteem: Enrique Fernández Arbós, Achille-Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas and Felipe Pedrell. (Image: Archivo Manuel de Falla)

Moreover, the tribulations of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 were deeply felt by the composer. Initially he supported the proclamation of the Spanish Republic in 1931, but the desecration and burning of churches that followed was deeply offensive to him, and he responded by becoming ever-more reclusive. He had always maintained a wish to “remain far above the workings of politics,” which meant choosing to align with neither the Republicans nor with the Nationalist (Franco) forces.

Michael Christoforidis

Michael Christoforidis is professor of Musicology at the University of Melbourne (Australia). An expert on 19th and 20th century Spanish music and dance, he is the author of the book Manuel de Falla and Visions of Spanish Music, published by Routledge in 2017.

In the words of musicologist and Falla specialist Michael Christoforidis:

“There is little doubt that the imminent threat of another European war, and a desire to avoid being identified as a cultural-political emblem by the Franco regime, were key factors in Falla’s decision to travel to Buenos Aires in 1939 for a series of concerts.”

… And Argentina is where he elected to stay in the event, rather than return to Spain.

Teatro Colon concert program 11-11-39

One of several concerts that Manuel de Falla conducted at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1939. The composer never returned to Europe, spending the remaining years of his life in Argentina.

Maria del Carmen de Falla Manuel de Falla

Maria del Carmen de Falla (1882-1971), pictured with her brother, Manuel de Falla. She cared for the composer in Argentina during his final illness. (Photo: Archivo de Manuel de Falla)

Argentina was even more of a remote artistic outpost than Spain had been. Falla devoted some time to teaching in Buenos Aires during his self-imposed exile, but his health began to decline precipitously in the 1940s, necessitating a final move to a dwelling in the province of Córdoba, a higher-elevation region of the country. Tended to by his devoted sister María del Carmen de Falla, the composer died of cardiac arrest at his home in Alta Garcia in November 1946.

Manuel de Falla plaque Cordoba Argentina

This plaque has been placed on Manuel de Falla’s final residence in Alta Gracia, in Córdoba province (Argentina). (Photo: Javier Oviedo, August 1923)

Falla passed away thousands of miles from his homeland — as well as from Paris, his “second home” where he had spent many years soaking up the heady atmospherics that were so emblematic of France’s “Golden Age” of music. Undoubtedly, Paris was good for Manuel de Falla – and music-lovers everywhere have been the beneficiaries in turn.

Alta Gracia Manuel de Falla House Cordoba Javier Oviedo

This dwelling in Alta Garcia, Córdoba province (Argentina) was the last residence of Manuel de Falla. Deteriorating health necessitated a move from Buenos Aires to a more hospitable region of the country, several years after Falla’s 1939 self-imposed exile following Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s accession to power in Spain. Today a museum honoring the composer and his artistic legacy, the site attracts visitors from South America and beyond. (Photo: Javier Oviedo, August 2023)

3 thoughts on “Musical comrades: The friendship between Manuel de Falla and Florent Schmitt (1907-31).

  1. It’s no great surprise that Falla felt closer to Schmitt than to Ravel, though one hears the influence of both in Nights in the Gardens of Spain, which combines the crystalline clarity of Ravel’s piano writing with a richer, more heavily perfumed sensuality than Ravel was inclined to permit himself.

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