Composer. He is regarded as the greatest Spanish composer of the 20th Century. Falla's expressive style blended the spirit of folk music (especially flamenco) from his native Andalusia with impressionist and later neoclassical influences. His reputation rests on a handful of works written in the World War I and postwar eras. Manuel María de los Dolores Falla y Matheu was born in Cadiz, Spain. From 1896 to 1900 he studied composition at the Madrid Conservatory under Felipe Pedrell, who stimulated Falla's interest in folk music as he had previously done for Albeniz and Granados. He also won prizes in piano. In the early 1900s Falla hoped to make money by writing several zarzuelas (one-act operettas) but only one was produced, unsuccessfully - "Los amores de la Inés" ("The Loves of Inés", 1902). Instead he supported himself as a teacher and chamber pianist. His first important work, the opera "La vida breve" ("Life is Short"), won first prize in a 1905 state competition, though it was not immediately produced and he subsequently withdrew the score for revision. From 1907 to 1914 Falla lived in Paris, where he was entranced by the music of Debussy and Ravel and befriended the young Stravinsky. Pianist Ricardo Viñes helped him through some lean times, promoting his new compositions (such as the "Four Spanish Pieces" of 1908) and finding him private pupils. The expanded version of "La vida breve", premiered in Nice, France in 1913, was Falla's breakthrough, scoring an even bigger hit at the Paris Opéra-Comique in January 1914. Although the opera is seldom produced today its instrumental "Interlude and Dance" and "Dance Espagnole" are concert hall staples, the latter in an arrangement for violin by Fritz Kreisler. At the start of World War I Falla returned to Madrid and entered his creative maturity with "Seven Spanish Folksongs" (1914), the ballet "El Amor brujo" ("Love, the Magician", 1915) with its famous "Ritual Fire Dance", the gorgeous "Noches en los jardines de España" ("Nights in the Gardens of Spain", 1916) for piano and orchestra, and the "Fantasía Bética" (1919) for piano solo. His most glamorous success was the ballet "El sombrero de tres picos" ("The Three-Cornered Hat", 1919). Commissioned by Serge Diaghilev, it was premiered in London with sets and costumes by Picasso and choreography by Leonid Massine. From 1921 to 1939 Falla lived a semi-reclusive life in Granada, making occasional trips into the field to gather folk material with author Federico Garcia Lorca. In his final masterpieces, the short puppet opera "El retablo de maese Pedro" ("Master Peter's Puppet Show", 1923) and the Harpsichord Concerto (1926), folk influence takes second place to a harder-edged neoclassicism, inspired by Falla's study of Spanish Renaissance and Baroque music and to a lesser degree by Stravinsky. Both are also notable for introducing the harpsichord into the modern orchestra; the concerto was the first of its kind composed in the 20th Century. Harpsichordist Wanda Landowska was the guiding force behind them. A slow, painstaking artist, Falla produced a small body of work. After 1927 he was chiefly occupied with what he believed would be his chef d'oeuvre, the vast cantata "Atlàntida" ("Atlantis"), based on the epic by Catalan poet and priest Jacint Verdaguer. He left it unfinished when he died; it was completed by Ernesto Halffter and first performed in 1961. In person Falla was known as a pious eccentric. "His nature was the most unpityingly religious I have ever known – and the least sensible to manifestations of humor", Stravinsky recalled. He insisted that other musicians address him as "Don Manuel" because "there is only one 'maestro'" (meaning God). Fame, wealth, and honors meant nothing to him. Hypochondriacal in his youth and increasingly frail as he grew older, he was terrified of drafts, believed the full moon was harmful to his health, and superstitiously turned away visitors during the months of March and September. He never married. Essentially apolitical, he vacillated between Spanish republicans and nationalists after the fall of the monarchy in 1931. During the Civil War he reluctantly sided with the Franco forces because they countered rising anti-Catholic sentiment in the country, even though nationalists were responsible for Garcia Lorca's murder in 1936 (which Falla had heroically tried to prevent). Franco, in turn, was keen on making the unwilling composer a cultural figurehead of his planned new regime. In 1938 Falla was elected President of the Institute of Spain without his prior knowledge or consent; he declined the position for health reasons. The following year he traveled to Buenos Aires to conduct a series of concerts, and with Franco now in power and World War II erupting in the rest of Europe, he chose to remain in Argentina as an exile. The Spanish government enticed him with offers of a house and pension if he returned, but he refused. He died impoverished at his home in Alta Gracia, nine days shy of his 70th birthday. Initial burial was at the St. Jerome Cemetery in Cordoba. In 1947 Franco "claimed" Falla at last: his remains were brought back to Spain and given a state funeral, followed by interment in the crypt of Cadiz Cathedral. From 1970 to 1982 his portrait appeared on the Spanish 100 peseta banknote.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards