I have heard this piece many times in my life before, but I never knew its name until just a few years ago. However, you can tell immediately that a Spanish composer penned it. Two of the most famous dances from it are “The Dance of Terror,” and “The Ritual Fire Dance.” Falla studied in Paris and was part of a circle of composers that fell under the influence of Debussy, Ravel and Dukas. Like Albinez, the Spanish musicologist, Pedrell, encouraged Falla to incorporate Spanish themes and tunes. ”El Amor Brujo” premiered in Barcelona in 1915, and it evokes memories of my visit to that city in 1977, which I describe below.
As he matured, Falla became a reclusive and intensely religious. Stravinsky once describe Falla as being “the most unpityingly religious person I have ever known-and the least sensible to manifestations of humor.” And it is odd that he would compose a work called El Amor Brujo, (Love, the Magician), the music for a one act ballet. Falla briefly sided with Franco during the Spanish Civil War, probably because of the anti-religious sentiments of the communists. However, those sentiments continued under Franco and the monarchy was overthrown, Falla went into exile in Argentina where he died in 1946.
Burning Love in Barcelona
If you stood at the bottom of Las Ramblas in Barcelona and looked up toward the foothills, to the right lay the working class and artisanal neighborhood, where our pension sat, and to the right you had the poorer sailors’ quarter. The farther up the Ramblas you walked inland from the port, the neighborhoods became more middle class and prosperous. In 1977, my two fellow hitchhikers, Chris and Inge, and I made two excursions to the maritime quarter–once to visit a Romanesque church during the day, and the next time to visit a Flamenco club that same night. When we visited the latter, we were swindled and nearly got shot.
Our trip to the church took us down even more winding and narrower streets than in our own quarter. The farther we walked the air became cooler and the noise of the Ramblas died out. The buildings seemed to take on a Moorish feel– geometric tiles decorated the white stucco walls. Some of the apartments had wonderful door-sized gates made of hammered iron, wrought into intricate curlicue patterns. It began to rain.
We finally found the church, which sat in a small plaza. It had the thin narrow windows with half round tops that typify the Romanesque style. I don’t remember much about the inside, but I immediately fell in love with the cloisters. It was only about 20 feet across but the columns showed off exquisite workmanship. Some were carved into elegant twisted rope designs and other had bits of glass and stone set into them. For some reason, certain buildings or places resonate with me and make me feel as if they give off a kind of mystical or spiritual emanation. Perhaps the rain had something to do with it. The stones of the unkempt interior courtyard were overgrown with grass and it looked vaguely tropical with a small palmetto and a few papyrus plants potted in a small pool. There were no modern sounds, no lights, no air conditioning and it as if this scene had not changed for over a thousand years.
Somehow when we left the church, we became disoriented and found ourselves quite lost in the maze of streets. The more we walked, the farther we seemed to get away from modern Barcelona and again I had the sense of going back in time. At one point we turned a corner and found ourselves at the top of a long, narrow, dirt street. It teemed with people, so we started walking down it, thinking it must lead to Las Ramblas.
Something soon began to look odd about the street. First off, the people on the narrow sidewalks turned out to be for the most part middle-aged men. So too it seemed that mostly men made up the people standing in the middle of the street, though they were younger, and some looked like sailors. Next the windows of the shops along the street held a strange type of ware-things like hot water bottles, long rubber tubes, and what looked like huge rubber syringes or turkey-basters. The men on the side of the street would call to those walking along. Sometimes a younger man would walk over, they would exchange a few words, and the two would then disappear into the entrance or up an exterior stairway. It took a while, but finally the penny dropped–we had wondered into a street full of bordellos. This street, however, had none of the glamour of the red light districts you read about in Amsterdam. The whole place seemed like something out of a Fellini movie, and if a grotesquely huge woman had emerged dressed in a bearskin, I would not have shown the least surprise. No one approached us as we hurried down the street and found our way back to our pension.
I wish I could say that was the most traumatic experience we had in Barcelona, but it wasn’t. But that is for another day.