Isaac Albeniz. Suite Espagnole

Keeping on my last post’s subject of Albinez, I have chosen his Suite Espagnole today. Albinez originally wrote this in 1886 as a set of three pieces each with the name of a Spanish province. His publisher added eight more pieces after the composer’s death from a much later opus number, and so the entire suite paints sound portraits of 11 regions. Albinez quite deftly wove the Spanish folk melodies into quite sumptuous and evocative works. One of them is called “Catalonia.” (Barcelona was the capital of Catalonia in the heart of Basque territory.)

This piece takes me back to my first visit to Barcelona in 1977, where I hitchhiked with two friends. Tall plane trees lined Las Ramblas, the main boulevard that bisects Barcelona on its way down from the hills to the port. I seem to remember my guidebook likening Las Ramblas to the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The comparison was weak–in 1977 when I was there, Spain was just awakening from the economically depressed decades under fascism, and there were no Cartier, Bulgari, or Gucci boutiques around. But the Ramblas had something going for it that the Champs-Elysees would never have–it was designed for people and not traffic. The wide, raised pedestrian walkway ran through the middle of the street and the single lanes of traffic ran along its edge. This created what was effectively the longest plaza in the world. On this vast playground sat benches, newsagents, and small cafés. Pigeons and people strutted, sat, did little courtship dances or just sunned themselves in the clear green light that filtered down through the leaves of the plane trees.

The Ramblas had a nice feel to it, and business seemed to be picking up, though the people still looked a bit threadbare. Cinemas advertised the old-fashioned way–they commissioned local sign painters to build portable placards that they could bring in at night. I believe some version of Jaws had just come out and the sign in front of one of these theatres had been cut into the shape of a huge shark and painted in lurid colors–the long sharp teeth dripping with crimson blood.

I never told my parents this, but I almost got killed on the Ramblas. Since Franco had died just the year before, people were finally starting to demand more and more freedoms. Every day the papers carried stories of bombings by Basque separatists.

One day as I was exploring the city by myself investigating an old church near the port, I thought a nice drink at a café on the Ramblas would do me just fine. I emerged onto the Ramblas very near a subway station. I had a strange sensation and noticed that it was dead quiet. I looked to my right. A crowd of protestors stood glaring in my direction. I looked to the left. A crowd of riot police, swaddled in riot gear and bulletproof vests and armed with carbines and tear gas launchers glared back. I stood right in the middle. A few of the police were looking down into the mouth of the subway. Shards of glass lay on the pavement. The cops decided to run down the steps. As soon as they started, the protestors began to jeer at them. Immediately, the police rushed out guns drawn. I heard a “pop”; the police had started firing and canisters of tear gas arced through the air toward the protestors who had already begun to throw rocks. I did not stick around to find out who won.

I would like to say that was the only time I was concerned about my personal safety in Barcelona, but it wasn’t. However, I don’t want to imply that it was a scary or dangerous city. Over the next few posts, I will let you decide.

About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

6 Responses to Isaac Albeniz. Suite Espagnole

  1. kvennarad says:

    If ever I am well enough to travel, I would like to go to Barcelona, mainly because I want to visit Durruti’s grave (although I believe he would be appalled that people think of it as any kind of place of pilgrimage).

    I loved today’s Albeniz. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • kurtnemes says:

      Sorry to hear you can’t travel. Excuse my ignorance: who is Durruti?


      • kvennarad says:

        Buenaventura Durruti is one of history’s oxymorons – an anarchist leader! During the Spanish Civil War he was a military commander of a workers’ militia. In his opinion he held the post as a ‘position of trust’ and only because his comrades recognised that was where his ability lay, not as a position of personal power. Leaving aside Jesus from this list, he is one of the people I mark out as being, perhaps, the right man in the right place at the right time, along with George Fox, Nestor Makhno, Mohandas K Gandhi, and M L King Jr. – two who fought actively and three passively – whom history has decreed should stand a head taller than the rest of us.

        Liked by 1 person

      • kurtnemes says:

        I read homage to Catalonia a long time ago and don’t remember him from it. Thank you so much. Now I must look up fix and makhno. Why can’t you travel if it’s not to personal a question? Best


      • kvennarad says:

        Eric Blair was in a different Militia, the POUM. Durruti was a commander in the CNT/FAI militia; both militias fought against the Fascists, acting concertedly but more-or-less independently of each other. Both were eventually shafted by the Communists, on Stalin’s orders.

        I am hoping that I can find again an on-line streaming of the entire film ‘Libertarias’ in time for International Women’s Day. The reason I mention it here is because there is a scene where reporters are interviewing Durruti – it is only a short scene, and apart from one flash-bulb moment the actor’s face is entirely in darkness, as thought the film-maker is saying ‘the film’s not about him’. It’s a film I could only watch to the end once, because the end is so painful.

        Here’s the Durruti scene:

        I wrote about the film a few years ago here:

        Liked by 1 person

  2. pianolearner says:

    very interesting post. I hadn’t heard this piece before.


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