Monday 16 September 2019

Classic talk: Granados and the magic of music in Madrid

Inspired by Goya: Granados, a casualty of the Great War, was also a painter of note
Inspired by Goya: Granados, a casualty of the Great War, was also a painter of note

George Hamilton

Those long winter evenings spent dreaming of the sun of a southern summer became delicious reality last weekend. The time had been put to good use - tickets for the final of the Madrid Open tennis were secured.

The sun didn't disappoint, beaming from flawless blue above, but the star failed to shine. Rafa Nadal had got himself knocked out in the semis.

Still, there's a lot more to Madrid than the poster boy of Spanish tennis.

En route to the Caja Mágica - the multipurpose 'Magic Box' that hosts the Open - a detour to the city's great green lung, the equally magical Retiro Park, provided the perfect musical interlude.

A string quartet playing Pachelbel, the sound of a South American harp, a jazz combo, and then the pièce de résistance, the Banda Sinfónica Municipal de Madrid.

Every Sunday lunchtime, from May to October, this big band led by the winds as opposed to the strings, thrills its audience of thousands, yes thousands, seated around the Retiro's bandstand.

Professional musicians each and every one, they bring the music of Spain to exuberant life, perfectly in tune with this outdoor arena.

Last Sunday, their programme reflected the fact that the weekend was a fiesta in honour of the city's patron.

The selection of classical Spanish numbers for the San Isidro festival all had a connection to Madrid.

After the excitement of the tennis, it was off, first thing on Monday morning, to the city's world-famous Prado Museum, where a collection of Rubens sketches is currently on show.

Outside, shaded from the sun, a stylish busker picked out the notes of a Spanish dance.

His choice of composer couldn't have been more appropriate. Enrique Granados was a leading Spanish pianist at the turn of the 20th century, who had another string to his bow - he was a painter of some distinction.

Granados is most noted for a suite of music - Goyescas - inspired by the work of the great Spanish artist Goya.

As we made our way into the gallery, the guitarist was playing Andaluza, the fifth and the most striking of a set of 12 Spanish dances.

These were originally written for the piano, but like a great deal of Spanish music for the keyboard, they're as popular now in transcription for the guitar.

Granados came to a tragic end in 1916, a casualty of World War I.

Along with his wife, Amparo, he'd been in New York for the premiere at the Met of an opera he constructed around the Goyescas.

An invitation to the White House followed.

Performing for President Woodrow Wilson delayed the couple's departure, which meant they missed their direct sailing back to Cádiz.

Having been away for the best part of four months, they opted to reroute rather than wait for the next ship to Spain.

That took them to Falmouth in England, then on to Folkestone, where they boarded a steamship bound for Dieppe in France.

Two hours into the crossing, their vessel was torpedoed by a German submarine and split in two.

Their cabin, containing all their luggage, was in the aft section which somehow stayed afloat, but they were lost, and their bodies were never recovered.

Granados is one of four Spanish composers whose work can be chosen for recital by semi-finalists in this summer's Paloma O'Shea Santander International Piano Competition.

This prestigious event was won by our own Hugh Tinney in 1984. And, yes, there is an Irish connection.

Its founder, Paloma O'Shea, who hails from Bilbao, and is a distinguished pianist herself, is the direct descendant of one William O'Shea, an 18th century immigrant from Ireland.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday.

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