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Composed: 1919

Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, castanets, cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, xylophone), harp, piano (= celesta), and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 27, 1927, Georg Schnéevoight conducting

About this Piece

During World War I, neutral Spain received an invigorating influx of foreign artists looking for alternative markets to those along the usual Paris-Berlin-Vienna routes. Prominent among them was the impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, which became particular favorites of King Alfonso XIII. Diaghilev and Falla discussed several potential projects, settling on an adaptation of the 19th-century writer Pedro Antonio de Alarcón’s comic novella El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat). Falla brought this to the stage first as the pantomime El corregidor y la molinera, on a scenario in two scenes written by his usual collaborators, the husband-and-wife team of Gregorio Martínez Sierra and María Lejárraga. (They also provided the scenario for El amor brujo, below.)

Alarcón’s novella contains a confusing amount of incident, but the central narrative line follows the traditional characters of a jealous miller, his beautiful young wife, and a lecherous corregidor (the local magistrate, whose position was symbolized by his three-cornered hat). The oafish but persistent corregidor is thwarted at every turn, mistakenly arrested by his own constables, and suffers the peasant justice of being tossed with a blanket in a finale of general merriment.

For Diaghilev, Falla increased the size of the orchestra and eliminated some incidentals from the second part, while adding a solo specifically for Leonid Massine, who choreographed the new ballet and danced the part of the miller. Pablo Picasso designed the sets and costumes, and at his request Falla wrote an introduction and solo song to be performed before Picasso’s curtain went up. The ballet had a hugely successful premiere in London in 1919 (as Le tricorne), establishing Falla’s international reputation.