As I get ready to rehearse Granados’s Tonadillas, I’ve been tempted to listen compulsively to other performances of them—I have about six recordings on my iPod. But I realized that rather than torture myself hearing de los Angeles and Gerald Moore for the ninetieth time, I’d do better to spend that time slugging it out at the piano myself. After all, I’ve known those recordings since I was about 12 years old and they’re already embedded on my internal hard drive. What I’d rather hear, of course, is their out-takes, the wrong notes, the phrases that needed to be re-done, the curse words they spat out when they screwed up. That would be comforting! And educational.
Lacking that stimulation, I embarked on a high-minded course of cultural enrichment. I admit that this happened by chance: at a recent used-CD sale I picked up a recording of the Beaux Arts Trio playing Turina and Granados. The Turina piece was lovely, and absolutely what I expected: a gorgeous sound track of picturesque Españolitude, full of flair and charm. Musical paella. But the Granados—what a shock. It starts out with a riff that sound like the love-child of Keith Jarrett and Philip Glass, and goes on to evoke the beauty of Brahms leavened with of the sweet transparency of Fauré. The Tonadillas are pure Madrid, and they’re sublime. But this piano trio is like getting on a plane with Granados and having dinner with him all over Europe—in the best restaurants.
I’d written in the program note about the Goya paintings that inspired Granados to write the Tonadillas, so after I’d busted my knuckles on them for a while I decided I’d earned a cup of tea and 10 minutes of web surfing. I found my way to the Frick Museum site where they had posted a brush-and-ink drawing called “A Fight.” Two people are brawling in the background, maybe two women but maybe a man and a woman; in the foreground a Spanish dandy, a majo, is also sprawled on the floor—but he’s laughing at them.
When I went back to the piano, with my mind full of Keith Jarrett and angry Spaniards wrestling like crazy people, the Tonadillas started to fall under my fingers pretty easily. Bless caffeine, the internet, and m’man Granados. The link > www.frick.org