*This article originally appeared in the July/August edition of Clavier Companion magazine.

By Olga Llano Kuehl-White

The centennial of Enrique Granados’s death in 2016 and the sesquicentennial of his birth in 2017 allow musicians an opportunity to celebrate the piano works of the Spanish author, pianist, composer, and pedagogue, who lived from 1867-1916. Granados is considered to be the “Father of the Modern Catalán School of Piano.” After a two-year tenure in Paris, Granados was the first to introduce the late Romantic style in Spain. Mentored by his composition teacher Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922), he incorporated Spanish folk elements in his music like other “nationalist” composers. Concerned with the poor quality of his music education in Spain, in 1901 Granados founded and became the Director of the Granados Music Academy in Barcelona. Offering courses in harmony, solfege, voice, and piano, Granados also taught his ideas regarding piano sonority and masterful use of the pedals. As a piano teacher, Granados stressed clarity, color, and performing in an expressive, improvisatory style, and he referred to the pedals as the soul of the piano.

Granados’s early works were composed for his own children and for the children in the Academy, whom he considered to be the future piano teachers of Spain. Listed among the illustrious graduates of the Academy was the late concert pianist, Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009). Her teacher, Frank Marshall (1883-1959), had been a student of Granados and assumed the Directorship of the Academy after Granados’s death. The school was named the Frank Marshall Academy in 1920, and Marshall was the Director until his death in 1959. Granados and Marshall set important trends in pianistic interpretation and left a rich legacy in the musical and cultural life of Spain.

Granados’s Musical Style

Granados found inspiration in Spain’s cultural and musical heritage and created a pianistic style that combined elements of late Romanticism with idioms found in Spain’s indigenous music. His compositions are musical postcards that evoke Spanish life, scenes, and places. At the heart of Spanish music are its songs and dances. The Falmenco idiom of the Spanish Gypsies included singing but had no strict choreography. Dancers, with dignity and conviction (accompanied by guitars), perform basic dance steps in an improvisatory style. This free, spontaneous style suited Granados’s inclination toward both improvisation and originality. In addition to the rhythmic figurations—particularly triplets suggesting castanets, Granados skillfully evoked guitaristic effects called rasgueado (strumming) and punteado (plucking), the dancers’ finger-snapping (pitos) and spirited hand-clapping (palmadas). By utilizing indigenous dance rhythms, but not actual folk themes, ranados captured the spirit, character, and the distinctive flavors of the diverse regions of Spain. The dances are characterized by clear tonal centers, dance-like rhythms, and expressive melodies that exhibit the chromatic half-step inflection integral to the Andalusian folk cultures of southern Spain.

Performing Spanish Music

Granados, Manuel de Fall (1876-1946), and Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) were the most important Spanish composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their Spanish idiom music is performed in an improvisatory style, with rubato and agogic inflections lengthening the value of notes for expressive intent. In his evocations of Spanish people, scenes, and landmarks, Granados reveals himself as Spain’s musical historian and a vibrant storyteller. Many of his works have not been edited or corrected for note mistakes and printer’s errors. His compositions have extremely uneven publication history, including conflicting opus numbers. Given the stature of the composer, it is unfortunate that many of his works are unknown and his music is not performed more frequently.

Granados’s Styles

Granados’s piano pieces are grouped into three distinct stylistic periods: Romantic, Nationalistic, and Goya or Goyescas. All are melodically expressive and rhythmically appealing, but these compositions stand out to me for their soulful and endearing qualities.

Twelve Spanish Dances, Op. 5 (Nationalistic style period)

The pieces in this collection were published individually in the early 1890s. This is a cycle of keyboard vignettes depicting Spanish life, and was the first work for which Granados received international recognition.

“Oriental,” Op. 5, No. 2

The many civilizations that inhabited Spain produced great artistic benefits. “Oriental” communicates the exotic cultures of the Moors and Gypsies who lived in Spain’s southern region for centuries. The listener is transported back in time with its Middle-Eastern ambiance.


“Andaluza,” Op. 5, No. 5

The title refers to the southern region of Spain called Andalucía. This work is popular with both pianists and classical guitarists. In a Gypsy cante flamenco style, the grace notes suggest both the plucking sounds of the guitar and the finger snapping (pitos) of the dancers.


“Zapateado” from Six Pieces on Spanish Folk Songs (Nationalistic style period)

The most popular piece in this collection, “Zapateado” conveys the rhythmic footwork of Spanish dancers. It combines the virtuosity of an exciting dance with the emotional expressiveness of a cantabile melody depicting the contrasting modds of the Spanish temperament.

Allegro de Concierto, Op. 46 (Romantic style period)

A concerto for solo piano, Allegro de Concierto follows concerto-sonata form with a double exposition, and a cadenza that appears non-traditionally before the recapitulation. It epitomizes a highly emotional rhapsodic and improvisatory style.

“Lament” or “The Maiden and the Nightingale” from Goyescas Part I, Op. 11 (Goyescas style period)

In this work, Granados combines his two stylistic periods, Nationalist and Romantic, to arrive by a fusion of the two to his third period—Goyescas. Granados admired the tapestries and paintings of Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). As one of Spain’s notable painters, Goya portrayed the picaresque spirit of everyday life in Madrid during the late eighteenth century. The nightingale (included in the title) was a popular symbol of romantic love. According to Alicia de Larrocha, the main theme was based on a folksong Granados heard a young girl sing in Valencia. Utilizing variation form, this piece is the most poetic and popular piece of Goyescas. It is universally recognized as one of the most expressive works in the piano literature.

“Love and Death” from Goyescas Part II, Op. 11 (Goyescas style period)

Granados expanded the piano suite Goyescas to an Opera, also titled Goyescas. “Love and Death” is a musical representation of a specific Goya painting. Considered among Granados’s best dramatic compositions, the rhapsodic form employs cyclical elements recalling fragments from the major themes of Goyescas Part I. The opening measures announce the foreboding death motive.

Granados’s piano pieces provide pianists from intermediate through advanced levels with repertoire that develops technical proficiency and musicianship, while also igniting imagination and imagery.

Olga Llano Kuehl-White, D.M.A., was born in Tampa, Florida, of Spanish ancestry from the province of Asturias. A student of the Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, Dr. Kuehl-White has performed in the United States, Central America, Europe, and Asia. Her articles have appeared in dictionaries, encyclopedias, and music magazines on a wide range of musical subjects. To preserve the Spanish idiom through editions based on years of research, Dr. Kuehl-White has edited three anthologies of Spanish Music for Alfred Music: España and Suite Española by Albéniz and Twelve Spanish Dances by Granados. These editions correct engravers’ errors, include the composers’ final revisions, and include performance suggestions for authentic Spanish interpretation.