Isaac Albéniz wrote his cycle Iberia in the years 1905-1908, the later pieces completed when he was already seriously ill from Bright's disease. This set of 12 descriptive pieces is one of the supreme masterworks of all piano literature, and undoubtedly the greatest Spanish piano work, perhaps to be rivalled only by Enrique Granados' cycle Goyescas.
Iberia is arranged in four books of three pieces each, but the pieces were not composed in the same order as published, and it seems that Albéniz did not expect all of them to be performed as a unity. Each one of the pieces masterfully and exuberantly evokes some aspect of Spanish song and dance, using a unique combination of impressionistic colours (inspired by Debussy, Ravel and Dukas) and Lisztian technique (Albéniz allegedly studied briefly with Liszt). The authentic spell cast by these works is all the more remarkable as Albéniz did not actually use any existing Spanish tunes.
The piano writing of Iberia is uncommonly dense and complicated, made all the more difficult by unusual key signatures, interweaving hand passages, wide leaps, cross-rhythms, near-impossible chords, and above all a profusion of accidentals, dynamic markings, and super-detailed directives in both Italian and French. Albéniz, while being an absolute master of his instrument, could not himself cope with some of these pieces, and at one stage even contemplated destroying the manuscript as he feared it was impossible to play.
All four books of Iberia were given their public premiere, as soon as one was completed, by the famous French pianist Blanche Selva.
Complete recording by Francois de Larrard
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