In the silence of the night, interrupted by the whispers of breezes perfumed with jasmine, the guzlas play, accompanying the serenades and diffusing in the air the ardent melodies and notes as sweet as the swaying of the palms high above.


Always in my own voice, what lies ahead of me will grow from my genius, which I have never doubted, not from earlier composers or schools, nor will it embezzle recognizable rhythms or poach  recognizable melodies of Spain, no imitations of what I have heard with my ears but, instead, what I know in mi corazon, in resplendent impressions of my  country, not its familiar tunes and cadences, but the gnarled and intermarried roots that extend and multiply beneath the soil to give life to whatever immarcescible blossoms I shall nurture into miraculous bouquets to bring us as close to God as we dare aspire before death takes us closer, and always in my own voice, even before I have set pen to staff, I know that what lies ahead of me is destined to give birth to an immortality which accolades upon the concert stage can never bestow.  A performer’s art dies with him, when the applause dies away and the last echo of the last bravo, bis, or olé has faded farther than the faintest whisper but a composer’s art lives forever after him, and always in my own voice, then, what lies ahead of me that the pianoforte will map across the face of Spain shall commence with an Evocación, with blinding light beating upon the burnt colors of the tiles on white houses until the dusk of evening overcomes it, drunk with the scent of orange blossoms, citron trees, myrtle hedges, rows of acacias, tamarisks, and pomegranates and I shall peer between the iron bars of gates into sequestered patios and  I shall inhale the aroma of jasmine blown through the heavy night air, a serenade in the distance, the haunt of guitars as twilight turns the white of the houses to lavender and heliotrope and their tiles to the color of blood for my Invitation to the Dance, and always in my own voice, to conclude what lies ahead of me, una grande casa de danses y canciones, Triana, with high-breasted virgins and heavy-breasted matrons — the pits of their supple arms rivering freely, their effluvia drenching the smoky air — performing the romalis, coiling, stamping, now slowly sensual, now fast and fiery; crotals, tambourines, the sparkle of spangles, stamping heels, accroche-coeurs, and a savage dignity to remind me that great heroes, improbable in their bravery and their beauty, were born in Triana once upon a time, and always in my own voice — what lies ahead of me between the last notes of the Evocación and the first ones of the Triana — I shall make my music sing of El Albacín’s gypsy camps that score Spain’s landscape, with the seductive strains of guitars, strumming and thumping; of old women singing a plaintive melody interrupted in mid-phrase by nostalgias that undo them into tears; of young men’s wanderlust and wildness and grief, their soiled blouses open to reveal the burnished, hairless planes of their chests, their trousers tight as a  matador’s bejeweled knickerbockers designed to announce his potency and of dirty huts and poverty, the quarters of God’s step-children, brimming alike for passionate indigents and casual passersby and aspiring bohemians and incipient artists, on the wayward journey all innocents must travel, and of tres-quatro tiempo with the relentless cinco-ocho for a Rondeña never heard before, time warring with time in cadenzas that snarl and snap of towns built high on cleft rocks and low against the sea, spilling their markets rich in grapes, peaches, medlars, nectarines, and in the distance dusty olive orchards, where  I shall create a Fête-Dieu à Seville, overcome in masques and dominoes, and where I shall build a busy dock for dark cork in Almería, alive with sweat and labor, and where I shall beget an intoxication of sherry from Jérez, drowning, if only briefly, the sorrows of lepers in search of a landscape in Oblivia, on the seacoast of Atlantis or Islandia, lost to time and found again, where boys in their lust and ardor swoon in the arms of sea sirens and mermaids, their silver scales flashing in the sun, and another of wine — from Málaga — shall spill over my pages and turn their creamy stock to purple seductions of sangria, tinted now to magenta, now to nightshade,  and I shall reconstruct a forgotten ghetto in Lavapiés, redolent of the past where Jews once bled upon the cobblestones and rivered toward the sea to carry them home away from home, but leaping from its knotted clusters, its ancient warren, in song that shreds to shards all memory’s scars in exchange for gaiety, and I shall paint the unprincipled streets unknown to grids and errant paths that lead to El Puerto, beaten into submission by generations of  pilgrims’ sandaled feet and the  echo of the quick, decisive trot of mules over dust and Moorish tiles alike, the brass bells and turquoise blue beads on their worn harnesses castaneting time in syncopation to the clattering castenets of storks’ beaks on chimney-tops, and another where the music seduces kohl-eyed dancers into flamencos, stabbing the parqueted floors in elegant attitudes, proud perspiration to announce the triumph of the body that breathes and writhes into attitudes of affirmation, in cantiñas at Eritaña, and I shall enslave bull rings in the lush sounds of the crowd’s joy and of the parade of actors dressed to die with their banderillos aloft, of the horses sacrificed, of the proud bulls defeated or in defiance triumphant, of the preposterous louche of the matadors, their pink capes spinning aloft with the grace of girls’ gored skirts or disguising death’s deliverer in a still shroud, to the sobbing strains of El Polo, and to offer on the altar built of these twelve pillars that support, Atlas-like, the Spanish firmament, an Iberia of it in Andalusian dances still to be danced and Catalonian hymns never heard but in what lies ahead of me to drench my land in love — every note of it from Spain’s greatest composer, arguably the greatest composer, etcetera, seducing with a shiver to every Spanish spine and driving proud sap into the cojones of my countrymen and bold blood to the wombs of their women, and always in my own voice my music shall be as holy as the sacraments — the paten on the tongue dissolving into faith, the daily bread that nourishes our bodies and forgives us our trespasses; the dark merry wine drowning our sorrows, the blood that celebrates our soaring toward the resurrection and the life sung in peninsular hosannahs to this land, in this soil, distilled into what I shall engender, noble in a magnificent gait — yes, but always waddling along too, good-humored and loving, like the first Sancho Panza in his succor and the last Sancho with his benedictory kisses, under mottled skies, over rolling hills, ripening into Spain’s pure air, from all that lies ahead of me, from all that lies behind, from the roots that wend deep into her dark soil, only to burst again into Eden’s garden of music’s great light.  Iberia!  Iberia!  I can begin.1


—-1. Between 1906 and 1909, Isaac Albéniz completed Iberia, twelve transcendant pieces for the piano of indescribable difficulty and unmatchable sonority, unlike any music written before or since. He died on 18 May 1909, eleven days before his forty-ninth.

An excerpt from My Youthful Indiscretions by Isaac Albeniz, a novel by Bruce Kellner.