Falla – The Three Cornered Hat Suites No. 1 and No. 2

by Max Derrickson

Manuel de Falla   (born Cádiz,Spain, 1876; died Alta Gracia, Argentina, 1946)

The Three-cornered Hat,Suites 1 and  2

Part I:
–          Afternoon
–          Dance of the Miller’s Wife (Fandango)
–          TheCorregidor, The Miller’s Wife
–          The Grapes (Fandango)

Part II:
–          The Neighbor’s Dance (Seguidillas)
–          The Miller’s Dance (Farruca)
–          Final Dance (Jota)


By the late 19th Century, Classical music-making in Spain had been floundering since the days of Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) four centuries before.  Of  course, music itself had been flourishing outside of the concert halls in Spain’s very vital folk and popular music, which was as complex as any “Classical” music being composed elsewhere.  Flamenco and zarzuela, and a host of various songs and dances like the cante hondo and jota, had deep and healthy roots, and had been engaging Spanish ears for centuries.  This music could be more aptly called Spain’s quintessential music, but from the standpoint of what most of Europe considered Classical, Spain had hardly participated from the Renaissance onward.  Oddly enough a resurgence of “Spanish” Classical music began not with Spanish composers but with foreigners.  Bizet, a Frenchman, composed his very Spanish opera Carmen in 1875; Chabrier, another Frenchman, wrote his España in 1883; and then Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian, wrote his Capriccio Espangnol in 1887.  These works, masterpieces all, were influenced by the melodies and rhythms of Spanish folk music, but none of them written by Spaniards.

Classical music by Spaniards finally began to surface in the early 20th Century    [. . .]

Falla’s remarkable imagination and compositional mastery are abundant in his masterpiece The Three-cornered Hat.  The story is one of love and jealousy and disguises overlaid with a great deal of buffoonery (as described in the synopsis below); in essence it’s a tale about a Miller and his beautiful young wife dodging the ludicrous amorous advances of a pompous magistrate (the Corregidor), who wears a three-cornered hat as a symbol of his status.  This piece offers a kaleidoscope of brilliant melodies, sounds and colors, but there is no mistaking the work’s Spanish roots.  Here are some examples: Immediately in Afternoon Falla creates an underpinning of suspense in the glimmering strings by using a very typical, and ancient, Spanish mode (key signature), normally referred to as the Phrygian mode, which dates back centuries.  In the Dance of the Miller’s Wife, as she seductively performs for her husband, Falla transforms into orchestral form the quickly repeated chords that are played by the guitar for the fandango of flamenco music.  The Neighbor’s Dance is built as a seguidillas, a dance for couples, and its melody is flavored by the lovely Spanish flatted 2nd – creating a modal like sounding tune.  In The Miller’s Dance, the Miller dances in glee because he and his wife have tricked and vanquished the Corregidor.  It’s one of the most exciting pieces of the whole work for which Falla uses a farruca, another form of flamenco which is danced only by men and employs bursts of quick foot work.  The Final Dance employs mostly a jota, a dance in 6/8 and using castanets, which is traditionally used in communities as way of celebrating their togetherness.  It’s a completely fitting finale for this work, as the neighbors join the Miller and his wife and the Corregidor to celebrate that all’s well that ends well.  In Falla’s hands, it’s a joyful pageant   [. . .]

The Three-cornered Hat was originally composed as a pantomime for chamber musicians in 1916.  Just after the end of Word War I, Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballet Russe – the same impresario who staged Stravinsky’s great ballets – was in Spain and took an interest in Falla’s music.  [. . .]



Story Synopsis

Based on the Spanish novel by Pedro de Alarcón (1833-1891), The Three-cornered Hat is an Andalusian folk tale of sorts but follows in the literary tradition of Spanish picaresque novels, a literary genre whose most famous example is Cervantes’ Don Quixote and where myriad characters have endless adventures of love and jealousy, buffoonery and gallantry, tragedy and banality, sketching the vast tapestry of the human condition.  Indeed, The Three-cornered Hat draws as much from this Spanish literary tradition of picaresque novels as it does from the Spanish musical tradition.

The story concerns a young Miller and his beautiful wife, pitted against an adulterous, and rather bumptious, Corregidor(resident magistrate), who wears a tri-cornered hat as the symbol of his position.  [Introduction, Afternoon] At home, at the mill, the Miller amuses himself by trying to teach a pet crow to tell time, but with no success.  The Miller’s wife steps in with a grape as a reward, and the crow performs accordingly.  The wife dances seductively for her husband in their domestic bliss [Dance of the Miller’s Wife].  None-the-less, the Miller is suspicious of the local Corregidor’s intentions towards his wife and hides to observe the magistrate one day when he comes to pay a visit.  The wife, young and scheming with her husband, teases the Corregidor with a dance and taunts him with grapes [The Corregidor, The Miller’s Wife, The Grapes].  When the Corregidor goes too far in his advances, the Miller jumps to his wife’s rescue.  That evening the young couple entertains their neighbors [The Neighbor’s Dance].  While the Miller dances [The Miller’s Dance], the police interrupt the festivities and arrest him in retaliation for humiliating the Corregidor earlier that day.  As the Miller sulks in jail later that evening, the Corregidor comes back to see the Miller’s wife, but on his approach slips into the river, which alerts the wife and she runs away.  At the empty house the Corregidor hangs out his clothes to dry and decides, stupidly, to take a nap in the Miller’s bed while he waits for the wife to return.  Meanwhile, the Miller escapes jail, and comes home to a scene which makes him think the worst.  To avenge this presumed adultery, the Miller dresses in the Corregidor’s clothes and hurries off to seduce the Corregidor’s wife.  The Corregidor awakes to find his clothes gone and so he dresses in the Miller’s clothes.  The police arrive to re-arrest the Miller, and of course, mistake the Miller-bedecked Corregidor for him.  The Miller’s wife returns and fights off the police to protect her “husband.”  The Miller returns and sees his wife in a fight and joins in to protect her.  The confusion is finally explained by the Corregidor, who is then good-naturedly tossed up and down in a blanket by the Miller’s neighbors, in the midst of general merriment and dancing [Final Dance].