Suite española No. 1, Op. 47: 


Isaac Albéniz


Original recording by Ricardo Viñes:













My recreated performance:













Cross-cut video:











Annotated score:



The recreating experience


At the beginning of the piece, Viñes adds two complete bars, establishing the accompaniment figure (the arpeggiated F major chords in the right hand) by playing the chord six times. This is the only piece I recreated where we hear Viñes adding material in the beginning. This could also be score-/edition-related. The chords are rolled in a very brisk way, reminiscent of a guitar.[1] Albéniz marks an arpeggio at the beginning of the first chord in the six first bars. Viñes rolls all three chords in each bar and continues this practice throughout the piece.[2] This could be considered a deviation from the tendency of using “arpeggiation” to separate the melody from the chords. In this case, I believe it should be considered first and foremost as an effect, probably imitating the guitar. 

At the first bar in the score (the third bar played in Viñes’s recording), there is an arpeggio also in the left hand marked in the score. The melody notes in the left hand are delayed (“dislocated”) so that they come after the accompaniment. This is a general practice throughout the piece. Besides the constant rolling of the right-hand chords, there are two important unmarked aspects that appear at the very start of the piece: polyphonic rubato” – i.e. the independent timing between the hands made possible by the “dislocated attacks,” and the rushing/slowing tendency. In the Tango piece, I discussed the “rubber ball principle as a way of observing the gravitational pull of rubato in Viñes’s playing. This tendency is in my view even more apparent in this piece. In the annotated score, I have marked a red tenuto sign at the notes where he “lands” his rubato – or, in the “rubber ball perspective, this is where the movement of the ball slightly pauses in mid-air. There is a kind of gravitational logic about this rubato, almost as if Viñes attempts to “make up” for the time he has stolen by rushing afterwards (“what goes up, must come down”). The accompaniment generally follows the direction of the rubato, but the melody maintains its individual timing, and as a result it is very seldom played together with the right hand on the same beat. It is very fortunate that Viñes also in this case plays the entire piece through so that we can analyze and compare what happens when the musical material is repeated. Just like in the Tango piece, Viñes is very consistent and repeats an identical practice of “dislocated attacks,” rushing/slowing, and “arpeggiation.” This is fortunate, because we can then assume that these tendencies are intentional.


Another similarity between the two Albéniz performances is the greatly delayed first note of the second main theme (in this case the F minor section). Whereas the “dislocation” is subtler in the first main theme, it is exaggerated here – producing a sort of expressive tenuto. Much like in the beginning of the piece, there is also here a seemingly organic logic behind the extreme use of rushing (sometimes at the expense of beats lost, much like in the Tango piece). The independent timing of the second main theme has a very improvisational character to it, with the accompaniment now in the left hand not strictly, but generally following the rubato of the right hand. It should be noted that in bar 42, Viñes plays the E natural also on the third beat (as written in the score). In most recordings I have heard, an E flat is played on the third beat. The same applies for bar 84. This too could be edition-related. In bar 58, the semiquavers are played staccato, which emphasizes the slowing down towards the tenuto at the beginning of next bar. In bars 95 and 97, Viñes rolls the chords on the first beat in a slightly more sustained manner, but when the character of the interpretation abruptly changes in bars 99 and 100, the arpeggios become brisker and more decisive. In bars 101-104, the arpeggios are even faster and the rolling of the chords becomes increasingly less apparent. The last bar before reprising the main theme (bar 108) is a typical example of Viñes using “dislocation” in the right hand to delay and thus emphasize the top melody in the intervals on all three beats. 


As discussed in an earlier chapter, in the romantic performance tradition of the 1800s, pianists were known to add embellishments to the pieces they performed. This could happen in the form of an improvisation as a sort of prelude, “accustoming” the audience to the key of the next piece. It could also be embellishments at the ending of a piece, which usually meant adding arpeggios, scale runs, and so on, to emphasize the final tonic chord. In relation to this, I would argue that Ricardo Viñes falls somewhere in between the most extreme use of this practice and the modern-day approach of doing no such things at all. Except for the Scarlatti Sonata, there are in the pieces I recreated very few embellishments or playing that dramatically deviates from the score. There is however, a recurring tendency in Viñes’s performances to add or change notes at the endings of the pieces. In this Granada piece, he plays the first note of the F major chord scale run towards the end of the piece tenuto and the remaining notes staccato. He also dislocates the two hands very subtly – probably to emphasize the right hand (top notes). Finally, Viñes adds a last bar where he plays yet another F major chord, this time with the F natural on top, which arguably has a more “concluding” effect as opposed to the third (A natural) on top as in the original score. In fact, this “romantic” practice of altering the ending of a piece – subtly or dramatically, is something we also hear in different forms in all the four Debussy recordings of Viñes. 



Comparison to other recordings


To compare the Viñes’s playing style to others, I selected in this case four recordings:


In Japanese pianist Yoko Suzuki’s recording, the main tempo is considerably slower than Viñes’s.[3] There is a rich use of rubato, but mainly by slowing down, and not by rushing. Compared to Viñes, the rubato also feels somewhat improvised/inspired rather than an integral structure of the performance. There are some moments of very subtle "dislocation" between the arpeggiated chords and the melody, but in my view this is more unintentional rather than intentional as I feel in the case of Viñes. It is interesting to observe that in the second main theme (F minor), Suzuki does in fact very clearly delay the melody from the left hand on the beginning of the bars – the typical practice we also hear with Viñes. 


In the recording of Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, we hear a slightly faster interpretation, but still quite far from the tempo of Viñes[4]. Larrocha uses less rubato than Suzuki, but has a tendency of slowing down at the sixteenth triplets - as if she is separating each note more clearly. There is also, like with Suzuki’s playing, a more general direction towards slowing down in the rubatos. Larrocha delays the melody on the beginning note of the phrases in the second main theme, but this is the only form of “dislocation” and thus the melody does not have an “individual” rubato.


In José Falgarona’s recording - also a Spanish pianist - we hear a slightly slower performance than Larrocha’s.[5] Falgarona uses far less rubato and plays with a steadier pulse. The interesting thing to observe in this recording is that although the accompaniment in the main theme is played rather strictly, there is a small sense of “individual rubato in the melody, sometimes arriving in-between the main beats. This practice is not evident in the second main theme, though, where the hands fall quite evenly on the same beat. Unlike Suzuki and Larrocha, Falgarona does not delay the melody from the left-hand accompaniment in the middle section. 


Because Viñes chose to record several pieces that are not among the most mainstream repertoires of the day, it is in these cases difficult to find similar historical recordings to compare them with. This, however, did not turn out to be the case with this Albéniz piece as I fortunately stumbled upon the recording of French pianist Marie Panthés. According to CHARM, Panthés recorded this piece for Columbia in 1934[6] (Viñes recorded the same piece for Columbia in 1930). Being born in 1871, Panthés was only four years older than Viñes. This provides the chance of comparing recordings of two pianists of similar generations who recorded for the same company only four years apart. In Marie Panthés recording, there is a striking similarity to the Viñes performance style.[7] Like Viñes, Panthés also starts the piece with two added bars, perhaps further supporting the issue of score-edition. The main tempo is close to that of Viñes and notably faster than the other three compared recordings. Unlike Viñes, Panthés repeats the whole main theme before moving on to the second main theme. Panthés clearly balances the use of slowing down versus rushing. Although a little bit different than Viñes, the rubber ball”-like directional rubato is also evident in this record. She lands on the peaks in the middle of her rubato line as if in “mid-air” before accelerating. She also clearly separates the melody by delaying it from the accompaniment. Also, as with Viñes, her accompaniment is generally, but not literally, following the timing of the melody. She maintains a “polyphonic rubato” quality throughout the piece.


Final thoughts  


There are some striking similarities between this piece and the Tango piece I recreated earlier. Besides the obvious fact that Granada is also composed by Isaac Albéniz, I found the characteristics of Viñes’s performance style equally evident in both recordings. To “modern ears,” the Viñes recording may at first appear as foreign, but having recreated it myself, I found the use of rubato in both Viñes’s recording as well as the recording by Panthés to be far more consistent than the three other recordings, where it seems to be more inspired/randomized. With Viñes, the rubatos have a clear direction and they are played in this same manner every time the musical material is repeated. 


It is interesting to note that both of the Spanish pianists, Larrocha and Falgarona, made several recordings of the music by Albéniz in the 1960s, only some 30 years later than Ricardo Viñes. With Falgarona born in 1921 and Larrocha in 1923, they are only one generation younger than fellow Spanish pianist, Ricardo Viñes. Yet, Larrocha's and Falgarona’s interpretations have far more in common with the recording made by Suzuki in 2008. Although there are characteristic differences between the two historical performances, recorded only four years apart, it is truly fascinating how much they relate in terms of romantic performance practice related aspects. This serves to suggest that the Viñes tendencies are neither distinctively personal or eclectic. Rather, they are more so in line with a common performing tradition.

[1] Indeed, this piece is often played on the guitar.

[2] In a different edition edited by Juan Salvat, this is marked (simile).

[3] Albéniz, Isaac. Suite Española, No. 1, Op. 47, Granada. Played by Yoko Suzuki. Yoko Suzuki: Spanish Piano, Columna Musica, 2008. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021, 

[4] Albéniz, Isaac. Suite Española, No. 1, Op. 47, Granada. Played by Alicia De Larrocha. Alicia De Larrocha: Icon: Alicia De Larrocha, Warner classics, 2010. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021, 

[5] Albéniz, Isaac. Suite Española, No. 1, Op. 47, Granada. Played by José Falgarona. José Falgarona: Albéniz: Suites espagnoles Nos. 1 & 2 (Mono Version), BnF Collection, 1961. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021,

[6] Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, accessed on November 1, 2021,

[7] Albéniz, Isaac. Suite Española, No. 1, Op. 47, Granada. Played by Marie Panthès. Agnelle Bundervoët, Aimée Marie Roger-Miclos, Marie Panthès, Youra Guller and Madeleine de Valmalete:

French Pianists - Pianistes Françaises, Tahara 2008. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021,


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