The piano suite Goyescas is Granados’s last major cycle and his true masterpiece. In this composition, Granados went back to the Spanish popular music tradition but through the lens of one of the greatest Spanish artists of all times, the painter Goya.
Francisco de Goya ( 1746-1828) belongs to a much earlier generation, long before Granados was born. But in Granados’s time there was a revival of Goya and a new appreciation of his talent. Although Goya is a manifestation of Spanish culture, he also “created”, so to speak, or expanded Spanish culture as well, for Goya unites popular and high culture. He is one of the painters that have enriched Spanish life with a sets of images and metaphors that every Spaniard is well acquainted with.
Goya was a genius and there are many facets to his work, from the historical and the political. to popular scenes of street life featuring ordinary people. It is precisely these more popular subjects that attracted the attention of Granados: Goya’s pictures of festivals, dances, and popular characters who become archetypal, the majo or maja: streetwise characters, daring, dashing, and protagonists of the demi-monde.
These apparently lighter subjects may be deceptive: Goya is a complex and difficult artist, and so was Granados at this point. In fact, this piano suite is entirely different in character to his former work. Walter Clark of the University of California at Irving, and author of the most authoritative book on Granados, says that behind the composition of Goyescas, published in 1910, two tragic events might have inspired and prompted this musical composition. Revolutionary demonstrations erupted in Barcelona in July 1909, known as Tragic Week; they were violently repressed. And then a more personal loss, that of his friend Isaac Albeniz, who had been like an elder brother to Granados. And there are indeed parallels between Albeniz’s Iberia and Goyescas.
In his own words, Granados said: “I should like to give a personal note in Goyescas, a mixture of bitterness and grace, and I desire that neither of these two phases should predominate over the other in an atmosphere of delicate poetry.” He was well aware that Goyescas was his main accomplishment, a work of “great flights of imagination and difficulty”, he said. “Goyescas is a work for the ages, I am convinced of that”.
Granados was directly inspired by famous Goya painting, El Pelele (the straw man). now housed in Madrid’s Museo de] Prado. This is a c qrtoon painted as a model or template for the royal tapestries. It shows a life-sized straw man being tossed in the air by a blanket held by some young women, a kind of game in a popular festival, but for which many far more complex interpretations-Ladies tossing a man?-have been offered.
Premiered at the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona in 1911, it was its performance in 1914 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris that brought Granados worldwide acclaim. The Grand Opera of Paris made him an offer to arrange an opera, which with the outbreak of the WWI was eventually premiered at the Met. Garcfa Amat says La maja y el ruisenor can be considered a synthesis of the poetic sentiment of Granados.