top of page

The Poetics of Deep Song: Albéniz, Debussy, and Lorca

Updated: Jun 27

This article is an adaptation of my doctoral lecture recital, presented at the Eastman School of Music on October 3, 2012. Special thanks are due to Dr. Matthew Brown, who supervised my project.



Spanish music undoubtedly had a massive impact on the music and cultural life of Paris in the late 19th century. In particular, there was a real flowering of keyboard works in a Spanish idiom: works by Albéniz and Debussy immediately spring to mind, but this flowering was also reflected in the works of other Spanish and French composer/pianists including de Falla, Turina, Granados, and Ravel, and those works were performed by pianists such as Ricardo Viñes. Figure 1 lists the names of a few of the Spanish musicians living in Paris in the late 1800s, along with their dates and the dates during which they resided in Paris.

In Figure 2, you’ll see three large columns: one for Albéniz on the left, one for Debussy on the right, and one in the middle listing relevant events and publications going on around the same time. Spanish culture was ubiquitous in Paris in the late 19th Century. After Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808, the Spanish Royal Family moved to Paris, and Napoleon III’s wife, Eugenie, was also Spanish. In 1868, Isabella II fled to Spain for political reasons after the Maximilian Affair of 1863, and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 continued the interaction between French and Spanish politics. At the same time, Spanish music had become more and more common in France. In 1872, Durand published the well-known volume of tunes called Echos d’Espagne, and just three years later, Bizet wrote Carmen and Lalo wrote the Symphonie Espagnole. Debussy’s solfege teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, Lavignac, had been collecting Deep Song melodies for publication. In short, while Albéniz and Debussy may or may not actually have met, they lived and worked in a Paris rich in Spanish culture and musicians, and Debussy’s fascination with Spain is reflected even in his early works, including several songs written between 1879 and 1883, some of which are listed in Figure 2. Albéniz and Debussy also shared an important mutual friend, Ricardo Viñes, the Spanish pianist who premiered several of Debussy’s works, including Estampes.1, 2

In this article, we’ll be focusing on six pieces: three by Albéniz – “Preludio,” from España, Op. 165; “Leyenda” from the Suite Española, Op. 47; and “El Albaicín,” from the Iberia suite; and three by Debussy – “La Soirée dans Granade,” from Estampes, and “La puerta del Vino” and “La sérénade interrompue” from the Préludes. I selected these six pieces because they represent a particularly important kind of Spanish music among the many kinds of Spanish music: what we call cante jondo, or Deep Song.

Deep Song is a rather elusive sort of music – if you were to look for a definition of Deep Song, you would find that it is music native to Andalusia, that it is primarily a folk song style that includes several song forms, which are in fact the oldest song forms of flamenco. You would learn that while Deep Song may involve guitar and dancing, it is first and foremost a song style – in fact, guitarists and dancers learn under the auspices of singers.3 Listening to Deep Song, you would notice that the guitar, when present, plays interludes (falsetas 4) between a singer’s phrases, and that the singer incorporates intricate vocal ornamentation.

All of this is true, yes. But… what is it? it is difficult to explain, perhaps because of its unique musical, emotional, and poetic qualities. There is something deeply spiritual, something mysterious, about Deep Song. There is deeper meaning there, and I’m going to try to get at what that is. I’ll focus on deep song style with the help of a poet: Federico García Lorca. Lorca not only understands the poetic side, the mysteries, of Deep Song, but he is a particularly good choice because he actually hears Deep Song in the music of Debussy and Albéniz, and he says so and writes about it. In 1922, Lorca delivered a speech on Deep Song as part of a Deep Song festival that he and his friend Manuel de Falla had organized in Granada. Lorca and De Falla hoped to raise awareness of the cultural importance of the art form, and sought validation of its significance by referencing its use in the music of well-known composers, including the music of Albéniz and Debussy.5

About Albéniz, Lorca writes:

In Spain deep song has had an undeniable influence on all of our best composers, from Albéniz through Granados to Falla.… But the masterstroke was left to Isaac Albéniz, who plumbed the depths of Andalusian song in his work.6

Of Debussy, Lorca writes the following:

At the Spanish Pavilion of the great Paris Exhibition of 1900, a group of Gypsies sang deep song in all its purity. They caught the attention of the whole city, but especially a young musician who was then engaged in the fight all of us young artists must carry on, the fight for what is new and unforeseen, the treasure hunt, in the sea of thought, for inviolate emotion.

Day after day that young man went to hear the Andalusian cantaores. His soul was wide open to the four winds of the spirit, and he was soon made pregnant by the ancient Orient of our melodies. He was Claude Debussy.

Later he would define new theories and climb to the very summit of European music.

Sure enough, from his compositions rise the subtlest evocations of Spain, above all of Granada, a city he knew for what it really is: paradise.

Claude Debussy, composer of fragrance and of pure sensation, reaches his highest creative pitch in the poem Iberia, a truly genial work in which Andalusian perfumes and essences dreamily float.

But where he reveals precisely how much he was influenced by deep song is in the marvelous prelude titled La Puerta del Vino and in the vague, tender Soirée en Grenade, where, I think, one can find all the emotional themes of nighttime in Granada, the blue remoteness of the Vega, the Sierra greeting the tremulous Mediterranean, the enormous barbs of the clouds sunk into the distance, the admirable rubato of the city, the hallucinating play of its underground waters.

And the most remarkable thing about all this is that Debussy… never saw Granada. It is a stupendous case of artistic divination, of profound and brilliant intuition….7

A few months before Lorca’s 1922 speech, Lorca wrote a book of poems entitled Poem of the Deep Song.8 The book consists of poems grouped under the names of different Deep Song forms: Siguiriya, Soleá, Saeta, Petenera. The poems do not use traditional Deep Song texts, or even try to replicate them. Rather, Lorca attempts to capture in them the spirit, the essence, of Deep Song.9 Lorca states:

Nothing but the very essence and this or that trill for its coloristic effect ought to be drawn straight from the people. We should never want to copy their ineffable modulations; we can do nothing but muddy them.10

The way Lorca’s Poem of the Deep Song captures the essence of Deep Song without using “Authentic” Deep Song elements may serve as an analogy for the way the music of Albéniz and Debussy captures that same essence.

Lorca’s friend Manuel de Falla, speaking of the Debussy’s “La Soirée dans Grenade," a work which we will examine here, stated:

The force of imagination concentrated in the few pages of “La Soirée dans Grenada” approaches the marvelous when it is borne in mind that they were written by a foreigner guided almost exclusively by the visions of his genius… Here it is Andalusia itself that we see; truth without authenticity, since there is not a bar directly borrowed from Spanish folk music and yet the whole piece in its smallest detail is redolent of Spain.11

We will explore six works by Albéniz and Debussy, searching for musical features that identify with the essential features of Deep Song.

After a brief quote by Lorca and a video of Deep Song performance which will serve as an introduction to the style, the paper will be divided into four sections: I. Melody in Deep Song, II. The Guitar in Deep Song, III. Affect and Emotion in Deep Song, and IV. Implications for Performance. In the first three sections, we will begin with an exploration of Lorca’s writings on each respective topic, followed by a survey of the six pieces under consideration in this article. As we look at specific musical events in Albéniz and Debussy, we will use excerpts from Lorca’s Poem of the Deep Song to help illuminate those musical events. In the fourth section, I will share my personal thoughts on implications for performance, hoping that Lorca’s intimate and innate understanding of Deep Song may help us to more deeply identify with the music, and may serve to inspire a more informed interpretation of these Deep Song infused works by Albéniz and Debussy. In the Appendix, you will find my formal charts for each of the six pieces, identifying sections in which Deep Song melody or guitar are present. In the Recordings section, I have included videos of my performances of some of the works examined in this article. The Bibliography includes sources for this article, along with suggestions for further reading.


Notice, ladies and gentlemen, the transcendence of the deep song, and how rightly our people called it “deep.” It is truly deep, deeper than all the wells and seas in the world, much deeper than the present heart that creates it or the voice that sings it, because it is almost infinite. It comes from remote races and crosses the graveyard of the years and the fronds of parched winds. It comes from the first sob and the first kiss.12

–– Federico García Lorca

In this video, from a performance by Diego Clavel and Pedro Peña, take note of the following:

✶ Notice that the guitar opens the performance, creating the atmosphere into which the voice will enter.

✶ Notice the melismatic vocalizations, rich in ornamentation and rhythmic freedom.

✶ Notice the way the guitar supports the voice, and breaks into solos when the voice rests (an extended solo begins at 4:24).

✶ Notice the pedal tones in the guitar.

✶ Notice the affect and emotion, full of pain and mystery.



Lorca described Deep Song melody as having a limited range, and as featuring frequent repetition of pitches:

… a melodic ambit that rarely goes beyond a sixth; and the reiterated, almost obsessive prolongation of a single note, a procedure proper to certain techniques of hypnosis and certain forms of prehistoric recitation….13

Lorca wrote of Deep Song melody’s undulating and ornamented style:

Like the primitive Indian musical systems, deep song is a stammer, a wavering emission of the voice, a marvelous buccal undulation that smashes the resonant cells of our tempered scale, eludes the cold, rigid staves of modern music, and makes the tightly closed flowers of the semitones blossom into a thousand petals.14

Then the melody begins, an undulant, endless melody, but not in the same sense as in Bach. Bach’s infinite melody is round, the phrase could go on repeating itself in an eternal circular motion; but the melody of the siguiriya loses itself horizontally, escapes from our hands as we see it withdraw from us toward a point of common longing and perfect passion where the soul will never disembark.15

Lorca commented on the modality of Deep Song melodies, describing them as utilizing “the tonal modes of primitive systems (not to be confused with the so-called Greek modes).”16

We will now examine a few excerpts from the six pieces of Albéniz and Debussy mentioned earlier in this article, with the intention of calling attention to some of the features identified by Lorca as being typical of Deep Song melody––limited range with frequent repetition of pitches, undulating and ornamented style, modal melodies––as manifested in these works. Before moving on, it may be worthwhile listening to the performance in the video above once more and listening for those features within the melody.

In this first example, from Albéniz’ “Preludio,” you will see a typical technique utilized by Albéniz when writing Deep Song melodies: he often doubled the melody, seprating the hands by two octaves. Notice that some of the qualities described by Lorca as being typical of Deep Song are represented here: the limited range, the undulating and ornamented style, and the modal quality of the melody.

Example 1: “Preludio,” from España, Op. 165.

In the next example, from Albéniz’ “Leyenda,” you will see Albéniz utilizing the same technique for wrting Deep Song melody that was just exemplified in the “Preludio”: the hands are two octaves apart, doubling the melody. Within this short example, you will also notice several of the same qualities described by Lorca: limited range, undulating and ornamented style, and the modal quality of the melody. After the last note of the melody (the A in the third measure of the example), you will see two D major chords in a lower register. These are responses to the vocal melody, typical of guitar responses in Deep Song.

Example 2: “Leyenda” from the Suite Española, Op. 47.

The next three examples are from Albéniz’ “El Albaicín.” Debussy himself had this to say about “El Albaicín”:

Few works of music equal El Albaicin from the third volume of Iberia, where one recaptures the atmosphere of those evenings of Spain which exude the odors of flowers and brandy.... It is like the muffled sounds of a guitar sighing in the night, with abrupt awakenings, nervous starts. Without exactly using popular themes, this music comes from one who has drunk of them, heard them, up to the point of making them pass into his music so that it is impossible to perceive the line of demarcation.17

In the example 3, you will again see Albéniz’ typical style for writing Deep Song melody: the hands are doubling the melody, two octaves apart. You’ll also see all of the qualities referenced by Lorca as being typical of Deep Song manifested here: limited range and frequent repetition of pitches, undulating and ornamented style, and modality of melody. As in the example from “Leyenda,” above, at the end of this first example from “El Albaicín,” you will see that the Deep Song melody––which ends with the D on the downbeat of the last measure––is followed by chordal texture which is representative of guitar.

Example 3: “El Albaicín,” from Iberia.

Example 4 is from the climax of “El Albaicín," and example 5 is from a section following the climax. As we will discuss more later in this article, some of Lorca’s poetry in Poem of the Deep Song seems to suggest that the intensity of emotion in Deep Song may leave change in its wake. These two examples not only exemplify some of the qualities described by Lorca as being typical of Deep Song, but also seem to embody this phenomenon of intense emotion leaving change in its wake. Notice that Albéniz is not drawing on his typical technique for writing Deep Song melody in these examples, forgoing the doubled melody two octaves apart in favor of a doubled melody one octave apart (in the right hand, and filled in with harmonies) in order to make room for varied textures in the left hand. This allows him to achieve a thicker and richer texture within the climax, and a more ethereal, atmospheric effect in the later section.

Example 4: from the climax of “El Albaicín,” from Iberia.

Example 5: after the climax of “El Albaicín,” from Iberia.

The next example comes from Debussy’s “La Soirée dans Granade,” from Estampes. In the right hand, Debussy incorporates an habanera ostinato, while the left hand features a Deep Song melody with all of the features already identified by Lorca as being typical of Deep Song. The habanera ostinato serves to keep the rhythm going on under the Deep Song melody, taking on one of the functional aspects of the guitar in the context of Deep Song.

Example 6: “La Soirée dans Grenade,” from Estampes.

Deep Song melody example 7 comes from Debussy’s “La puerta del Vino.” While this example also exemplifies many of Lorca’s Deep Song melody features, notice that it is particularly rich in ornamentation. As Virginia Raad states,

There is the insistence on a single note with a sinuous repetition of notes revolving around it, a melismatic coloratura, rubato, long sustained notes followed by short triplets and rapid phrases, all over the habanera pedal. One cannot reproduce at the piano the infinitesimal gradations between tones which occur in a true cante jondo, but here is an ingenious use of the piano’s physical resources to evoke a style that requires immense sensitivity on the part of the pianist.18

Example 7: “La puerta del Vino,” from Préludes.

Examples 8 and 9 are from “La sérénade interrompue,” from Debussy’s Préludes. In example 8, notice the limited range of the Deep Song melody over a guitar texture, and in example 9, notice the highly ornamented and undulating style of the melody.

Example 8: “La sérénade interrompue,” from Préludes.

Example 9: “La sérénade interrompue,” from Préludes.


For insight into Lorca’s understanding of the role of the guitar in Deep Song, we may look to his poem “La Guitarra” from Poema del Cante Jondo, and also to portions of his lecture “Play and Theory of the Duende.”

Lorca describes guitar falsetas as an instrumental commentary: "…the guitarist too must sing, and this gives rise to the falseta, which is the strings’ commentary.”19 Returning once more to the performance by Clavel and Peña, notice the alternation between sections of guitar and voice, and that the guitar seems to “comment,” or react to, what the voice has just presented.

In his poem “La Guitarra,” Lorca suggests that the guitar may have a repetitive (“monotonous”), yet emotive, quality while accompanying the Deep Song melody, writing that “it weeps monotonously / as weeps water / as weeps wind / over the snowfall.”20

Turning to the six pieces of Albéniz and Debussy we’ve been discussing, we may find that these two ideas of 1) the importance of the role of guitar falsetas and 2) the guitar having a repetitive-yet-emotive quality may also be present in the piano works in question.

In Albéniz’ “Preludio,” the composer utilizes guitar figurations typical of Deep Song guitar falsetas, as illustrated in example 10.

Example 10: “Preludio,” from España, Op. 165.

In the following instructional video on the soleares, by ProFLAMENCO, notice the similarity between the opening figure being demonstrated and the falseta in Albéniz’ “Preludio."

In Albéniz’ “Leyenda,” he incorporates a similar falseta, as illustrated in example 11.

Example 11: “Leyenda” from the Suite Española, Op. 47.

In “El Albaicín,” Albéniz also includes a similar guitar falseta, as illustrated in example 12.

Example 12: “El Albaicín,” from Iberia.

In Albéniz’ “Leyenda,” the opening figurations are imitative of guitar (the piece, though composed for piano, is so successful in imitating the guitar that it has become a favorite of guitarists, and it has been transcribed many times for the guitar). In these guitar textures which open the piece, notice the “monotony” of the music: notes are repeated, figures are repeated multiple times, things change at a slow pace and build slowly. However, I would argue that the music is highly emotionally charged, and captures the repetitive-yet-emotive quality suggested by Lorca. The opening guitar texture is illustrated in example 13.

Example 13: “Leyenda” from the Suite Española, Op. 47.

Albéniz achieves a similar “monotonous” effect in the opening of “El Albaicín,” as illustrated in Deep Song guitar example 14.

Example 14: “El Albaicín,” from Iberia.

As stated by Virginia Raad, “Debussy was preoccupied with the possibilities of transposing the guitar touch to the piano.”21 In his “La Soirée dans Grenade,” Debussy creates figures that may be suggestive of the guitar, as in Deep Song guitar example 15.22 They may function as falsetas, occuring between more melodic (more vocal) sections and perhaps “commenting” on them.

Example 15: “La Soirée dans Grenade,” from Estampes.

Example 16 is also from “La Soirée dans Grenade,” and is perhaps also imitative of guitar textures. Notice the repetition of notes achieved by alternation between hands, an effect similar to that achieved by Albéniz in “Leyenda” (see example 13).

Example 16: “La Soirée dans Grenade,” from Estampes.

In “La puerta del Vino,” arpeggiated figures are suggestive of guitar strumming (examples 17 and 18).

Example 17: “La puerta del Vino,” from Préludes.

Example 18: “La puerta del Vino,” from Préludes.

Debussy writes “quasi guitarra" in the opening measure of his “La sérénade interroumpe” (example 19). In this passage, as in example 13 from Albéniz’ "Leyenda" and example 16 from Debussy’s own “La Soirée dans Grenade,” repeated notes are suggestive of guitar texture.

Example 19: “La sérénade interrompue,” from Préludes.

In example 20, also from Debussy’s “La sérénade interrompue,” we find another figure suggestive of guitar. This figure is reminiscent of examples 10, 11, and 12 from Albéniz’ “Preludio,” “Leyenda,” and “El Albaicín,” respectively, which, as mentioned earlier, emulate falsetas typical in Deep Song guitar.

Example 20: “La sérénade interrompue,” from Préludes.


“Deep song is imbued with the mysterious color of primordial ages.”23

“The finest degrees of Sorrow and Pain, in the service of the purest, most exact expression…”24

“And the poem either poses a deep emotional question with no answer, or it solves it with death, which is the question of questions.”25

–– Federico García Lorca

In the quotes above, Lorca beautifully encapsulates the essence of Deep Song mystery and pathos. Lorca’s “El paso de la siguiriya," from Poem of the Deep Song, incandescently captures this spirit in unforgettable lines like these: “Entre mariposas negras, / va una muchacha morena / junto a una blanca serpiente / de niebla."26 I would loosely translate these lines as “Among butterflies black, / goes a girl dark / together with a white serpent / of mist.”

He also addresses the issue of emotional extremes in Deep Song: “One of the most remarkable characteristics of the deep-song poem is their almost complete lack of a restrained, middle tone.”27 This characteristic seems to have been a focus for both Albéniz and Debussy in their Deep Song inspired pieces. Note Debussy’s indication Rageur (“Angry”) over the falsetas that interrupt the music that had been sounding in “La sérénade interrompue” in measures 85 and 90 (interestingly, as Mark DeVoto points out, “And in Debussy’s single piece of genuine program music, La sérénade interrompue, the irony is even more subtle: the interrupting music is from his own Ibéria"28).

As Paul Roberts writes, about “La puerta del Vino,”

The instruction at the head of the piece, avec de brusques oppositions d’extrême violence et de passionnée douceur (with sudden contrasts of extreme violence and passionate tenderness), perfectly captures the fluctuating moods of flamenco. Performers should inscribe it on their hearts.29

For a poem that captures the emotional extremes of Deep Song, see Lorca’s poem “Ay!,” from Poem of the Deep Song, which includes the lines “Todo se ha roto en el mundo. / No queda más que el silencio. / (Dejadme en este campo, / llorando)”30 (I would roughly translate this as “Everything has broken in the world. / There remains nothing more than the silence. / (Leave me in this field, / crying”).

As mentioned previously in regards to two passages in Albéniz’ “El Albaicín,” some of Lorca’s poems in Poem of the Deep Song seem to suggest that the extreme intensity of emotion in Deep Song may leave change in its wake.

His poem “Y Después,” from Poem of the Deep Song, may illustrate this idea in its mysterious and beautiful lines, which begin with “Los labarintos / que crea el tiempo / se vesvanecen. // (Sólo queda el desierto)”31 (I would translate this very roughly as “The labyrinths / that time creates / disappear. // (Only remains the desert)”). In his poem “Madrugada,” we read “Sobre la noche verde / las saetas, / dejan rastros de lirio caliente”32 (I would loosely translate this as “Over the green night / the arrows, / leave traces of hot iris”).


How might Lorca’s intimate and innate understanding of Deep Song help us to more deeply identify with the music, and serve to inspire a more informed interpretation of these Deep Song infused works by Albéniz and Debussy?

In this section, I will offer a few thoughts and some personal suggestions, things that I myself consider in study and performance of this repertoire.

First and foremost, Lorca’s writings on Deep Song might inspire us to listen to Deep Song performances, and listening is of utmost importance in approaching an understanding of the style and internalizing the spirit and nuances of Deep Song. There are many great exponents of the style: three of my favorite cantaores (singers) are Diego Clavel, Camarón de la Isla, and Jose Menese.

Considering the melodic qualities cited by Lorca––the limited range with frequent repetition of pitches, undulating and ornamented style, and modal melodies––might help us identify moments in the music of Albéniz and Debussy (and other composers who wrote music inspired by Deep Song) which have the flavor of Deep Song melody. When we find these moments, a consideration of stylistic delivery of sung Deep Song melody may help us understand the rich ornaments, the melismatic style, and the flavor of the modal melodies. For example, in the performance by Diego Clavel and Pedro Peña in the video referenced earlier, take note of how Clavel treats cadences in this Phrygian mode (from 1:41–1:44, for example), leaning into the dissonances, the tension, before relaxing into the tonic. From 2:42–2:58, or from 3:54–4:10, or from 5:06–5:26, or 5:51–6:21, listen to the ornaments used by Clavel: his inflections, the emotive function of the ornaments themselves, the rhythmic freedom of the ornaments, the dynamic shaping of his line… all of these details may inform the way a pianist interprets Deep Song melody at the piano.

For example, in example 2, from “Leyenda,” such reflection may inform the timing of the ornaments, the dissonance-based inflection and rhythmic freedom of the line, the way that tension and resolution are handled. On a practical note, knowing that this type of writing in Albéniz––a melody doubled two octaves apart––is representative of a sung melody, and that this style would not typically call for a melody sung two octaves above middle D, I often voice the bottom (the left hand), and imagine the top as color over the bottom, as adding to natural harmonics and resonance with the intention of creating a more voice-like timbre.

Example 2: “Leyenda” from the Suite Española, Op. 47.

Recognizing the guitar textures as distinct from the vocal, melodic lines, is of primary importance: once this is accomplished, the pianist may create distinct colors for each part, allowing a more cantabile sound production for the vocal melody, while creating a sound that more closely emulates guitar for the guitar textures. In the repetitive guitar figurations that open (and close) Albéniz’ “Leyenda,” for example (example 13), I play with just enough pedal to emulate the natural resonance and sustain of guitar.

Example 13: “Leyenda” from the Suite Española, Op. 47.

Consideration of the qualities of Deep Song guitar mentioned by Lorca––falsetas as an instrumental commentary, and a repetitive-yet-emotive quality––may inform our interpretation of the guitar-like textures in Deep Song inspired piano repertoire. For example, in example 2, from “Leyenda,” the vocal elements may be played cantabile, while the guitar texture represented by the D major chords may be played with the sound of the guitar in mind. These chords are not from the vocal “part” that precedes them, but are played by a completely separate “instrument;” this is an example of the guitar falsetas serving as commentary between the vocal phrases. In performance, I sometimes subtly roll these chords to emulate guitar strums, and I always think of each successive set of guitar chords as a commentary on the melody that immediately precedes them. Similar examples may be found throughout the repertoire under consideration in this article.

In the more repetitive guitar textures (examples 13 and 14, for example), an understanding that while these figures may be “monotonous” they may still carry a highly emotive musical narrative is of utmost importance, and will encourage the interpreter to find the small, subtle details of shaping that help build a long-term arc leading to climactic moments. And these climactic moments, themselves, may be informed by a better understanding of Deep Song guitar style. For example, in “Leyenda,” I would argue that the large chords like those shown in example 21, below, may be properly understood as emulating guitar rasqueado.

Example 21: “Leyenda,” from the Suite Española, Op. 47.

Listening to Deep Song, one might notice that the guitar often plays pedal tones. Knowing this might help make sense—and call attention to the importance of—pedal tones in Deep Song inspired music. For example, in examples 4 and 5, from “El Albaicín,” notice the long A-flat and B-flat pedal tones. Such pedal tones are quite common in this literature, and the performer should not only play them as written, but should listen to them as fundamental to the harmonic environment and structure of the music in question.

Example 4: from the climax of “El Albaicín,” from Iberia.

Example 5: after the climax of “El Albaicín,” from Iberia.

Lorca discusses the emotional extremes in Deep Song. How can this influence our interpretation? The interruptions in Debussy’s Deep Song inspired works, and particularly in “La sérénade interrompue,” may take on new meaning in light of Lorca’s commentary on emotional extremes: perhaps they are a sort of connection to these extremes, to the quicksilver changes possible in Deep Song.

For my taste, the piano music in question in this article is often played in too tame a manner, too straight-laced a style… it is played without duende (for a discussion of duende, see Lorca’s Play and Theory of the Duende 33), the duende “that burns the blood like a poultice of broken glass, that… exhausts, that… rejects all the sweet geometry we have learned, that… smashes styles, that… leans on human pain with no consolation….”34

We, as pianists, are trained to achieve the most sophisticated refinement, the most tasteful sound, the most beautiful timbre (as per Lorca’s “angel”35). I would argue that we need to put all of this skill and control to use in creating a rich tapestry of colors and extreme, quicksilver changes that might move beyond the scope of the typical sound world we aim to create in performance, and that an understanding of Deep Song style and its rhythmic freedom should infuse our performance. We might take Debussy at his word when he writes, in the opening of “La puerta del Vino,” “avec de brusques oppositions d’extrême violence et de passionnée douceur.” As Paul Roberts states:

How far a pianist would get with “La soirée,” however, without an empathy with Andalusia and flamenco, is not so certain. Indeed, “La soirée” is one of the most difficult pieces to bring off in performance. According to the diary of the pianist Ricardo Viñes, “Debussy never found this piece played as he wanted it.”36

When we have the courage to find these emotional extremes, to become vulnerable to the duende, we might find the mystery, and find that “Los labarintos / que crea el tiempo / se vesvanecen. // (Sólo queda el desierto)”.37

  1. Ralph Calhoun Brashier, Jr., Debussy’s Estampes: An Analysis in View of its Nationalistic Origins, thesis, Eastman School of Music, 1981, 36.

  2. Virginia Raad, “Debussy and the Magic of Spain,” Clavier 18/3 (1979): 13.

  3. Timothy Mitchell, Flamenco Deep Song (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994) 1.

  4. Federico García Lorca, In Search of Duende, trans. Christopher Maurer (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1998) 24.

  5. Lorca, In Search of Duende,) x–xi, 9–10.

  6. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 10.

  7. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 9.

  8. Lorca, In Search of Duende, x–xi.

  9. Lorca, In Search of Duende, x–xi.

  10. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 14.

  11. Raad, “Debussy and the Magic of Spain,” 13–20.

  12. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 10.

  13. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 5.

  14. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 3.

  15. Federico García Lorca, Federico García Lorca: Collected Poems, trans. and ed. Christopher Maurer (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) 895.

  16. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 6.

  17. John Gillespie, Five Centuries of Keyboard Music (Dover Publications, Inc.: New York, 1972): 318.

  18. Raad, “Debussy and the Magic of Spain,” 15.

  19. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 24.

  20. Federico García Lorca, Poema del cante jondo (Madrid: ediciones ulises, 1931) 19.

  21. Raad, “Debussy and the Magic of Spain,” 14.

  22. Brashier, Debussy’s Estampes: An Analysis in View of its Nationalistic Origins, 45.

  23. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 2–3.

  24. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 11.

  25. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 12.

  26. Lorca, Poema del cante jondo, 25.

  27. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 12.

  28. Mark DeVoto, Debussy and the Veil of Tonality, (Pendragon Press: Hillsdale, 2004): 188.

  29. Paul Roberts, Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy (Portland: Amadeus Press, 1996) 270.

  30. Lorca, Poema del cante jondo, 41.

  31. Lorca, Poema del cante jondo, 29.

  32. Lorca, Poema del cante jondo, 69.

  33. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 48–62.

  34. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 51.

  35. Lorca, In Search of Duende, 50–51.

  36. Roberts, Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy, 63.

  37. Lorca, Poema del cante jondo, 29.



Chart 1: “Preludio,” from España, Op. 165, by Isaac Albéniz.

Chart 2: “Leyenda,” from the Suite Española, Op. 47, by Isaac Albéniz.

Chart 3: “El Albaicín,” from Iberia, by Isaac Albéniz.

Chart 4: “La Soirée dans Grenade,” from Estampes, by Claude Debussy, based on an analysis by Ralph Calhoun Brashier, Jr.

Chart 5: “La puerta del Vino,” from Préludes, by Claude Debussy.

Chart 6: “La sérénade interrompue,” from Préludes, by Claude Debussy.





Brashier, Ralph Calhoun Jr. Debussy’s Estampes: An Analysis in View of its Nationalistic Origins. Thesis. Eastman School of Music, 1981.

Brown, Matthew. Debussy’s “Ibéria”: Studies in Genesis and Structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Comas i Figueras, Ricard. “Isaac Albéniz i Pascual.” Trans. Catherine P. Crowe. Gaudí and Art Nouveau in Catalonia. 1 June 2012 <>.

DeVoto, Mark. Debussy and the Veil of Tonality. Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2004.

Gillespie, John. Five Centuries of Keyboard Music. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1972.

Glass-Rosenwald, Winifred. The Rhythmic Elements of Spanish Music Exemplified by the Piano Works of Isaac Albeniz. Thesis. Eastman School of Music, 1940.

Gray, Wallace Robert. Form in the Twenty-Four Preludes for Piano by Claude Debussy. Thesis. Eastman School of Music, 1953.

Lorca, Federico García. Federico García Lorca: Collected Poems. Trans. and ed. Christopher Maurer. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Lorca, Federico García. In Search of Duende. Trans. Christopher Maurer. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1998.

Lorca, Federico García. Poema del cante jondo. Madrid: ediciones ulises, 1931.

Mitchell, Timothy. Flamenco Deep Song. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Raad, Virginia. “Debussy and the Magic of Spain.” Clavier 18/3 (1979): 13–20.

Roberts, Paul. Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Portland: Amadeus Press, 1996.

Totton, Robin. Song of the Outcasts: An Introduction to Flamenco. Portland: Amadeus Press, 2003.

19 views0 comments


bottom of page