I have spent much of the afternoon listening to Albeniz- in particular, to an arrangement for piano and violin of the Tango in D. Albeniz died young, in 1909. In fact, quite a few of the Spanish composers of that era died young, of various causes. Granados died in 1916, when the ship on which he was returning to the continent from England was torpedoed by a German submarine. I don't think Albeniz' death was from such a violent cause, but, along with those of his often short-lived countrymen of that time, it has always struck me as a prefigurement of the disastrous interruption which was to befall Spain's early attempt to rejoin the modern world following that once-powerful nation's long, post-imperial nap.
That period of transition from the proto-modern world of the Victorians to the early modern world of the twentieth century has long fascinated me. The art, the literature, and the music of the time display a combination of exuberance, trepidation, anticipation, rebelliousness and nostalgia not quite like anything else in history. Albeniz' tango, like Satie's Gymnopedies or Louis Armstrong's recording of West End Blues, one of the short pieces that captures an image of its time, evoking a vanished moment with remarkable clarity. Listening to music of this sort is like opening an old book and finding, pressed between yellowing, brittle pages filled with old thoughts, a dried and faded flower, and then discovering with astonishment that it still exudes a powerful fragrance.
The images such songs conjure up for me are often so vivid as to be akin to memories. When I was very young, many of the older people I saw on the streets of Los Angeles were the children of that era. My own grandparents were children of Albeniz' contemporaries, and occupied that tumultuous transitional world. Now, the nineteenth century has passed from living memory, and the early years of the twentieth century exist only in the minds of those who were then very young. What I once knew as living history has become history indeed. But whenever I listen to some work of that era, I am amazed at how it sounds at once so fresh and so ancient.