Granada is subtitled “Serenata” – in other words, a serenade. For the first movement of his very successful Suite Española no. 1, Albeniz chose a work that was immediately evocative of Spanish elements, for both his local audience and the mainstream Western concert music listener. Of course, as a serenade, those elements are obviously a guitar and solo singer. The opening idea strums over a tenor-range melody, followed by finger-picking patterns, some of which pick up steam or lay back.

For the average arranger, these elements are a gimme. The music is so suited to guitar, in fact, that it’s rarely played as anything but a guitar solo. In orchestral arrangements, especially a recent score by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, there’s a tendency to give in to these obvious associations, with harps taking the place of guitar for endless glittery bars. Yet I feel that this direction in arranging ignores the deeper essence of the music: a picture of an imaginary, idealised Spain, with warm pleasant nights, birds singing, perfumed fountains, and an ineffable quality of life’s sweetness. Forty straight bars of harps imitating a guitar does very little to illustrate this in my view, with all respect to Frühbeck (his arrangement is excellent in other ways, heavily Romantic rather than picturesque). It’s too obvious, and too clumsy a substitute for craft and imagery in orchestration. That was the source of my restriction in the guidelines for the orchestration challenge: no direct-to-harp transcriptions of the first idea’s right hand, or the second idea’s left hand.

What I scored instead for the opening of Granada was a series of pulsing chords alternating between strings and winds. The Spanish flavour and rhythm easily adapts itself to this approach, while the role of the guitar is taken by long rolls every couple of bars traded off between the harps. For the role of the serenader, I utilised one of my favourite trademarks: a strongly emotive solo cello, supported by soft doubling on a combination of other instruments – bassoon, horn, and bass clarinet. The result is a glowing, radiant tone, almost like a super-cello – or at least it will be if the players carefully balance their parts.

Have a look at that first element I mentioned in the paragraph above, the alternating chords, in the score below. Note the combination of rolled harmonies via grace notes, harmonics, trills, and fingered tremolo in the strings, sounding a bit like the whirring and fluttering of wings. Then check out the answering chords in flutes and clarinets. Though the individual components are nearly the same in approach, they’re voiced and placed differently across the harmony, sounding more like cooing and twittering. When the two chords are alternated, there’s a definitely avian-sounding effect, but beyond that a nice misty colouring to the whole texture. The ear can’t quite distinguish the elements, which makes a lovely cloud of sound.

Before moving on to the rest of the piece, have a look at my instrumentation on the first page. I allowed the same orchestral numbers as Albeniz’s Catalonia for the orchestration challenge, including triple winds and 4431 brass. But I myself didn’t make use of every possible player from that list. Piccolo and two flutes, two clarinets and bass clarinet – those are my triples. But I only made use of one oboe, with one cor anglais as partner. Likewise, I felt that only two bassoons were required. Certainly contrabassoon had no room in my plans for this score.

As to the brass, I did a great deal of trimming back: three horns, two trombones, and no tuba. As for trumpets, one is all it took here, but as you’ll see its role was all the more precious for that.

Back to the opening idea. At bar 21, there’s a modulation from sleepy F major to a grander, more expansive A-flat. The chords become alternating, weaving figures in winds and strings, with a touch of trills and harmonics to break up the regularity of motion. This is filigreed by first harp patterns over open 5ths, and punctuated with a touch of timpani. The melody goes to tutti cellos and first violins, in a soaring doubling by oboe and cor anglais. The merest touch of background brass gives everything radiance and scope. As the first idea winds to a close from bar 31, I use a mixture of elements from both the first and second overall orchestral approaches. Solo cello returns, backed by bassoon and bass clarinet. Backing by first horn isn’t needed as the dynamics ebb, freeing it to maintain the cushion with the other brass. The alternating chords are nearly the same as the opening, but with the top staff of violin I + cellos continuing to double with oboe and cor anglais in alternating phrases with solo cello. My favourite touch here – the final note of the passage, a stark bass clarinet moodily opening the door to the next idea.

Here the original piano score becomes more intimate, more lonely, like a balmy, quiet night under a waning moon. Here, I wanted to evoke more closely the feeling of guitar, but by embracing character rather than stereotype. Pizzicato lower strings are rounded out by bassoon and bass clarinet. The centre of the figure is harmonised by violins with a touch of horn behind them. Clear, yearning wind solos make their statements and then hold their last notes over ensuing phrases. This approach is echoed by the violins as F minor turns to F major. Note the difference in accompaniment style. Bassoons take the place of the horns, and second clarinet the place of second bassoon. Cellos alternate between a lush arco, and a crisp pizzicato backed by bass clarinet.

The section from bar 61 probably took the most thought to orchestrate. The melody was very reminiscent of Spanish trumpet playing, but dipped down into a range that wasn’t the fullest for a C trumpet. I solved this problem fairly simply, by dovetailing first trombone on the lower parts of the phrase into trumpet for the juicier bits. It was a delight to rewrite the phrasing of the melodic line to emulate a Spanish trumpet line, with a combination of staccato alongside slurring delineating motivic emphasis.

The grandiosity of the passage begged for a larger scale of scoring than ten fingers allowed for in the original. I added cascading harps and flurrying strings, catching the tremolo rise of the lower strings in the left hand pattern, then swooping to the downbeat punctuation of timpani. The echo of the first half of this episode called for a much calmer mood, but still requiring added tremolo violin icing rising toward the opening of the next passage.

Bar 75 initiates another echo, this one of the opening passage. The intensely soft character suggested a lighter, more swirling treatment of the back-and-forth chords, in turn allowing for a simple yet intense bassoon solo, unadulterated with any textural doubling. Bars 83-84 were very fun, borrowing a trick from Russian orchestrators in momentarily injecting a slightly contrasting voice – cor anglais instead of bassoon. I’ve been thinking about the discrete differences inherent in woodwind ranges while preparing my wind orchestration courses, so this came easily to mind.

Figure B is a mirror of Figure A. For variety, I used higher wind solos, starting with piccolo and working downward to clarinet. The F major answer is pretty much the same, with a codetta that alternates solo horn and solo cello.

Figure C was the funnest section to score by far. I took Albeniz’s flamenco suggestion and made it into a full-scale gesture, with alternating up/down strums in the strings pushed by a tambourine pattern. At first the horns and first trombone simply play the right hand of the piano score, but stopped and muted respectively. Then both brass and strings do a delicate game of maintaining the rhythmic elements through the rising melody and accompaniment. Favourite part for me: the treatment of the first four bars of melody, essentially double basses soli, made fuller by bassoons, bass clarinet, and second trombone. Look at which notes have more or less doubling. The written A3 at bars 113 and 115 is a penetrating note for bass clarinet, and needs little help. But bars 114 and 116 need trombone in order to clarify such a low and quick series of notes under the pizzicato antics.

Figure D is an out-and-out da capo al fine, and could easily have been scored as such by the composer. I’ve simply pasted the opening here, as I feel the scoring is perfectly fine as a repeat. The only other thing worth mentioning is the scoring of last four bars. The final string chord behind the harp arpeggios is doubled by bassoon, horns, clarinet, and bass clarinet, for a glowing but slightly hollow shading. This gives things a nice nocturnal feel on the one hand, while staying out of the way of the harp tone on the other.

After that guided tour, have another look and perhaps a listen as well with the mockup track link to Soundcloud below. There were other cool approaches that could have been taken here, which are illustrated in many of the innovative entries that I’ll be compiling by the end of this month. I can’t wait to share those with you, so please stand by. The wait is nearly over, and will be followed by another Orchestration Challenge in a completely different direction. We’ll be orchestrating a piano piece of a master composer, one that he never got around to arranging himself. I’ll be inviting more composers who haven’t had a chance yet to enter these challenges, and hope to see many new approaches applied to the music. See you then!

Albeniz’s Granada from Suite Española no. 1, Op. 47 | Thomas Goss Score
Albeniz’s Granada from Suite Española no. 1, Op. 47 | Thomas Goss Score