This modern parody of the conventional representation of Spain was completed in Rome at Berners’ villa on the Forum, and dedicated to the Italian composer and musicologist Gian Francesco Malipiero. In its orchestral guise it was heard at the Proms in 1919 and again two years later when, under Eugene Goosens, it shared the bill with the first concert performance in England of The Rite of Spring.
The work confounded certain critics who had prophesised Berners’ utter incapability of writing a tune by employing no less than seventy. A review in the Musical Times in 1926 dismissed it, along with Les Noces and El Amor Brujo in one sentence as “remarkable examples of minuteness and clarity”. Lambert, in his book Music Ho! was slightly fuller in his praise declaring that “it would be an exaggeration to say that the Spanish national style was invented by a Russian, Glinka, and destroyed by an Englishman, Lord Berners: for after the latter’s amazingly brilliant parody of Spanish mannerisms it is impossible to hear most Spanish music without a certain satiric feeling breaking through.” In British Music of Our Time (1946) Jack Westrup identified Berners’ intentions exactly when he wrote that “it is a common thing for a parodist to aim his shafts at something with which he himself has an unconscious sympathy.”
The opening prelude is dominated by a pedal D throughout and derives most of its material from the opening theme. Ostinato is also a feature of the subsequent Fandango, where the driving force is still rhythmic and a recurring melodic figure carries the music fervently forward. In this movement and the following Pasadoble the ghost of Stravinsky’s Rite is omnipresent. Additionally, this last movement has an ‘eastern’ flavour hinting, presumably, at the Moorish influence on Spanish history and culture. However, whole-tone scales figure too, indicating an altogether more recent influence from north of the Pyrenees. Finally, despite all talk of parody, Berners avoids probably the commonest trait of all in Spanish, or pseudo-Spanish music – 6/8 time against 3/4 - so effectively mimicked by Walton in the Iberian number in Façade.
© Philip Lane