Granados often called the poet of the piano is frequently compared with Chopin due to the highly ornamental figuration as well the influence of nationalist folk music in their melodies and rhythms. Granados indicated they are Goya-like or Goya-esque hence the name ‘The Goyescas’.
Regarding Goyescas, Granados wrote, “I am enamored with the psychology of Goya, with his palette, with him, with his muse the Duchess of Alba, with his quarrels with his models, his loves and flatteries. That whitish pink of the cheeks, contrasting with the blend of black velvet; those subterranean creatures, hands of mother-of-pearl and jasmine resting on jet trinkets, have possessed me.”
The story of Goyescas is based on a series of six paintings from Francisco Goya’s early career, inspired by the stereotypical young men and women of the majismo movement. “majos” and “majas” are known for their bohemian attitude and spirited nature. In this tale of the goyescas, the four main characters are Rosaria an enchanting aristocratic woman, her lover Fernando the captain of the royal guard, Pepa the maja and Paquiro the majo / toreador. A love triangle is formed when Paquiro flirts with Rosaria and invites her to a dance. Although she ignored his advances, Fernando did observe Paquiro’s advances and now does not trust Rosaria. Pepa also infuriated by Paquiro’s attentions to another woman seeks revenge. Later at the party, tensions are high and culminate in the two majos seeking to fight a dual. Later Rosaria sings a mournful ballad to a nightingale as she fears she will lose him. Fernando approaches and she begs him not to go to the dual and tries to reassure him of her devotion only to him. He still does not fully trust her, and wishes to prove his majismo, and promises to return to Rosaria victorious. Alas, Fernando is fatally wounded in the dual, and the grief stricken Rosaria drags him back to the bench where she sang to the nightingale and professed her love to him. Fernando then dies in her arms.
Quejas o La Maja y el Ruisenor the fourth piece of the Goyescas is the only one in the set with a key signature. The monothematic piece is based on a folksong Granados heard sung by a girl in the Valencia countryside. Granados transforms the haunting melody into five variations. It is the scene where Rosaria sings mournfully to the nightingale. The variations start in f# minor, move to b minor and back to f# minor which follows with the nightingale responding in a beautiful cadenza of elaborate figuration. Although there are five variations of the folksong, the piece is written in an improvisational manner where the variations flow directly into the next.
Alicia de Larrocha’s mesmerizing performance of Granados beloved
Quejas, o la Maja y el Ruiseñor (aka The Maiden and the Nightingale)