Felipe Pedrell, the éminence grise of Spanish nationalism in music, persuaded Falla (as he had Albéniz and Granados beforehand) to use his country’s character and folklore with which to express himself in composition. But, rather like Grieg, whose music he greatly admired, Falla preferred not to make direct use of folk melody but to capture the essence and the spirit of his native land as reflected in his own personality. He began by writing zarzuelas (popular, light musical entertainments in Spain) and won a prize for his opera La vida breve (1905). After its success he decided to go to Paris for a few weeks. Here he met and befriended Debussy, Ravel and Dukas, became swept up in French musical life and ended up staying seven years. Influenced and greatly encouraged by them (listen to Debussy’s ‘Ibéria’ from Images and his piano piece ‘La soirée dans Grenade’), Falla found his own voice and made his way back to Spain in 1914. This blend of Impressionism and his own ambitions for Spanish music resulted in his three best-known works: Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the two ballet scores El Amor brujo and El sombrero de tres picos.
In 1922 Falla settled in Granada, leaving only infrequently to conduct or attend performances of his work. Though from a wealthy family, he had no desire for money, possessions or honours, and all he wanted was to worship God, write music and lead a simple life. Towards the end of his life he became a hypochondriac: believing that a full moon was bad for his health, when such an occurrence was due in March or September, he refused to see anyone.
At first he sided with Franco during the Civil War but the anti-religious sentiment after the overthrow of the monarchy forced him into self-imposed exile, knowing that his frail health would never allow him to set foot in Spain again. So it was; but, after his death at his home near Córdoba in Argentina, his body was brought back to be buried in the crypt of Cádiz Cathedral.