Jenkins is speaking with his brother-in-law, Robert Tolland, who says while playing a record, “I love Les Parfums de la Nuit. I think that really is the bit I like best.”
The passage continues with Jenkins asking, “‘ Do you adapt your music to the foreign news, Robert?’
‘Rather suitable isn’t it? Now the Alcazar has been relieved things seem to have become a bit static. I wonder who will win?’
He closed the lid of the gramophone, which began once more to diffuse the sombre menacing notes adumbrating their Spanish background: … ” Jenkins proceeds with a concatentation of phrases evoking Spanish scenes [CCR 64/63].
Debussy’s Les Parfums de la Nuit is one of the sections of Iberia, which Debussy wrote between 1905 and 1908. He called this type of orchestral composition Images and intended to evoke a montage of visions of Spain. Debussy made only a single brief visit to Spain, but he was able to use rhythm from Spanish dances and instruments like guitar and castanets to set the Iberian scene. We will present thumbnails to help envision just a few of the images that the music brought to Jenkins imagination. (If you want to listen to the piece while reading, it is available on YouTube, like this version conducted by Toscanini.)
“marble sacrophagi of dead kings under arabesqued ceilings”
“art nouveau blocks of flats past which the squat trams rattled and clanged”
“patent-leather cocked hats of the Guardia Civil”
“a hundred other cubist abstractions , merging their visual elements with the hurdy-gurdy music of the bull-ring”
“like the hooded trio in Goya’s Winter, …”
We have already looked at Goya’s Maya Desnuda. In Winter, a study for a tapestry in the royal palace, Goya shows poor peasants struggling through the snow; this is considered one of Goya’s more compassionate and less somber works; one reviewer even saw it as lighthearted.
In this passage, Powell writes rhythmically and lyrically to respond to Debussy, using words to recall the music, rather than music to recall the images. This scene is set during the bloody Spanish Civil war, between the siege of the Alcazar of Toledo, which ended in September, 1936, and Erridge’s departure for Spain. Powell hears ‘sombre menacing notes’ in the music, yet he chooses to avoid darker references like Goya’s Disasters of War or Picasso’s Guernica (1937). Instead his words mingle hints of that menace with every day beauties of Spanish life.