La Puerta del Vino

30th May 2024 | Inspirations, Travel | 4 comments

Debussy’s Prelude ‘La Puerta del Vino’, from his second book of Preludes for piano (written 1912-13), has been one of my favourites for a long time. I’ve always loved its evocation of harsh guitar music, flamenco singing and the rhythms of the habañera. Long ago I read that it portrayed the music of gypsies who gathered to play their guitars at ‘La Puerta del Vino’ (the Gate of Wine), one of the Moorish gates which guard the Alhambra in Granada, in the south of Spain.

On a short trip to Granada this week, I was lucky enough to visit the Alhambra twice – once by day and once by night. It was only on the second visit (see photo) that I realised the magnificent gateway was the one that inspired Debussy’s prelude. There is a modest little plaque on a side wall of the Puerta del Vino commemorating Debussy’s piano piece, but I didn’t notice it at first.

Debussy wrote a number of pieces descriptive of Spain, which in fact he didn’t know very well – he once made a day trip to San Sebastian in the north, but he never visited the south. His portrayals of Spain are works of imagination which have nevertheless impressed Spaniards themselves. Another is the piano piece ‘La Soirée dans Grenade’ (1903), a homage to Granada’s sultry evenings.

Today, visits to the Alhambra are tightly controlled and ticketed. There are no gypsies gathering at the Puerta del Vino to play guitars and dance – certainly not while I was there. (What fun it would have been to see that!) Nevertheless, in the warmth of late evening, it was easy to imagine the kind of scene that Debussy had in mind.

4 Comments

  1. Mary Cohen

    So interesting to hear that Debussy was using his imagination as much as his experiences!

    Reply
    • Graham Cumberland

      One of the most famous pieces inspired by this wonderful building and grounds is the tremelo study for guitar Recuerdos de la Alhambra. In fact it was played on Radio 3 this morning.

      Reply
      • Susan Tomes

        I didn’t know that, Graham – thanks for mentioning it

        Reply
  2. Graham Cumberland

    It’s by Francisco Tarrega.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Best reads of the year

Best reads of the year

A reader has asked me to specify my favourite books of the year. I keep a note in my diary of the books I read, and this year I read...

read more