Though Enrique Granados himself remains a largely underappreciated and in some ways even murky figure, his Tonadillas al estilo antiguo, H136, settings of a group of poems by Fernando Periquet for voice and piano, have long and widely been considered a precious peak in the Spanish song repertoire. In this collection, which was first published in 1912, Granados' love of radiant but subtle harmonies, shimmering piano textures, and of archaic-sounding and often folklike melodies finds full expression.
Tonadillas al estilo antiguo is not, properly speaking, a song cycle; its songs are not all written for the same voice type, and the last one is a duet. But there is no doubting that the songs are all from the same batch, so to speak, and they do fit together as a single performance quite nicely. Although the number of songs is usually listed as ten, there are for all intents and purposes 12; the ninth song, "La maja dolorosa," is really three songs in one.
The texts tell of majos and majas (men and women of Madrid) and their sundry romantic interactions. (The word tonadilla means simply little tonada, or little song, and all the songs in the set are quite brief.) The first, "Amor y odio" (Love and Hate), is an Allegretto, half in G minor and half in G major; even at its darkest, however, there is no room for despair or self-pity, the piano skips lightly along, gently prodding the singer. The Spanish idiom is fully invoked for the second, "Callejeo," a tale of a woman scorned wandering the streets of Spain in search of the man who betrayed her. A series of three songs tell of three majos, one discreet, one forgotten, and one timid, and then in the sixth song, "El mirar de la maja," a maja tells, to a persistent staccato accompaniment figure, of the effect her fiery, passionate gaze has on her beloved. In the seventh, the adorable "El tra la la y el punteado," a maja informs her man that she intends to keep on singing no matter what he does or says to her. A maja devoted to Goya takes the stage in number eight, and then a bereaved maja sings of her loss in the three-part "La maja dolorosa." The final duet is titled "Las currutacas modestas" (The Modest Lovers).