A huge boat is sinking in The English Channel. A man is clinging on to the side of a tiny raft, only big enough for one woman to kneel on. Soon, both drown in sight of other passengers.
According to witness Daniel Sargent, this is what happened to Catalan composer and pianist Enric Granados i Campiña and his wife Amparo Gal, who was too heavy to get into a lifeboat. Granados apparently refused to leave her alone in the sea and tragically on March 24, 1916 their six children became orphans.
In this ill-fated transatlantic crossing, returning from a tour, the boat they’d been on (the French-flagged Sussex) was mistaken for an enemy minelayer craft and torpedoed and sunk by the Germans. Only days earlier Granados had been playing piano in the White House for US President Woodrow Wilson.
Born in Lleida in 1867 and the son of a colonel (originally from Spanish Cuba) and a Galician mother, at the age of 10 he began to study music and gave public concerts in his hometown (though his first major recital was in 1890, when he was 23 years old.) Still a child, he moved to Barcelona and was enrolled at the Escolania de la Merced.
As is so often the case though with historical figures, myths and disagreement surround important areas of Granados’ life. The financial impact of his father’s premature death at just 57 is unclear but it seems likely that his mother received the correct widow’s military pension and kept the wolves from the door in this way.
What is known is that Enric got a job playing piano for five hours a day at the Café de las Delicias, but around the time he moved his ivory tinkling gig to the Café Filipino, the Catalan impresario Eduardo Condé was also funding him to a very pretty tune as music teacher of his children.
In fact, many of the best Catalan pianists of recent times came out of the music academy in Barcelona that bore Granados’ name. The institution became a centre for a theoretical-practical method for piano pedals that Granados had developed from the teachings he’d held onto from living in Paris two years before.
His masterpiece as a composer is the suite for piano “Goyescas” (1912-14) inspired by works of the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. Partially first performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, it helped lead to his White House triumph. Despite these kinds of success, Granados went on to suffer from extreme stage fright later in his performing life, according to one source, even begging that he not be forced to play.
I wanted to know more about this man with the fruity name, his name having been given to one of my favourite streets in the Catalan capital. With only one slow lane of traffic, it’s a gently sloping oasis of near-calm and almost-quiet when all around is everything but that, lined with superb restaurants and quaint little speciality shops or delis at both ends.
I grab any opportunity to walk up or down this street. Sometimes I go out of my way to be on it, a part of it, while I think about the man too these days.