The Habanera from Carmen not by Bizet?

December 19, 2011

Mitchell Morris and I were researching the history of the famous Spanish-Mexican song by a Cuban-influenced, Spanish-born composer Sebastián Iradier Salaverri (Salaberri) (20 January 1809 – 6 December 1865), “La Paloma”. In our opera, the song looms over us as it was a song Angela Peralta sang her entire career. Here is one of the many performances of the song:

In doing a little more digging around, I discovered that he composed another famous song “EL ARREGLITO: Cancion Habanera” which turns out to be the Habanera from Bizet’s CARMEN. What??? Take a listen to the song; I’m unclear whether this orchestration is original or not as I only have the piano vocal score):

Evidently Bizet thought that this little song was an common, anonymous folk song that was in public domain. Silly him. It was indeed composed by Maestro Iradier. The fact that this was also penned by the author of La Paloma was a mind-blower. Iradier (later Yradier) died in poverty. Look at this photo of him: he looked like quite a character.

Sebastián Iradier Salaverri

Now Bizet can join Aaron Copland in the COMPOSERS WHOSE MOST FAMOUS TUNES AREN’T THEIR OWN CLUB. Here is Maria Callas singing the Habanera from CARMEN by Bizet in Covent Garden.

My friend and advisor, Patricio Duarte wrote me later: [From Wikipedia] Its score was adapted from the habanera “El Arreglito,” originally composed by the Spanish musician Sebastián Yradier. Bizet thought it to be a folk song; when others told him he had used something that had been written by a composer who had died only ten years earlier, he had to add a note to the vocal score of Carmen, acknowledging its source.

Well, this WIki info is all very well and good, but I have two different orchestral editions of CARMEN and one makes no mention of Yradier, and the other has a footnote in the habanero stating “Imitated from a Spanish song.” I will check out other editions. I’m afraid that had Maestro Yradier lived longer and with today’s copyright laws, he would have had a successful suit against Bizet.

See for yourself: you may examine the score for Yradier’s habanero here.

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