Falla was born in Cádiz. His early teacher in music was his mother; at the age of nine he was introduced to his first piano professor. Little is known of that period of his life, but his relationship with his teacher was likely conflicted. From the late 1890s he studied music in Madrid, piano with José Tragó and composition with Felipe Pedrell. In 1899, by unanimous vote, he was awarded the first prize at the piano competition at his school of music, and around that year he started to use de with his first surname, making Manuel de Falla the name he became known as from that time on. When only the surname is used, however, the de is omitted.
It was from Pedrell, during the Madrid period, that Falla became interested in native Andalusian music, particularly Andalusianflamenco (specifically cante jondo), the influence of which can be strongly felt in many of his works. Among his early pieces are a number of zarzuelas, but his first important work was the one-act operaLa vida breve (Life is Short, or The Brief Life, written in 1905, though revised before its premiere in 1913).
Falla spent the years 1907 to 1914 in Paris, where he met a number of composers who had an influence on his style, including the impressionistsMaurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Paul Dukas. He wrote little more music, however, until his return to Madrid at the beginning of World War I. While at no stage was he a prolific composer, it was then that he entered into his mature creative period.
In Madrid he composed several of his best known pieces, including:
Also in Granada, Falla began work on the large-scale orchestral cantata Atlàntida (Atlantis), based on the Catalan text L'Atlàntida by Jacint Verdaguer. Falla considered Atlàntida to be the most important of all his works; posterity has not agreed with this verdict, and performances of the piece have been extremely rare. Verdaguer's text gives a mythological account of how the submersion of Atlantis created the Atlantic ocean, thus separating Spain and Latin America, and how later the Spanish discovery of America reunited what had always belonged together. Falla continued work on the cantata after moving to Argentina in 1939, following Francisco Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War. The orchestration of the piece remained incomplete at his death and was completed posthumously by Ernesto Halffter.
Falla tried but failed to prevent the murder of his close friend, the poet Federico García Lorca in 1936.
However, he did spend some time teaching. Among his notable pupils was composer Rosa García Ascot. He died in Alta Gracia, in the Argentine province of Córdoba. In 1947 his remains were brought back to Spain and entombed in the cathedral at Cádiz. One of the lasting honors to his memory is the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at Complutense University of Madrid. His image appeared on Spanish currency notes for some years. Manuel de Falla never married and had no children.