Falla began this work as a set of nocturnes for solo piano in 1909, but on the suggestion of the pianist Ricardo Viñes he turned the nocturnes into a piece for piano with orchestra. Falla completed it in 1915 and dedicated it to Ricardo Viñes. However the pianist at the first performance was neither Viñes nor Falla (who was a competent pianist), but José Cubiles. The first performance was given on April 9, 1916, at Madrid's Teatro Real with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós.
Viñes first played the work in its San Sebastián premiere, shortly after the world premiere, with the same forces. Arthur Rubinstein was in the audience that night, and he introduced the work to Buenos Aires. The Paris premiere took place in January 1920, with the pianist Joaquín Nin playing under Fernández Arbós. The composer himself was the soloist at the London premiere in 1921, at a Queen's Hall concert under the baton of Edward Clark.
The work depicts three gardens:
En el Generalife (In the Generalife)
The first gardens are in the Generalife, the jasmine-scented gardens surrounding the summer palace of the king’s harem at the Alhambra.
Danza lejana (Distant Dance)
The second garden is an unidentified distant one in which there is an exotic dance.
En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba (In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba)
The third gardens are in the Sierra de Córdoba in Spain and feature lively gypsy dancing and singing for the feast of Corpus Christi.
Falla referred to Nights in the Gardens of Spain as "symphonic impressions." The piano part is elaborate, brilliant, and eloquent but rarely dominant. The orchestral writing is lush. It is Falla’s most "impressionistic" score.
The score calls for piano, three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, celesta, harp, andstrings. Performance time usually runs in the range of 22 to 26 minutes.