The Music of Spain
Join Active Minds in a musical trip and tribute to the music of Spain. At the cultural and economic crossroads of Europe since the Middle Ages, Spain’s influence on the world of music is vast and varied. From the traditional folk songs and dances to the Arab influences of “Flamenco,” Spain has a rich and colorful musical past. The presentation will include musical examples including Spain’s national instrument, the guitar. No previous knowledge is required, just bring your spirit of adventure and love of music.
Key Lecture Points:
• Because of its geography, Spain was at the crossroads of commerce and culture for centuries. As a result, major influences made up the warp and weave of Spanish culture. They included the Greeks, Visigoths, Romans, Sephardic Jews, Gypsies, Celts, Christians and Muslims (Moors). Each brought its own folk music traditions that are still evident today in the numerous regions called “autonomous communities.”
• Determining exactly which spices flavored the “musical stew,” and in what proportion, is difficult after almost two thousand years, but the result was a number of musical styles and traditions, some of them considerably different from what developed in the rest of Europe.
• Guitar-like instruments were brought to the West by Asian and Indian traders, but most music historians credit Spain with the development of the five and six string guitar as we know it. As a result, guitar music is predominant in Spanish music.
• As with many cultures, the folk elements were looked upon with condescension as peasant music. The major feature of Spanish music has been its unparalleled bold and clear rhythms. It enticed composers across Europe to copy Spanish dances in their music, attempting to attain the color and texture of the harmonies and their evocative, modal melodies that are utterly unique.
• Without the longstanding formal traditions of Italy, Germany and France, there were no composers from Spain that established themselves as distinctly Spanish within Western art music until renowned conservatories began to recognize Spain’s powerful musical allure that defied imitation.
• Cultural developments usually parallel political change. The decline of Spain as a geopolitical force coincided with the rise of a European middle-class that enjoyed traveling to interesting places with pretty sights and sounds. Audiences found they could relate to Spanish music almost immediately and demanded that composers emulate the sensuality of Spanish-accented music. Composers such as Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glinka obliged their audiences’ demands.
• Not until the dawn of musical Impressionism (circa 1880) as a response to Romanticism, did Spain come into its own as a distinctive formal musical culture. Composers such as Albeniz and Tarrega began to bring the character of Spanish folk music into the mainstream in the late 19th Century. Granados, de Falla and Ravel (French-Basque) took the Spanish popularity even further by giving their music a mesmerizing edge and intensity.
• Spanish music was especially important in the development of music in the Americas. Spanish musical forms such as Flamenco, with the distinctive guitar techniques, and Zarzuelas, Spanish musical theatre, have become major influences in music of Mexico, Central and South America.
• How has Spanish music influenced the world of dance?
• Why did Manuel de Falla die in exile?
• Which Spanish composer was considered a child prodigy and musical genius?
• What comes first to your mind when you consider flamenco music?
• How has the popularity of the guitar influenced music in the 20th (and 21st) Century?
• Can you name other Spanish artists outside music?
More to Explore:
• History of Spanish Music: www.enforex.com
• History of the Guitar: www.guyguitars.com
Books For Further Reading:
• Marco, Tomas (translated by Franzen, Cola), Spanish Music in the 20th C, Harvard University Press, 1993, 261 pages. From the exhilarating impact of Isaac Albeniz at the beginning of the century to today's complex and adventurous avant-garde, this interpretive history introduces 20th century Spanish music to English-speaking readers. Tomas Marco, award-winning composer and critic, covers a wide spectrum of composers and their works: trends and movements, critical and popular reception, national institutions, influences from Europe and beyond, and the effect of such historic events as the Spanish Civil War and the death of Franco. Click here to order.
• Webster, Jason, Duende: A Journey Into the Heart of Flamenco, Broadway, 2004, paperback, 336 pages. In this enjoyable Spanish travel memoir, Webster attempts to infiltrate the insular, vivacious world of flamenco. Moving from Italy to Spain, he becomes obsessed with learning the intricacies of flamenco guitar and seeking out the elusive yet passionate feeling of duende, an untranslatable term referring to the feeling that is the essence of flamenco. Webster deserves praise for verbalizing an emotion that most people can only feel or imagine. Click here to order.