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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 12, No. 4 January 2007

Sketches of Spain: Musical Folklores of Andalusia and Catalonia

by Caroline Louis / January 4, 2007

Of the many regions comprising the current Spanish territory, Andalusia and Catalonia, polarized geographically and culturally, both possess unique and interesting musical traditions. Andalusia is considered the heart of Spanish musical folklore, whereas Catalonia is seen as the home of Spanish “art” music.

Located to the very south of the Iberian Peninsula, and separated from Morocco only by the Strait of Gibraltar, Andalusia was invaded by Moslems in 711 A.D. The occupation lasted eight centuries and undoubtedly had a profound influence on many aspects of Andalusian culture, including its musical folklore, which is one of the richest and most original in the world. Much of the Spanish musical idiom which has been exported throughout the world originates from Andalusia--the image of Flamenco, for instance, with guitarists playing for colorful dancers and expressive vocalists, is typically Andalusian. The Moorish influence is present to this day in Andalusian music, when it comes to, for example, the use of microtonality--a microtonal interval being smaller than the smallest tonal unit used in the equal-temperament tuning system, the semitone, whereas the Arab tone-
system developed in the Medieval period accounts for quarter-tones.

Flamenco is not only derived from Moorish culture, but also Gypsy and Jewish traditions. All three ethnic groups remained present in Spain as minorities after the Reconquista, and were targeted by the Spanish Inquisition. This common suffering was important in the development of Flamenco to express affliction and sorrow. Cante Jondo (or Hondo), the typical vocal style of Flamenco, and perhaps the core of Andalusian folk music, has been imitated, if not emulated, by many composers of the region. Characteristics of Cante Jondo include the frequent use of portamento (which can be described as “sliding” from note to note instead of intonating each pitch with precision), a rather small ambitus rarely extending over a fifth or a sixth and the practice of modulation through microtonal enharmony. Also typical is the use of non-regular meter, the alternation of simple and compound time, such as 3/4 and 6/8, and the emphasis, through seemingly obsessive repetition, of a single note.

Andalusia is the home of such great composers as Joaquin Turina, Andrés Segovia and Manuel de Falla, often regarded as the most important Spanish composer of the 20th Century. De Falla himself conducted extensive research on the development of Andalusian music, trying to determine the particular musical elements inherited from Byzantine, Moslem and Gypsy influence.

Home of Spanish “art” music, Catalonia nurtured many of Spain's most highly educated musicologists, performers and composers, with such musicians having earned considerable international acclaim and collegial recognition. Among the most famous Catalan composers and performers are Isaac Albeniz, Enrique Granados, Felipe Pedrell, Jaime Pahissa, Gaspar Cassadó, Ricardo Viñes, and Pablo Casals.

Located in the North-East of Spain, Catalonia was not significantly affected by the Moslem invasion, and therefore its music reflects little of the Moorish influence. Its people, with their own language, have long claimed their autonomy from Spanish authority, mainly from a cultural viewpoint. Typical Catalan musical forms include the sardana and the jota, the first being a two-part dance presumably inherited from ancient Greek tradition and updated in the 19th Century by composer Josep Ventura, whose modern version of the sardana begins with a slow, dramatic section followed by an energetic and up-lifting one. Sardanas are performed by musical ensembles called Coblas, which are prevalent in Catalonia. Indeed, ensemble music is very present in this musical tradition, especially for brass wind instruments. The jota, which does not especially originate from Catalonia, is generally a dance in 3/8 which alternates dominant and tonic harmonies. Although jotas are performed in other regions of Spain such as Aragon, Catalan vocalists' deliberate display of freedom when singing makes this type of jota rather unique. It is also much slower in pace than the more common jotas. Catalan folk songs tend to include the interval of the augmented second, though it is not of constant use, and a very typical feature of this music is the frequent use of chromaticism, as the tonic and mediant of the diatonic scale are often altered.

These are only a few of the folkloric elements which have inspired the great Spanish composers of the 19th and 20th Centuries. In the early 1800s, Spanish musicians Felipe Pedrell and Francisco Asenjo Barbieri engaged in a Nationalist celebration and appropriation of the folkloric musical materials in reaction to the domination throughout Europe of Italian opera and the German symphony. Many other composers soon followed in their footsteps, which led to a revival of Spanish music as an internationally recognized body of high quality art. This is not to say that from that point Spanish composers would only rely on folkloric elements in their music, but the study and appreciation of their musical heritage definitely launched Spanish composers in a new direction.

I Musici, Yuli Turovsky, director.“Violonchello Español”, an evening of art music inspired by Spanish folkloric traditions, December 21, 2006, 8 p.m., Pollack Hall-555 Sherbrooke West. (514) 398-4547.

(c) La Scena Musicale