Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

Andalusia’s musical foundations

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3. Andalusia’s musical foundations.

Andalusia has long been a melting pot for varied musical traditions and systems, brought from the remote corners of the Mediterranean by Greek, Carthaginian, Roman and Byzantine settlers. In Visigothic Spain, Seville was one of the main centres for what later became known as Mozarabic chant. The Islamic invasion in the early 8th century may not immediately have added substantially to the musical traditions. However, with the arrival of the famous Baghdad musician Ziryāb, who founded a singing school at Córdoba during the reign of ‘Abd al-Rahmān II (822–52), Persian music became influential. During the 10th century, under Umayyad rule, the Arabs began to cultivate a musical tradition that later rivalled those of the eastern caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad. Muslim and Jewish poets shared the splendour of the Andalusian courts, where they composed many of their poems on existing popular tunes. With the Spanish reconquest, well under way by the 13th century, the influence of Christianity brought with it the Gregorian musical system which undoubtedly assimilated with the indigenous styles. (To what extent Jewish liturgical music played an important role throughout the region has been difficult to determine.) Even as Castilian was making inroads in southern Spain, much of the popular music then current was being transformed; by 1492 and the achievement of Spain's Catholic hegemony, which brought about the expulsion of Muslims and Jews, the music of Andalusia had a characteristically synthetic style that set it apart from other regions. The question remains whether the Gypsies, on their arrival in Spain around the mid-15th century, brought with them a new musical tradition or whether they simply nourished their own tradition from this synthesis. Some scholars believe that the Gypsies brought the flamenco style from North India, the region of their origin. Such arguments issue from the strong resemblance found in the singing of rāgas as well as in the nuances of the dance. Similar arguments have pointed to strong Arab influences in terms of performing practices and modal theories.


4. Musical characteristics.

While generalities abound concerning the musical style and characteristics of flamenco, and several studies have concentrated on particular cante, no exhaustive study of the repertory had been attempted by the end the 20th century. Such an undertaking will require the gathering of notated examples from 19th- and 20th-century cancioneros (‘song anthologies’) and comparison with transcriptions made from field recordings as well as commercially recorded data. A search for possible melodic and structural antecedents in earlier Iberian musical sources is also a task still to be undertaken.

As in the popular music of Andalusia, the scales used for flamenco mostly exhibit an affinity for three principal types: firstly, the medieval Phrygian (or Greek Dorian); secondly, a modified scale resembling the Arab maqām Hijāzī; and thirdly, a bimodal configuration alternating between major and minor 2nds and 3rds (ex.1). The melodies are predominantly diatonic, with occasional leaps of 3rds and 4ths, and the Phrygian cadence (A–G–F–E) is a common feature. According to the individual cante of the flamenco repertory, the use of ornamentation varies from light to heavy, and ascending or descending appoggiatura-like inflections are commonly used to accentuate certain notes. Such inflections are microtonal and are a particular feature of cante hondo. It is here that comparisons with North Indian and Arab modal practices appear valid. The flamenco repertory incorporates many metres: binary, simple and complex; ternary; and combinations of both. Polyrhythmic passages also occur in which the vocalist, singing in binary metre, may be accompanied in ternary metre. Additional cross-rhythms are provided by taconeo (heel-stamping), palmas sordas (hand-clapping) and pitos (finger-snapping). Songs of a purely parlando-rubato nature are usually sung a palo seco (without guitar accompaniment).


5. The zambra, juerga and cuadro flamenco.

Seville was the cradle of the Gypsy zambra (from Arabic sāmira, ‘festival’), which may have been patterned on the all-night soirées that were popular in Muslim Spain and included singing and dancing. The juerga (‘spree’, ‘carousal’), another type of gathering both informal and spontaneous, at which wine flowed freely and the merrymaking rose to a state of licentiousness, came to be regarded as infamous by Spanish society. The juerga assumed a new role during the period of the cafés cantantes, when it became a commercial enterprise revolving around cante flamenco. The high-spirited intimate settings of the ‘closed door’ flamenco sessions (sesiones a puertas cerradas) took over the informal role of the juerga.

The café cantante period also gave birth to the cuadro flamenco which comprised a group of singers, dancers and guitarists who sat in a semicircle on a tablao (‘slightly elevated platform’). This ensemble has continued to be the most popular throughout the Hispanic world, although much of its traditional repertory has changed. A notable addition is the use of castanets, not originally a Gypsy practice (the introduction of which is attributed to the Sevillian dance instructor José Otero Aranda). Besides performing as a group, each member of the cuadro flamenco takes a turn as soloist while others in the ensemble provide the accompaniment; even during the group singing and dancing, each member performs as an individual. The performances usually begin with some form of jaleo (‘shouts of encouragement’), arousing the enthusiasm of the audience by eliciting their verbal participation. The guitarists always provide a tiento or temple (introduction or prelude) for singing and dancing to create the proper atmosphere and mood. While preparing to sing the more traditional cante, particularly those of the hondo type, the singer literally tunes the voice (temple) before entering into the vocalized melismas (salidas), on the syllable ‘ay’, preceding the first line of the song. A good guitarist seems to know intuitively what the singer is going to do. The hoarse, nasal timbre (rajo, a voz afillá) of the voice is still highly respected in some circles, vocal quality being one of the most distinctive features of flamenco. The guitar, tuned in 4ths, plays a dual role as solo and accompanying instrument, but is chiefly used as a rhythmic instrument, providing three basic types of accompaniment: rasgueado (strumming), paseo (spritely melodic passage work) and falsetas or rosas (improvised melodic phrases between the sung strophes, including a prelude). Cuadro flamenco performances usually end with the fin de fiesta, a combination of songs and dances, which creates exciting and spectacular entertainment. Allied to the art of flamenco are the various classes of enthusiasts, ranging from aficionados and entendidos to cabales, who either practise the art (prácticos) or appreciate it (téoricos).

See also Cante hondo.



and other resources


MGG2 (Marliese Glück [M. Schneider])

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E. Medina: Método de la guitarra flamenca (Barcelona, 1958)

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Una historia del cante flamenco, Hispavox HH 1024 (1958) [incl. M. García Matos: ‘Bosquejo histórico del cante flamenco’]

Archivo del cante flamenco, Discos Vergara 13001–6 SJ (1968) [incl. disc notes by J.M. Caballero Bonald]

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El cante flamenco: antología histórica, Philips 832.531–1 (1987) [incl. disc notes by J. Blas Vega]

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