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Beatriz Montez (Spain)

The power of rhythm and dance in Manuel de Falla's music.

Montez, Beatriz: “The power of rhythm and dance in Manuel de Falla's music”,


To Guillermo Sierra


                The cultural wealth of flamenco, one of Spain's well-known folk music tradition - has been foundamental in the development of the Classical Spanish repertory. Flamenco's musical and choreographic elements have been a constant source of inspiration not only for Spanish composers but also for foreigners such as Domenico Scarlatti and Luigi Boccherini. Translating the oral improvisations and the richness of flamenco rhythms into classical music notation was a challenging task. In the last decades of 19th century, European composers from Russia (as Glinka or Rimsky-Korsakov), from France (as Chabrier, Ravel, Debussy and so on) and from Spain - for whom the popular traditions were culturally close - had successfully integrated the ancestral language of flamenco into the formal and sometimes rigid patterns of classical music.

                The aim of this paper is to examine the influence of flamenco rhythms and dances in Spanish music history concentrating on the work of Manuel de Falla. In particular, the paper focuses on Falla's belief of the great value of folk traditions and on the development of a classical musical language able to preserve the flamenco's oral traditions.

The power of rhythm and dance in Manuel de Falla's music


                Spanish music history cannot be understood without the Andalousian gipsy chant. The difficulties to establish its origine, and to classify the differents types of dances has been the subject of discussion from the last decades of 19th century to our days. In addition, there is an inevitable conflict between the academic and strict organizations of classical music and the oral tradition of this ancestral art, transmitted from generation to generation. Thus, the world of flamenco cannot be summarized in one article, but certain points can be emphasized to analyze its influence on classical composers.

                Manuel de Falla is known as the author of the Three Cornered Hat or The Sorcered Love, where the local and traditional Spanish folk-art adopted an universal language. His several talents had lead him to be the most important Spanish composer from 20th century. He succesfully found the way of unifiying classical patterns with flamenco oral improvisations.

                Don Manuel's resarchs on folk music are far away from the ethnomusicology of the present, but as did Bela Bartok, he also contibuted to found this branch of musical investigation. The knowledge and devotion of Spanish traditions (songs, dances, feasts and religious processions), shaped and perfected the composer's inspiration. Manuel de Falla's works have to be interpretated as a palimpsest: at each reading we discover centuries of civilisation and art.

The Andalousian gipsy tradition

                The Andalousian gipsy chant is known as cante jondo, cante flamenco or just flamenco. Cante jondo means literaly deep chant, and it makes reference to the seriousness of subjects and the quality of the cantaor's (the singer's ) voice. Scholars do not agree in the original meening of the term flamenco. Garc¡a Matos and Ricardo Molina, for exemple, thought that flamenco derives from the word "flame" (llama in Spanish, form the ancient flama), because of the passionate temperament of the gipsy race. But this theory is not as convincing as the following three.

                a) flamenco should be a corruption of the Arabic words : felau-mengu and felai-kum (countryman) or fela-genkum (the Moslem chant of the Andalousian mountains).

                b)When Charles V arrives in Spain, all the musicians of his chapel were "flamencos" (Flemish in Spanish). In some manuscrits the word "Flemish" appears to design the singer.

                c) Another theory affirms that the word flamenco originates in the likeness of the singers' figure - tall, long-legged and dressed with a short jacket - whith the flamingo.

                Other important question is to determinate if flamenco is at the origin a singing or a dancing tradition and if cante jondo refers only to the chant and flamenco to the dances. Manuel de Falla thought that cante jondo designated only the basic forms of the Andalousian gipsy tradition, regardless of whether they were danced or only sung. Flamenco, in his view, was the corruption of those originals forms.

In contrast, the specialist's theory maintains that the word flamenco has nothing to do with the corruption of an original tradition, and cante jondo is simply a descriptive term used to design the deep character of this chant. The specialist's theory agrees with Falla about the existence of basic forms, source of the rest of flamenco chants and dances.

                In some cases there is much ambiguity about the origine of these basic forms, so we cannot even decide, as it is shown later, in the case of siguiriya, what comes before, chant or dance. As with all the folk-art forms, and specially the oral traditions, it is almost impossible to write the exact history of flamenco, and only this richness of its origin and its evolution explains the great influence flamenco has had in classical music.

                We are almost sure that the geographic origine is located in the triangle formed by Sevilla, Jerez and C diz, in the south of Spain, where the gipsy tribes arrived in 1447. The flamenco tradition is probably the melange of some local elements (Andalousian) with the gipsy ones. If we consider that in the local tradition there where at least Byzantine, Jewish and Arabic elements, we can undestand the richness of flamenco and the difficulty to establish the exact cultural origin of its rhythms and melodies.

                Musically, three essential elements define the Andalousian gipsy chant. The richness of its rhythms is probably the most recognizable characteristic of flamenco chant. On the one hand, there is free rhythm, close to the liturgical recitation, where the singer improvises ad libitum. On the other hand, the alternating binary-ternary meters and the counterpoints between the singer and the accompaniment (guitar or/and percussion - the clapping and the stamping made with the heels).

                The flamenco guitar combines two ancient techniques: the Castillain, played with fast arpeges to accompany local dances, and the Muslim punteado (literary to steeple) - and it adds tremor and blows on the guitar's body.

                The melody of the flamenco chant is a long ornamented line like the arabesques of Muslim decoration and it is not based in the classical diatonic scale.

                Different criteria - historic, literary, stylistic and son on - have been used to classify flamenco chants and dances. Jorge Ord¢¤ez Sierra's or Ricardo Molina's classifications are considered as a reference; but others, as Joaqu¡n Garc¡a Laverna's (see bibliography) are equally interesting, because of their clarity. We propose an easier one, based on musical criteria:

                a) chant without accompaniment (tonas, martinetes, deblas and saetas). These are probably the oldest forms of Andalousian gipsy chant. They are not danced, and not used in local feast. Only Saeta (literary "arrow") is sung during the Holly Week processions. These are the free rhythm chants, with the most ornamented melodies and they are sung with a deep and heart-breaking interpretation.

                b) the basic chants (siguiriya and soleares). Siguiriya could be a derivation of the Castilian seguidilla, that means a poem, a song and a dance at the same time. But musically, it comes from ton , which was not danced. In addition, there are not many answers about how those melodic and ornamented lines become the rhythms patterns we now see in flamenco dances.

                c) fandangos. At the beginning it was a dance and not a chant, and it is almost certain that fandango preserves the Mozarabic tradition of jarchas from the Middle Ages. The variety of fandango is, tipically, classified geographically. Those from Malaga are known as ronde¤as (as the piano work of the same name composed by Isaac Alb‚niz) and malague¤as, whose rhythm has been exhaustively used by European composers from 19th and 20th centuries to represent the picturesque image of Spain. Fandango has inspired almost every Spanish composer (or foreign composer working in Spain) from Boccherini or Scarlatti to the 20th century composers as Cristobal Halffter.

                The combinaison of all these elements into scenes constituate the cuadro flamenco (the flamenco tableau or scene). Several singers and dancers, dressed with the tradtional customs, and accompanied by guitarist are on stage. Each of them have a turn to show their abilities as a solist, after what the flamenco feast finishes with a tutti increasing in rapidity and expressiveness.

Falla as ethnomusicologist

                In 1922, a Spanish group of intellectuals and artists decided to organize a traditional singing competition: "El concurso de cante jondo" (the Spanish primitive chant competition). The composer Manuel de Falla, the writer Federico Garc¡a Lorca and the painter Ignacio Zuloaga were, among others, the leaders of this group. The competition took place during the Holy Week of 1922 coinciding with the Corpus Christi processions (13th and 14th june), where the flamenco chants called saetas are traditionally sung. Granada was the city chosen for the competition and that for several reasons. Granada, a city with a very important artistic tradition, was one of the most important Spanish cultural centers of the twenties. For flamenco amateurs and scholars it was the place where cante jondo found its definitive form, and where it had been practiced by gipsies for centuries. In addition, the project of this singing competition followed the political and social discussion regarding the restoration activities to the AlhambraPalace, which at that time was not yet the wonderful monument we can visit today.

                Falla and Garc¡a Lorca had been interested in folk-art from their childhooh, mostly because of their proximity to these traditional songs and dances. Both were Andalousian, Don Manuel from C diz, Federico from Granada. Falla had never forgotten his first musical instruction, the romances and old songs of his nanny, called "La morilla" (the little moor girl). His composition teacher, Felipe Pedrell, was the first Spanish ethnomusicologist. He compiled and harmonized popular songs and dances from all Spain. Certainly, Falla was influenced by his master, but he had his own ideas about the subject. We can appreciate the proof of his early interest in folk music in his first works for piano, as the Serenata Andaluza from 1901. The seven years of musical study in Paris - from 1907 to the beginning of the Great War - represented for Manuel de Falla the confirmation of his ideas about the value of folk music. The conscience of preserving "our music"- using Pedrell's expression - fused with the discovery of the Spanish compositions of Ravel, like La Alborada del Gracioso, La Habanera and Debussy's Iberia for orchestra, or La soir‚e dans Grenade lead him to solidify his commitment to folk-art.

                In fact, the French composers who listened to Spanish folk music in the Universal Expositions concerts, were completely astonished with the complexity and variety of its rhythms. The opinion of Claude Debussy, who wrote the critics for the concerts in the musical journals, give us an idea of the effect that flamenco produced in Paris: "Last 29th October we have listened Spanish music played by Spanish musicians. We have listened to this admirable popular music, where dream and rhythm are so much mixed, that makes it one of the most rich in the world".

                During the first decades of 20th century, Paris was the adopted homeland of many Russian and Spanish artist. Manuel de Falla shared his dreams of making a true and deep Spanish music with his friends Alb‚niz and Turina. When Manuel de Falla leaves Paris at the beginning of First World War he has already found his own language, which is heavily influenced by Spanish folk music. In 1919, he arrives to Granada and there meets Garc¡a Lorca, who was an excellent musician, fond of rediscovering all the treasures of the Andalousian tradition. Falla and Lorca spent some years studying together Spanish traditions - music, dances, customs - traveling from one village to another, taking notes of songs remembered only by old people, just as Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly did in Hungary. Bartok's writings about these musical expeditions capture perfectly the spirit of Falla and Lorca's early research: "As I went from village to village I heard the true music of my race - folk music. This was just the stimulus I needed ... ".

                The nationalist movement of 20th century was really invested, in Spain and in Central Europe, in restoring folk-art, first of all, because of its richness; second, because it was the only way in music to find an original language independent from italian opera and Wagner's influence. All these artists were completely conscious of the danger of loosing folk-art for any conutry, and over all for those countries, as Spain, whose culture and art is so much based on popular traditions.

                Falla and Lorca's approach to cante jondo is not in the style of Washington Irwing's Alhambra Tales, a romantic evocation; rather they looked for details, history and information. They wanted to understand the multiple origin and all aspects of these oral traditions. Thus, Ignacio Zuloaga, Dar¡o de Regoyos or Julio Romero de Torres painted the local dances and fiestas, the characters of the south of Spain, even the symbolism of these folk traditions (in paintings as Julio Romero's El Cante Jondo, an allegory of flamenco, where the symbols of women, love, vengeance, religion are death are represented). Manuel de Falla and Garc¡a Lorca accomplished in those years most of their Andalousian works. Some of these works are paradigmatic achievements of their genius such as the Romancero Gitano or the Poema del Cante Jondo whose subject and stanzas were inspired by flamenco rhythms. In addition to creative work of first magnitude, Falla and Lorca also conducted a serious research effort. The publishing of some articles, a brilliant lecture given by Lorca, "The artistic and historical importance of the primitive Andalousian chant", and the anonymus article "The Cante jondo project", published march 21, 1922 in the local diary "El Defensor de Granada" (surely written by Manuel de Falla) count among the fundamental references of flamenco bibliography. Some extracts show us the actuality of its ideas:

                "The object of the competition is the renaissance, the conservation and the purification of the ancient cante jondo [...] which, despised and misunderstood by our contemporaries, is deemed an inferior art; when, on the contrary, it is one of the more important folk-art manifestations of all Europe."

               "We can affirm that neither modern music should be what it is, nor the modern orchestra could sound as it does, without this influence [flamenco's]."

                "An age has arrived where the voices of musicians, poets and Spanish artists join, with a preservation instinct, to exalt and defend the clear beauties of these chants."


                The footprint left by the ethnological research from the Granada period was primarily found in Manuel de Falla's language. Other Spanish composers achieved the same degree of esthetic value, but, without a doubt, Falla is the only one who had the same facility in voice, soloist and orchestra writing. The profundity of his knowledge, the quality of the folk legacy he inherited from his childhood and from his master Pedrell, and his own development perfected his natural talent to an extent which had not existed in Spain since the times of the Renaissance school.


The influence of folk music in Manuel de Falla's works

Manuel de Falla's music demonstrate what could be won from the study of folk idioms. He was not the only Spanish musicien who gave so much importance to folk music, but he was clearly conscious - and tried to proclaimed - that the conservation of traditional sources could be the starting point of a Spanish musical renaissance. And it is evident, even for the non-musicians, the effects of his investigations into the Spanish traditional music on his compositional work. Garc¡a Lorca and Manuel de Falla's teacher - Felipe Pedrell - were very much interested in making arrangements of the traditional folk songs. Pedrell published four volumes of the essential Spanish chants, and Garc¡a Lorca's harmonizations of some of the most popular songs are part of the singers' repertory. But for Manuel de Falla, it was far more important to "translate" this fascinanting culture into the proceedings and patterns of classical writing. Thus, it is sure that Falla's work were much influenced by the Andalousian gipsy tradition. What it is more complicated is to confirm if Falla used exact folk material or not. In the case of rhythmic elements it is easier to establish the relation with flamenco dances. Thus we find that the first dance of "La vida breve" (1905) is written by soleares, while the second one is a malague¤a. Falla uses a fandango in the "Andaluza" from the Four Spanish Songs (1908) and in the Dance of the miller girl from the Three Cornered Hat (1919), and a seguidilla in The Neighbours' dance from the same ballet. The alternance of binary-ternary meters and the imitation of flamenco counterpoints are frequently used and easily recognizable.

                However, regarding melodic elements, it is really complicated to determinate if Falla uses a textual reference or not. Scholars have not been able to arrive to any definitive conclusion. Some of them, as Garc¡a Matos, affirm that Falla uses not only exact quotations of folk music but also popular songs in works as "La Vida Breve"; Others, as Miguel Manzano, think that there are very little - but significant - differences between Falla's melodies and those from folk music. For them, the composer "recreates" the traditional music as Bela Bartok did with Hungarian folklore.

                Unfortunately, Falla's writings are not clear about this point, even if he seems to define his position: "I am opposite to music that is based in authentic folk documents but I believe that it is necessary to start from the natural and yet alive musical sources, and use the essence of sonorities and rythms [...] When using the Andalousian folk music it is necessary to go to its essence to prevent its caricature".


                The evolution of Manuel de Falla's language represents a constant effort of going to the essential personality of Andalousia. Some characteristics rapidly attract our attention: the chromatisme, or the development of some melodic ideas which are basically very simple, but full of possibilities. His mastery of variation is much inspired by the typical procedures of popular music and dance. Flamenco has become a second nature for the composer. Cante jondo is no longer an external element that inspires Falla; rather the composer, after assimilating the innocence of the ancestral and ritual traditions, can ignore his own ethnomusicologic knowledge. From that moment on, his music, a loyal reflection of Andalousia, is a deep and secular voice. Falla integrates the Andalousian gipsy chant in his musical technique. He transposes rythms, accents, melodies and the character of this flamenco tradition. Conscious of the difficulties and limitations of classical language in relation with the oral tradition of folk music, he proclaimed his trust in the future : "All I can do at the moment is to give the illusion of this quarts of ton [...] But that day is coming when our musical notation should be abandoned for another one, better suited fo our necessities".


                Since the 16th century, Spanish composers have noticed the qualities of flamenco rhythms and chants. This tipically and picturesque Spanish music and dance, geographically located in the South and South-Est of the Iberian peninsula, is based in a popular and dramatic expression of human feelings including suffering, love, religion and death. The character of flamenco's rhythms of its rhythms, the ornaments of its melodies and the fascinating art of it choreography has influenced and characterised Spanish Classical music from the Renaissance to our days.

                Manuel de Falla was acutely aware both of the value of flamenco tradition by itself and of what classical music - even European modern music - owed to flamenco. Falla was the first musicien to become concerned enough about the danger of loosing folk-art to organize a double effort :

First, to directly promote the restoration of flamenco, by organizing artistic activities and asking authorities for help.

Second, by using his composing talent, to create an original musical language which preserves all the elements of the Andalousian gipsy chant.

The lasting merit of Manuel de Falla is to proclaim, with his writings and above all with his music, how the conservation of each culture's legacy is the only way of making an universal art.


The amount of information related to flamenco and its many aspects has so much increased during the last fifty years that a reference guide is becoming an urgent neccesity. However, no lecture could be as effective in conveying the gist of this popular art than a musical exemple. Thus, our references include a broad but selective discography. The Manuel de Falla. A Bibliography and Research Guide by Gilbert Chase compile the basic books, articles, theses and doctoral dissertations to 1986. Falla's own writings (published in Spanish, English and French) are the most indispensable reading on the relation between Spanish folk and classical music.We are not certain that all the books and records listed in these bibliography and discography are currently available, our criteria was moreover based in the landmark works about the subject.

a) Discography

Antolog¡a del Cante flamenco (3 discs). Hispavox HH 13-01 to 13-03, Madrid, 1958. Selection by Tom s Andrade de Silva.

Una historia del cante flamenco (2 discs). Hispavox HH 10-24, Madrid 1958. Selection by Manuel Garc¡a Matos.

Manuel de Falla et ses amis : les sources retrouv‚es, EPM The Classical collector 150112 ADD. Falla plays his own works with his friends Ricardo Vi¤‚s (piano), Mar¡a Barrientos (soprano) and The Chamber Orchestra founded by the composer.

b) Bibliography

CHASE, G. & BUDWIG, A., Manuel de Falla. A Bibliography and Research Guide, New York, Garland, 1986.

FALLA, Manuel de, Escritos sobre m£sica y m£sicos. Introducci¢n y notas de Federico Sope¤a, Madrid, Comisar¡a General de la M£sica, 1947 (Cuarta edici¢n aumentada, Madrid, Espasa-Calpe, 1988; English translation of David Urman & J.M. Thorson, On Music and Musicians, London, Marion Boyards, 1979; French translation of Jean-Dominique Krynen, Ecrits sur la musique et sur les musiciens, Paris, Actes Sud, 1992).

GALLEGO, Antonio, Cat logo de obras de Manuel de Falla, Madrid, Ministerio de Cultura - Direcci¢n General de Bellas Artes y Archivos, 1987.

GARCÖA LAVERNA, Joaqu¡n, El libro del cante flamenco, Madrid, Ediciones Rialp, 1991.

MACHADO ALVAREZ, Antonio ("Dem¢filo"), Colecci¢n de Cantes flamencos, Sevilla, 1881, r‚ed. Madrid, Ediciones Dem¢filo, 1974.

MOLINA FAJARDO, Manuel, Manuel de Falla y el cante jondo, Granada, Universidad de Granada, 1990.

PEDRELL, Felipe, Cancionero musical popular espa¤ol (3 vol.), Valls, Edici¢n Eduardo Castelles, 1918. Barcelona, Casa Editorial de M£sica, 1958.

PERSIA, Jorge de, I Concurso de Cante jondo - Una reflexi¢n cr¡tica, Granada, Archivo Manuel de Falla, 1992.

SOPE¥A, Federico, Vida y obra de Falla, Madrid, Editorial Turner, 1988.


 For an introduction to flamenco research, see Joaqu¡n Garc¡a Laverna, El libro del cante flamenco, Madrid, Ediciones Rialp, 1991.

 See Falla's writings about cante jondo. In this paper we heve prefered the last edition of Escritos sobre m£sica y m£sicos (Ecrits sur la musique et sur les musiciens, ed. de Jean-Dominique Krynen, Paris, Actes Sud, 1992).

 Claude Debussy, Monsieur Croche et autres ‚crits, Paris, Gallimard, 1993, p. 250-254.

 Quoted by David Burge in Twentieth-century Piano Music, New York, Schrimer Books, 1990, p. 74.

 Manuel de Falla, Ecrits..., p. 119-145.

 Ibid., p. 190.

Ibid., p. 195.

Beatriz Montes



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