Barcelona, Flamenco, Albéniz, Gonzales

Posted on June 10, 2013

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I heard flamenco songs before, but I first came into close contact with Catalonian and Spanish music when I visited Barcelona last summer (2012) together with my wife Kinga. The sun was burning and everything seemed to be so bright and colourful. We drove along the villages on the seaside and up on the mount of Montserrat. We wanted to just relax, to enjoy the feeling and the heat of the city / country. Not being admirers of monumental or extravagant buildings we were not rushing to see all the popular tourist attractions. We enjoyed better to walk in small streets, see the houses in the villages, ships in the bays and sit in the open pubs on the beach.

Still, there was one thing that attracted us from the beach inside a large, floridly ornamented building – which was the Palau de la Música Catalana – when a poster advertised authentic flamenco music played by one of the masters of Spanish guitar. It was a concert by Pedro Javier Gonzales, a flamenco / classical / jazz performer and composer born in Barcelona. The concert was the culmination of our Barcelona-experience, it really added the last and decisive brush-stroke to the magical picture of the city. Somehow the music was a perfect fit to the couleur locale, everything we have seen and felt – the bright coIours, the heat, nice people.

I found three musical pieces recorded during the concert uploaded on the internet, which I embedded here, although you really need to experience this live.

1. Entre dos aguas 2. Guajira 3. Sultans of Swing played by Pedro Javier Gonzales playing at the Palau de la Música Catalana at 25th August 2012

We also visited the picturesque town of Girona, which is not far from Barcelona. It is built on the hills around a confluence of rivers around a Gothic Cathedral and an old fort. From the fort one can see all the hills and small towns / villages around, in all their charming beauty. Later I found out that one of Spain’s most famous composers, Isaac Albéniz was born here. His style and his works are perfect examples of folk tradition translated to concert music. Isaac Albéniz born in Camprodon, in the beautiful province of Girona close to Barcelona. He started as a child prodigy the piano as soon as he could walk, touring the world together with her sister Clementina as concert pianists during their childhood. Later he became a student of Felipe Pedrell, a Catalan composer who was among the first musicologists to develop interest in the early music of Catalonia and Spain.

Girona

Picture taken in Girona in 2012 by Kinga Rozsnyai

To illustrate the way Albéniz transposed the Spanish sunlight, the colours and all the buzz in the air into concert music, I have chosen Chants d’Espagne (Cantos de España) op 232. It is a suite of five piano pieces, the first three – Prélude, Orientale and Sous le palmier –  composed in 1892 and the last two – Córdoba and Seguidillas added is 1898. The Prélude has been transposed to guitar and has become a one of the most popular pieces of the Spanish guitar repertoire. The music evokes the atmosphere of Andalusia and one of its cities Córdoba with a mixture of romantic passion and sentimental melancholy through songs and dances in flamenco style. So it is worth to say a few things about the flamenco.

The word Flamenco literally means “something like fire”, flama being the Spanish word for fire, which name aptly describes the passionate temperament characteristic to the music, often shifting into nostalgic mood. Flamenco was a rural musical style, originally played by two groups of people in the 18th century i.e. the Romani people and the peasantry of Andalusia. They usually had no formal training in music other than inside the group by musical apprenticeship . Flamenco was often played as a popular entertainment in small gatherings such as coffee shops or pubs.  However, in the twentieth century Flamenco has become a sophisticated art form, performed and taught in all parts of the world, form Japan to the USA. Several jazz groups and solo performers ar experimenting with flamenco jazz fusion (e.g. Paco de Lucia, Dieago Amador, Juan d’Anyelica among many others).

Flamenco involves characteristic dancing (baile) where the accents of the rhythm (indispensible for Flamenco) are emphasised by stamping of the feet and hand clapping (palmas). A precisely played rhythm or metre (Compás) is essential to the music, and it is linked in a complex way with the flow of the song (cante jond, the soul of the music) and the accompaniment played by the guitar (toque). There is usually a short guitar introduction, followed by the verses of the songs (copla), which alternate with short guitar sections (falsetas) which can be improvised at times, according to the skills of the guitar player. Characteristic to the Andalusian music is the use of Phrygian mode, which differs from the Aeolian (natural) minor scale in that the second scale degree is a semitone lower. Other characteristic elements include a characteristic Phrygian chord sequence, certain dissonances sustained for relatively long sequences on a background of a sustained pedal point (on guitar played by repetitive strokes of the same pitch).

Isaac Albéniz – Chants d’Espagne – Played by Rafael Orozco

Albéniz builds the Chants d’Espagne essentially on flamenco elements. The rhythm is based on flamenco compás, evoking singing /playing styles characteristic to different regions of Andalusia, such as buleria (Prélude), tango (Sous le palmier) and seguidillas (Seguidillas). There is a strong guitar feeling in the music, even if played by piano, and we can recognise the alternation between verses of a song (coplas) and instrumental sections (falsetas), this is most evidently observable in the Prélude, with a use of pedal point technique, which makes this piece immediately recognizable and memorable for any listener. Albéniz predominantly uses the Phrygian mode, generating flamenco harmonies with interesting dissonances that resolve back at the dominant after sentimental excursions.

References:

Wikipedia (2013) Isaac Albéniz [online] Wikipedia website. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_albeniz [Accessed 1st June  2013]

Wikipedia (2013) Flamenco [online] Wikipedia website. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamenco [Accessed 1st June  2013]

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Posted in: Part 3