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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Beginnings of a talk

Lorca’s Musical Legacy: From Strayhorn to Golijov

I have heard otherwise intelligent and well-educated people in Spain express the opinion that “Lorca es un poeta folklórico.” You, too, might have heard this sentence, or something like it. If you have, then you know don’t mean it in a good way: it is almost always said in a disapproving tone—a facile way of dismissing Lorca by confusing him with both with the sources of his inspiration and with a partial explanation for his “popularity.” The back cover of one recent book on Lorca promises to rescue him “del asfixiante folclorismo en que se ha visto encerrado por una crítica miope y malintencionda.” Even some of his admirers, then, think that his neopopularism remains a negative factor in his legacy.

It is not self-evident, though, that “folklore” should be such a term of insult. In the nineteenth and twentieth century music and literature, the recuperation of folk traditions is an enormous source of intellectual ferment and vitality. The first Spanish folklorist was Antonio Machado y Álvarez, the father of poets Antonio and Manuel. Writers of the famed “generation” of these two poets, of course, were committed to a project of national regeneration that included an interest in “national traditions”—although it was not limited to folklore per se. Menéndez Pidal’s research on anonymous poetic traditions, Antonio Machado’s “Tierra de Alvargonzález,” and Manuel’s Cante hondo are some prominent examples. The neopopulist poetry of Lorca and Alberti continues this tradition, which culminates in Miguel Hernández’s Romancero y cancionero de ausencias.

The ideological roots of neopopularism can be found in the German romantics, who translated Spanish romances a century before Menéndez Pidal. The larger context for Lorca’s recuperation of folk music and poetry is a movement in European (and American) culture that inserts folk traditions into elite forms of poetry and music. In this talk I want to concentrate on the musical part of this legacy. Significant composers who form part of this tradition include Rimsky-Korsakov, Isaac Albéniz, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, Manuel de Falla, Igor Stravinski, and Bela Bartok. On the other side of the Atlantic, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington, George Crumb, and Osvaldo Golijov exemplify this phenomenon.

Lorca, I would argue, is a pivotal figure in this movement. Since Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1887 Cappricio Espagnol (and works by Albéniz in the same decade), Spanish music has represented ...

6 comments:

Vance Maverick said...

Spanishism in classical music certainly goes back further. The Lalo "Symphonie espagnole" is 1875, and I see that Saint-Saens was writing for Sarasate as well a decade before that. Chopin wrote a "bolero". (Scarlatti is a fascinating case, but not really relevant to the larger current.)

Was Macpherson influenced by German Romanticism? (Herder? the dates seem wrong.) Here too the precise genealogy is not so important.

Anonymous deprecation of the folkloric is a bit of a thin reed. Are you after a distinction between good and bad folkishness? Or between bad folkishness and what Lorca does?

Jonathan said...

I'm going to bring that anti folkloric element in later because that's part of what's at stake in the prestige / lack of prestige dichotomy.

Jonathan said...

Lalo premiered a month before Carmen, so that's probably the beginning of the big boom of Spanish music in French classical music. I could argue that earlier examples are more isolated, although they certainly help rather than hurt me.

Vance Maverick said...

I imagine there are careful scholarly tracings of the "Spanish" fad in classical music that you can draw on. (One stream of the larger "nationalist" trend -- but also relatable to things like "Turkish" music and codified dance forms like the polonaise. Differing a bit from the "Italian" strand of local color in that Italian music was part of the continental mainstream.)

My daughter studies piano with teachers who also teach violin, and who are strongly old-school in their orientation toward a canon of showpieces and a genealogy of great performers. So I've actually listened a few times to the Lalo. ("Dear Nineteenth-Century Music, I never thought I would find myself in a crowded living room with a teenager playing Lalo.")

el curioso impertinente said...

I think particularly Agustín Durán and perhaps even Augusto Ferrán might feel a little left out by your characterization of Demófilo, who was younger than both of them (significantly younger than Durán).

el curioso impertinente said...

And then there's Glinka's two “Spanish overtures,” the Capriccio brillante on the jota aragonesa (1845), and Summer Night in Madrid (1848). Much earlier...