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 ...