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The Passionate Art of Flamenco

The history of Spain can be written in the history of flamenco, as the 20th c Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla was well aware. Since his student days he had been interested in this Andalusian traditional art form which drew together music, dance and poetry in a spirit of conviviality and community. Having lived in Paris for some years in his 30's, Falla was forced to return to Spain when the First World War broke out. Eventually he settled in Granada where he met Federico Garcia Lorca. The 22 year old Lorca, an accomplished pianist, as well as a published poet, had been taking flamenco guitar lessons with two gypsies from his home village whom, he wrote, 'sing and play fabulously, reaching the very depths of popular sentiment.' It was from them he learned Cante Jondo, (deep song) the purest form of the Andalusian flamenco.

Thus the monk-like and kindly Falla met his natural collaborator in the much younger Lorca. The two men, along with a mutual friend, Miguel Ceron Rubio, bemoaning the decline of the authentic flamenco and the antiflamenquismo of the current generation, conceived the idea of holding a great competition of flamenco, the Concurso de Cante Jondo of 1922. Amateur exponents of flamenco from all over Andalusia would be invited to perform and in this way concentrate attention at home and abroad upon the art. And interested composers and poets including, Turina, Mompou, Rodrigo, Ravel and Stravinsky, and amongst many writers, the Andalusian poet Juan Ramón Jiménez (who was later to win the Nobel prize), would be invited to support and participate in the event. Inevitably they would, in turn, be influenced by what they heard.

Lorca composed a lecture on the art form, in which he drew upon Falla's research. Here he explained that the Byzantine Church's liturgical chant and the arrival of Eastern musical traditions such as quarter tones and melancholy modes during the Moorish invasion of 711 AD, both influenced the music of the Gypsies of Andulusia which seemed to express the very depths of the Andalusian soul in its Cante Jondo. In the second part of his lecture, Lorca spoke about the poetry of Cante Jondo, the coplas, describing their concise nature, their imagery, their obsession with death and their pantheism in which inanimate objects took on human characteristics - all qualities which he felt were inherent to his own personality and writing. He also referred to his discovery of what he felt was a connection between the poetry of Cante Jondo and the Arabic, Persian and Turkish verse he had read in a collection which had been translated into Spanish several decades previously. In his own Poema del Cante Jondo, (1921) he not only expressed the deepest feelings of his people but was possessed of the mysterious power called duende which for Lorca meant the animating spirit of a performer, an inspiration always related to anguish, mystery and death.

Lorca: The Guitar

The weeping of the guitar begins...

Impossible to silence it.

It weeps monotonously as water weeps

as the wind weeps over snowfields.

Impossible to silence it.

It weeps for distant things.

The Concurso was held in the Alhambra's Plaza de los Aljibes on the 13th and 14th of June and was a magnificent, colourful and hugely successful occasion. And yet, when it was over, Lorca and Falla, both exhausted from their efforts, abandoned their obsession with flamenco and moved each in other directions. In our October concert we would like to pay tribute to those efforts, to the spirit of duende and the grand art of flamenco.

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