The Relationship Between Flamenco and Literature

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The first references to Andalusian singing and dancing are found in Romantic literature, particularly in the texts of foreign travelers. In the beginning of the 19th century Spain was a part of the itinerary of travelers in Europe, and Andalusia was inevitably included (especially its most emblematic cities: Seville, Granada, and Córdoba), and was often the subject of the greater part of the narration of these travelers. The characteristics of Romantic literature, such as the preeminence of emotion over rationalism, and the preference of the exotic over the ways of the past, made Andalusia and its infinite remains of former cultures a constant source of inspiration. In the hundreds of books written on travel in Andalusia we find that a stereotypical image was created and has been maintained, with slight and logical adjustments, practically up to modern times.

In events such as public celebrations, festive gatherings, fairs, Easter celebration, etc., popular artistic expression was to be found in greater abundance. These situations were described time and time again by the Romantic writers. What generally attracted the attention of those writers was Andalusian dancing: "The Andalusian dancers have an advantage over our classical dancers seen in theaters throughout Europe. Their free and fluid body movement can be found in no other place. It is clear that they dance for their own pleasure, and the movements of their arms and bodies are different from the stiff, rhythmic, and geometric movements of the most important Parisian dancers..." (Barón Ch. Davillier : "Viaje por España", 1874). "The greatest thing to be found in Spanish theaters is the dancing of this country. There is no possible comparison or imitation; it is unique, and can only be interpreted by Andalusians". "There is nothing indecent in this style of dancing. No one tires of seeing it (pity he who does). If any defect is to be found it is its brevity" (Richard Ford: "Las cosas de España", 1846). At times though, some of these travelers seem to have been less than enthusiastic about the music they heard. For example, Ford, who felt such admiration for dancing, describes his unpleasant experience with a singer: "A burly singer, the exact opposite of Farinelli, shouts his prosaic verse at the top of his lungs, resulting in imminent danger for his trachea and the auditory organs of non-Spaniards" However, the general impression is favorable, and foreign travelers fall under the spell of a popular art form that fascinates them: "When one has heard this music he finds all other types to be boring and unimaginative" (Cuninghan Grahan: "Aurora La Cujiñí", 1898). So we have seen that a good number of foreigners were attracted to Andalusian popular customs and gave testimony of them. This fascination was to become a constant throughout the literature dealing with flamenco. Spanish Romantic poets also made reference to situations that are easily interpreted as manifestations of flamenco. In Bécquer's "La venta de los gatos" we can read: "...there, a grocer from the Macarena neighborhood sings with half-closed eyes, accompanying himself on a little guitar, while others carry the rhythm with clapping or the beating of their glasses on the tables..." "...noisy song, castanets, laughter, voices, whistling, guitars, beating on the tables, clapping of hands..." The Spanish writers that portrayed local customs in the 19th century also noted the Andalusia of the Romantics (Palacio Valdés, Salvador Rueda, Alarcón, Fernán Caballero). Standing out in particular from all others is Serafín Estébanez Calderón "El Solitario" (1799-1867), who narrated many scenes of flamenco and appears to have been a great enthusiast. His main piece of work of this nature is a collection of various stories with the title of "Escenas Andaluzas" (Imprenta de don Salvador Ballesteros, 1847). This collection includes two stories that are indispensable to any study of the history of flamenco: "Asamblea...
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