August 3, 1918
Page 32

Intricacies of Its Rhythms, Says ‘Cellist, Have Made Spanish Music Inaccessible to Outside World—Not Even Chabrier and Debussy Have Caught Its Real Essence, He Declares—Kinship with American Ragtime—Victoria as Preceptor to Palestrina

PABLO CASALS has said that the national folk music is the greatest heritage for a musician and that on it depends his power to move men. This same thought expressed in varying ways can be attributed to any number of great men. "The greatest of the earth often own but two aims, the fatherland and song," are the words of William Butler Yeats, the famous Irish poet and dramatist. It is from the native land and its expression through the art of its people that these men draw their breath of life and their inspiration.
To understand the art of such a man as Mr. Casals, then, it is necessary to know something of the music of the land that has nourished it. Pablo Casals loves to talk of the music of Spain as he loves to speak of anything connected with his native land. Intense devotion to the fatherland characterizes the Spanish people, and in Casals is augmented by an innate loyalty and fervor. Even though the Spanish music is comparatively little known and little developed, he finds it an inexhaustible subject.
“It is hard for us Spaniards to realize or admit that Spain is a country of the past, for she is warmly and vividly alive in our hearts," said Casals, "but it is true that she falls back on her former glories and hence has developed little in the past few centuries. She broods over her great gleaming jewel, the Mediterranean, nursing an ancient sorrow and an invincible pride. Yes, she is too proud to polish up her blade and go forth into the modern fields of competition. But there are latent possibilities, especially in her musical life, that arc awaiting the enkindling touch of progress. It is true that there is another reason for the lack of her musical development.
Intricacies of Spanish Rhythm
“Real Spanish music—that which is part of the warp and woof of the life of the people—is to a great extent inaccessible to outsiders. The song and dance music—which is usually interchangeable—is the most typical. It creates the greatest part of its effect through the rhythm, and the intricacies of these rhythms make it almost impossible to note them down on paper. The people all know these songs and dances, for they are very illiterate and their only literature are the cantanes and copias (folk-songs), which are handed down and take the place of the folk lore of other nations. Their songs are mostly of love—wild, passionate, intense and melancholy—a complete expression of their own nature and the forces that have influenced it. In them there can be traced the oriental voluptuousness of the Saracen invaders, and the wild freedom of the gypsies who wandered over Spain in the fifteenth century. But strive as they may, this music is hard to get and harder to note down.
“Chabrier and Debussy both comment on this almost insurmountable difficulty—and it is so. The smell, the sound, the look of Spain, they have caught marvelously well—but the rhythms, no. They create pictures of Spain, but not Spain itself, for, as I have said, the rhythms are the essence. I must explain why this music hard for outsiders to get. It is because the audience contributes almost as much toward the success of the event as the performers. The audience must be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the dancers and music makers; the presence of an unsympathetic being is felt at once, and if the performers do not actually stop, they are so constrained that the music loses all its character.
“The Spanish audience cheers and encourages; is breathlessly absorbed· works itself to as great heights of emotion as the actors—and often joins in the dance itself, as is the case with the “Sardanas” of Catalonia. The peculiar frenzy and naive eroticism of it is very often alien, even repulsive, to the Western nature. It is this peculiarly national appeal and character that makes it difficult to transplant successfully. Even the Zarzuela, a comic opera of popular character, the one class of theatrical music that can be called purely Spanish in form, has not been successfully produced an alien soil.
“In the case of the music of Andalusia and southern Spain, the rhythm of the dances is marked chiefly by heel-tapping, which has a counterpart in the rhythms of the drumming of the African Negroes in their ceremonial dances. It is not at all unlike that American ragtime and this Spanish music have the same origin, for the Saracens who invaded Spain in the eighth century included many of the African tribes. If this were true, it is indeed interesting to note how differently the two races have incorporated and developed this heritage.
“Spain, however, reached her greatest world importance in another sort of music than that which we have been discussing. In the sixteenth century lived Victoria, the greatest figure in the history of Spanish music. He was the crown of that school of church music which was so closely allied with the Roman school that it is sometimes not distinguished from it. However, Spain formed and largely influenced that school—Palestrina himself learned more from his Spanish predecessors and from Victoria, who was his preceptor, in fact though not in name, than from his own teachers. And Palestrina, great as he is in many ways, was never able to attain the depth of individual or national expression that marked the work of Victoria. He caught the mystic spirit of asceticism peculiar to Spain, as only one other Spanish genius, Santa Teresa de Jesus, the poetess and most celebrated of all women, has succeeded in doing. To his composition for the funeral of the Empress Maria I can compare only a few of the greatest things in music. The immense exaltation, dignity and beauty that that music is still able to convey, renews the belief in the value and persistence of great art.
“Spain’s musical outlook at present is very promising—in the last decade she has produced many interesting, if not startling composers and there is an ever growing movement all over the world for the purpose of making known and utilizing Spanish music. But modern Spanish music is a pet subject of mine and there is too much to be said of it to do it justice in a few words. Another time I shall speak of it.”


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