A History of Spanish Music

Rich, diverse and interesting is the history of Spanish music. Various cultural trends such as the bagpipe-based music of the northwest, the jota of the north and central, and the flamenco from the southern regions as well as centuries of uninterrupted Roman influence contributed greatly to the rich diversity observed in Spanish music. Although commercial pop music now dominates the industry, the expansiveness of melodic development can be found in music composers like Tomás Luis de Victoria, the zarzuela style of Spanish musical show, Manuel de Falla’s ballet, and Francisco Tárrega’s guitar music.

Early origins of Spanish Music

Early origins of Spanish Music

As one would expect, music in Spain began with singing and knocking on various local vessels. Covering the vessels with pieces of skins added a twist to the sounds. Blowing on pipes or plucking strings also offered interesting musical effects. Then came Romans domination bringing with it the music of Ancient Greece marked by the reciting of epic poetry and folk music. During the period of the Moors of Al-Andalus in the Iberian Peninsular, the music of Christians and Jews flourished.

The 6th century writings of Saint Isidore of Seville helped in recording some of the earliest details on the early music of the Christian church. Isidore’s opinion that sounds could not be notated was proved wrong some years later when the Visigothic neumes were used to notate the chants and sacred songs of the Church in the 8th Century. The Christian reconquest saw the Papacy’s Gregorian Chants replacing the Mozarabic Chants — a misleading name for the music of the early medieval Christian church. The 15th and 16th centuries brought improvement and innovation in music writing with the development of a polyphonic vocal style of music in Spain. Spanish polyphonic compositions resembled those of Franco-Flemish composers.

The periods from the end of 17th century to the 19th century witnessed a decline in the culture of classical music in Spain. Inspired by the works of Italian composers like Antonio Soler, classicism arrived in Spain with performances in the royal court of Madrid. The Spanish Basque composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga featured prominently at the beginning of Romantic sinfonism in Spain. Although symphonies never featured at the top of Spanish music, local composers worked on chamber music, vocals, opera, and solo instrumentals based mainly on guitar and piano.

Flamenco

Arguably the most popular Spanish music art-form, the Flamenco has its origins in the various folkloric music traditions of Andalusia. It includes singing (cante), guitar playing (toque), dance (baile), vocalizations (jaleo), hand clapping (palmas), and finger snapping (pitos).

Zarzuela

Zarzuela

This is a Spanish style of opera which is characterized by a mixture of sophisticated verse drama, allegorical opera, popular folk music, and dance. Although it was later replaced by other forms of opera, the Zarzuela gained renewed interest in the 20th century with the development of Operetta-zarzuelas, sentimental verismo dramas and other forms of the genre.

Jota

A blend of guitar, tambourine, bandurria, castanet and flute, the Jota with roots in the southern Aragon is popular across Spain. The guitarro, a popular small unique guitar in Murcia as well as a form of bagpipe and tabor pipe sounds are some other interesting additions from the Aragon region.

The Cobla

Among the styles of Spanish music is the cobla — a customary music ensemble from Catalonia usually accompanied by the traditional folk dance, Sardana.

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