Expressing National Identity

Chants d’Espagne (Songs of Spain) by Isaac Albéniz was completed and published by the Catalonian composer as a three movement work for piano in 1892, two further sections, Córdoba and Seguidillas being added in 1898.

Spanish traditional or folk music is inextricably linked with the guitar sound of Flamenco and, more recently what we know as the “Classical” guitar through the efforts of proponents and musicians such as Francisco Tárrega, Mauro Giuliani and more recently, Andrés Segovia who’s endeavours have moved the guitar firmly into the concert hall.

Before becoming a member of the classical family, the guitar in Spain was a primarily plebeian instrument* and the techniques used to play were percussive as well as melodic and used as an accompaniment to dancing, ne of the more dramatic and recognizable techniques is the “Rasgueo” or strumming which produces a rapidly arpeggiated chord. The heavily rhythmic rasgueo and its associated techniques give us the sound of Flamenco, the Spanish folk tradition.

Another is the use of the repeated note, generally played on the bass strings of a guitar with the thumb (noted as P for “Pulgar”), to provide a rudimental harmony or bass line to the melody played with the three first fingers (IMA (Indice, Medio, Anular (first, second, third respectively)).

Albéniz echoes these techniques with the repeated D in the treble clef while the bass clef provides the theme, then, initially in bar 25, a rasgueo chord in the treble clef, clearly mimicking the Flamenco style.

The Flamenco tradition also makes extensive use of the harmonic minor scale which reveals its Moorish heritage, and Albéniz takes advantage of this association in the primary motif of the first movement.

Hear it here.

Hear it played on a guitar here. This nicely showcases the techniques mentioned.

*There were notable court instruments, including those made by Stradivarius, but the techniques that we’re interested in here are Flamenco-based, using guitars such as those of the Torres school.

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