History of Flamenco
TABLE OF CONTENT
What is Flamenco?
Flamenco is a folk art and culture from
Spain. It is particular to the
province of Andalusia in Spain. Historically, it has always been the musical outlet of the poor and
oppressed. It passed on by oral tradition which the individual artist uses as the basis
for his own variations.
Flamenco is a tripartite art, involving singing, dance and
the guitar simultaneously - as well as rhytmic punctuation (by hand-claps and other
methods) that is considered an art form. There are hundreds of different
types of pieces within flamenco, which have generic names such as seguiriyas, soleares,
alegrías, malagueñas, fandangos, zapateado, rondeña,
etc. They are defined by characteristic melodic, rhytmic, and harmonic structures; each
has a characteristic mood and many are regional variants of essentially similar forms.
It his though that what was to evolve into flamenco
origined back to the 16 th century. The flamenco song (or cante, as it is known)
involves a synthesis of at least four cultures:
the Moors, or Arabs
the indigenous Andalusians
The first three were thrown together by the general
persecution that followed the expulsion of the Moors in 1492. Flamenco was eventually
created by the fusion of the cante gitano with Andalusian folk music. The
accompaniment of the singing by the guitar is a later phenomenon altough it is recorded by
travellers in Andalusia in the 18th century. Andalucian folk songs had in the past been
accompanied by different instruments including bandurria, violin and tambourine, but now
the guitar predominated.
Flamenco first became a public, performing art in the
second half of the nineteenth century, with the emergence of the cafe cantante.
The first cafe cantante opened in Seville in1842, and attracted very little
attention. But by the 1860s similar cafés were established not only in the major cities
of Andalucia but as far as Madrid, and beyond. An audience of aficionados from
all classes and occupations watched the performance. They could expect to be entertained
by a group comprising perhaps one or two singers, three or four female and two male
dancers, accompanied by two guitarists. The second half of the nineteenth century was one
of the great ages of flamenco performance. The cafés brought together the Gypsy singers (cante
gitano) and the Andaluz singers (cante andaluz) which became masters of many
different forms of flamenco. The cafés also expanded the role of the guitar, which became
tremendously popular. They would employ a regular first and second guitarist, who had to
know how to accompany many different forms of songs and dance, and be able to follow the
styles of different singers. While the singer remained the leading figure, the guitarist
came to take a less subservient part as time went on. Good guitarists were in great
demand, the competition was fierce. In their efforts to outdo each other, the players
introduced new techniques, and sometimes even resorted to tricks and outrageous acts of
showmanship such as playing with a glove at one hand or with the guitar held above their
head. But the cafés fostered a series of fine guitarists culminating in Rámon
Montoya (1880-1949), who was later to be the founder of the modern style of flamenco solo
The cafés cantantes' greatest days were over by
the turn of the century, and by the 1910's they were in serious decline. The years uo to
1936 were to be the years of the theatrical presentation of flamenco, of the "Opera
Flamenca" and "Flamenco Ballet". Public taste turned toward a smoother type
of voice, as typified by Antonio Chacón, toward the lighter Andalusian cantes. The
leading professional singers of the time, Chacón, Torre were some of the greatest in
flamenco history. There was no real shortage of true artists in the dance either, and such
guitarists as Javier Molina, Ramón Montoya, Manolo de Huelva, and Perico del Lunar were
War in Europe and the aftermath of civil war in Spain made
the 1940's an unpropitious decade for flamenco, with little opportunity for paid
performance outside the Americas. However, a concern for true flamenco began to reappear
in the 1950's bringing with it opportunities for serious performance. Festivals in
Cordoba, Jerez and Malaga in the late fifties and early sixties stimulated public interest
and encouraged a new generation of artists.
The modern flamenco guitar is first cousin to the modern
classical guitar. The two have a common ancestry, and are handbuilt by essentially the
same methods. The flamenco guitar, however, has a particularly distinctive sound and
playing action of its own, achieved by the use of different timbers for the body and
subtly different dimensions and proportions.
There are three primary differences between the flamenco
and classical instruments:
1) The classical guitar is typically made of rosewood, with
a cedar or spruce top. The traditional flamenco instrument is made entirely of cypress,
and is generally lighter in construction, giving it overall a lighter and more percussive
sound. Some flamenco guitarists actually prefer the depth of the classical instrument for
their solo playing, while others use a hybrid instrument.
2) The flamenco guitar has plastic tappingplates called golpeadores.
These protect the face of the guitar from the taps with the right-hand fingernails, a
feature of the flamenco music.
3) Flamenco guitars still often have push-pegs (like a
violin) for tuning. On the classical guitar, these have been replaced by geared machine
Like the modern classical guitar, the flamenco guitar is an
instrument of comparatively recent invention.
Available evidence suggests that Antonio de Torres should
be credited with the development and stabilization of the flamenco guitar in the 1850's,
at the same period and in the same way he defined the classical guitar.
An examination of an early flamenco guitar, made by Torres
in 1867, reveals the basic characteristics of the type. The six strings are tuned by
wooden pegs, and the body is a little smaller than the equivalent classical type. The two
most important characteristics of the typical flamenco guitar, however, are the use of
Spanish cypress for the back and sides, and the extreme lightness of the construction. The
use of very thin, light cypress sides and backs helps to give the flamenco guitar its
distinctive sound. The whole internal construction is simpler than on the classical model.
The action of the flamenco guitar is set lower than that of the classical, with the
strings closer to the frets for rapid fingering, and the fingerboard itself is usually
slightly narrower. Finally, the table carries the distinctive tap plate to protect it
against the drumming and slapping of the guitarist's fingers, which forms an essential
part of flamenco technique.
It has been suggested that many of the characteristics of the flamenco guitar initially
arose from the need for an inexpensive instrument. There is an element of truth in this
argument: flamenco guitarists have not, traditionally, been rich men.
Over the last century and a quarter, the basic flamenco
guitar has undergone few modifications, although it has increased a little in size. Trials
have been made with maple rather than cypress bodies. The most recent introduction has
been the hybrid "concerto flamenco" guitar, which combines the flamenco
fingerboard and tap plate with the classical rosewood and machine tuning.
|1) Gypsy (cante gitano)
4) Latin American-influenced
Evans, Tom and Mary Evans: music, history,
construction, and players from the
Renaissance to Rock"
Magnussen, Paul: "Rincon Flamenco", Classical Guitar , 1997,:
Magnussen, Paul: "Rincon Flamenco No.5: Basic Forms", Classical Guitar
"The Origins and Development of Flamenco" IN
The Guitar Foundation of America : http://www.guitarfoundation.org/
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Copyright François Faucher