Work: Canciones populares españolas (7): no 4, Jota
About This Work
Manuel de Falla had made some studies into the natural overtone series produced by musical vibrations, particularly a treatise by Louis Lucas called L'Acoustique Nouvelle (New Acoustics). Lucas had argued that the notes suitable for polyphonic
support of a melody are those reflected in the natural overtone series of the sounding note or the note taken as the fundamental tonic. Falla had found that the typical seven-note major or minor scales and the standard harmonies and progressions based on them somehow seemed false when used to set much folk music, particularly those using other kinds of scales or modes. He developed his own ideas of harmony based on Lucas and applied them to a Greek folk song. He liked the results so much he decided to try the same approach to Spanish folk songs or settings of Spanish folk poetry. The settings in Siete Canciones Españolas use folk and original melodies, and sometimes even adaptations of the previously published accompaniments to these melodies.
The first song is a famous one from Andalusia called "The Moorish Cloth" (El Paño Moruno), and has the florid vocal line and strumming, guitar-like accompaniment that has become a feature of Spanish music. Falla used this theme also in his ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. The accompaniment of the next one ("Seguidilla Murciana" or "Seguidilla," a dance from Murcia) suggests guitar and drum. Third is a lament called "Asturiana," named after the region of northern Spain where it was discovered and published by José Hurtado and B. Fernández. Falla's harmonic innovations include using the fourth degree of the scale as pedal point, teasing the ear into wondering whether that note might be the true center of the song. The ensuing "Jota" is another dance-song, this time from Aragon, followed by "Nana," a lullaby from Andalusia that appears to have been brought to Spain by gypsies from India. Falla told a friend he could remember his mother singing it to him "before he was old enough to think." Number six, simply titled "Canción" (Popular song) is just what its title says, a folk song virtually unchanged by Falla. The finale, called "Polo," is a brilliant Gypsy song, again with guitar-like accompaniment.
The soprano Luisa Vela sang the first public performance of the songs on January 14, 1915, with the composer accompanying. They repeated the cycle to great acclaim during an intermission of the successful first production of La Vida Breve. It was immediately chosen by the National Music Society of Madrid for the inaugural concert in its new series, February 8, 1915. Subsequently, Falla's friend and pupil the composer Ernesto Halffter made a highly effective orchestral arrangement of the accompaniment and it has been widely transcribed as an instrumental work for various combinations under the title Suite populaire espagnole.
-- Joseph Stevenson, All Music Guide
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