If Spanish music from the Renaissance has become increasingly appreciated in recent decades that from the turn of the 19th century remains a blur for many. Not so for Emilio Moreno who – in addition to his musical expertise in the Baroque and Classical, especially that gained through long association with the Orchestra of the 18th Century – has become something of a specialist in the music of the Age of Enlightenment in Spain. Moreno has been combining Herculean labours transcribing the scores of tonadillas from two centuries past with bringing their populist texts and music to audiences of the 21st century – both with singular success. Here he describes the nature of the dramatic genre that is the tonadilla and the level of its original success acting as barometer of the feelings of the ordinary people in Spain, especially those of Madrid. “La Tirana” of this CD’s title not only reflected a popular dance style but also a stock character beloved by the audiences (the attempt to link the character with an actress, María del Rosario Fernández, who was immortalized in a painting by Francisco de Goya is, at best, fanciful). La Tirana’s counterpart Mambrú (also known as Malbrú or Malbruc) personifies the people of Madrid’s contempt for their French oppressors at the beginning of the 19th century (they weren’t too keen on the spread of Italian opera either. Here is the unexpurgated castizo spirit of the Classical Age!) The canción de Mambrú had its origins in a French comic song celebrating – mistakenly as it turned out – the belief that the British general, the Duke of Marlborough (graffiteed on the front cover of this CD), had died at the Battle of Malplaquet back in 1709 during the War of the Spanish Succession. Emilio Moreno has, for a long time, been associated with the reappraisal of forgotten or ignored musical jewels from Spain’s past (and is closely linked with Glossa’s own success in that area) and as a trenchant advocate of his own country’s music is the ideal guide for this new exploration into the mysteries of that remarkable area of dramatic art, so unlike that from the rest of Europe but yet so much part of it.
Did the tonadilla represent a form of reaction to the spread of foreign influences (musical and non-musical) in Spain at the time?
Yes and no. In addition to being typically Spanish in its form and structure (coplas, seguidillas, spoken parts or parolas and introductions made up of courtly and more informal forms of dances, the tonadilla evolved into a miniature Italian opera buffa complete with all the characteristic elements of the latter. The tonadilla’s most potent reaction against what was foreign lies in its texts: mockery of the absurd dandy, of the small-minded “frenchified” character, of the irrational person who in a systematic way believes that what originates elsewhere is (automatically) better. For this the tonadilla utilizes as its most powerful weapons the slang from the street, castanets, the guitar, seguidillas, fandango and the tirana.
Who were the tonadillas and tiranas aimed at?
The tonadilla was an especially populist genre and aimed at the middle and working-classes in Madrid, although it was also cultivated in Barcelona, Sevilla, Cádiz, Valencia, México, Lima and La Habana. Initially it shared house room in the theatres with the entremeses (intermezzos) and entr'actes during the intervals of comedies but by the end of the 18th century it had become established so successfully that the public went to the theatres more for the tonadilla than for the play. It additionally found itself moving out of the popular theatres and into the Palacio Real (the collection of tonadillas kept in the royal library there is outstanding) and aristocratic houses where a touch of working-class culture was cultivated – that of Alba for example. The tirana is a dance form which, for a number of years around the end of the 18th century, became the dance style par excellence favoured by the ordinary people of Spain. Ternary in form it is characterized by bustle and excitement. Many composers were entranced by its vigour, with Boccherini writing one of the most sublime examples: the first movement of his quartet, Op 44/4 is subtitled La Tirana Española.
Were the composers and performers of tonadillas also successful in their own time?
Their authors were composers who devoted themselves almost exclusively to the theatre composing not only tonadillas but music for the plays, autos sacramentales, fiestas or an infinite variety of bailes, pantomimes, melodramas, by-plays from the dense life of the Spanish theatre: Laserna, Esteve, Valledor, Misón, Moral, Guerrero, Marcolini, Galván, Rosales, all these are composers and repertories still waiting to be rediscovered. Today we remain very little aware of how important the music in the Spanish theatres of the 17th and 18th centuries was, music that was the equivalent to present day film soundtracks. The tonadilla set out to act as a reflection of the daily nature of the ordinary people and by use of humour and a great deal of irony all the sorrows and joys, gossip and topical news were brought to light and criticized through characters as archetypal as majas, manolos, priests, soldiers, yokels, foreigners, dandies, prissy madames and provincial types such as Valencians, Catalans, Andalucians, Galicians, Creoles and Indians. The composers were the great professionals of the orchestras from the theatre companies. At the same time they took part in the musical life of the court and in the churches and the cathedrals. The singers were veritable specialists in this popular genre even if they also made also their incursions into the “classical” repertory of Italian opera or religious music. They were idolized by their audiences, arousing in them both passions and belligerent behaviour – examples being the chorizos and the polacos, which were the groups of supporters of Maria Ladvenant and Mariana Alcázar respectively. Such groups passionately followed – like their modern counterparts do with pop singers – tonadilleros such as Mariana Raboso, María Antonia Vellejo La Caramba, the great Manuel García or Miguel Garrido.
Does the tonadilla bear any similarities with genres active elsewhere in Europe?
Not as such. To start with the tonadilla (and the word tonadilla is the diminutive form of tonada, that is to say, a song) consisted merely of a song inserted into an entr’acte, accompanied only by a guitar. Gradually this became more and more complex until by the beginning of the 19th century the tonadilla had become a genuine short opera incorporating many characters, choruses and a large orchestra. The “classical” tonadilla hardly ever runs to a full plot and does not involve many characters (sometimes only one), although generally the tonadillas for two or three characters give more scope for the gossiping and the criticism that goes on. Such a tonadilla comes equipped with a more or less fixed orchestral ensemble and with a number of essentially worked-out formal schemes: generally two movements (coplas), followed by the almost obligatory final seguidillas. However, such works can become pieces of greater scope, like those on our recording. The difference with the Italian opera buffa or the French vaudeville is that the plots are less elaborated and there is a constant search of what represents what is Spanish through the language as much as through the musical values (tiranas, fandangos, zorongos, caballos, jopeos).
What place do such works fit into music that was being written in Spain at the time?
At times the Spanish Enlightenment was so profound yet at others so snobbish, that it sometimes failed to embrace a positive opinion about what was coming from the ordinary people. An intellectual of the repute of Leandro Fernández de Moratín used to loathe tonadillas because of their shallowness (“foolish and scandalous”, he said) whilst another, Tomás de Iriarte, praised them for their freshness, appreciating the formal “Italianism” which was steadily taking shape within the form: in terms of the orchestra, handling of the voices, dramatic complexity, etc. At that time many learned people were disgustedly bemoaning the excess of foreign music (above all the Italian) in Spain, but at the same time idolized Haydn and considered him to be the model to follow. The Spanish music of the Enlightenment is very rich, much more than we tend to think: there is opera seria and zarzuela, symphonic, chamber, religious music…. The tonadilla forms only a small part of a much greater whole waiting to be discovered.
by Mark Wiggins ©2009 Glossa Music / MusiContact