Dances in Eighteenth-century Spanish Keyboard Music

Luisa Morales


The influence of traditional music and dance on eighteenth-century Spanish keyboard music—and, more particularly, on the keyboard works of Domenico Scarlatti— has long warranted commentary from a myriad of musicians and scholars. The relationship between the two musical genres, first noted in Manuel de Falla's remarks on Scarlatti in the introduction to the first  cante jondo competition held in Granada in 1922, continues to elicit critical interest to this day.

Although a sizable amount of literature has been devoted to this topic, no attempt has been made thus far to systematically identify the untitled dances to be found hidden within the hundreds of sonatas composed by Scarlatti and his contemporaries. This has placed the modern keyboard performer in a perplexing situation. As he or she sits down to the keyboard and puts on the music stand a collection of Spanish sonatas from the eighteenth century, e.g., by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), Antonio Soler (1729-1783), or José de Nebra (1702-1768), quandaries inevitably  arise as to how to give voice to the “Spanish-ness” of the pieces to be played. If the pieces are based on a dance, then the following things are at issue: What kind of dance is it? Where should the stress and accents be placed? What is the metrical structure herein?

Together with dancer Cristóbal Salvador, I have researched the sonatas of Scarlatti and have correlated a number of them to traditional Spanish dances.1 This is not merely a matter of simple rhythmic influence. Rather, these sonatas discernibly exhibit the structure of various Spanish folk dances. Moreover, they can be danced according to the steps and choreography that have been handed down through oral tradition until the present day. For the shake of clarity and brevity, this paper shall focus on only one of the eighteenth-century Spanish dances: the bolero.

From the mid-eighteenth century, there existed in Spain a clear awareness of indigenous music and dance of popular origin, some forms of which were also practiced by the aristocracy. It is in this setting that dances such as boleros, seguidillas, and fandangos were codified and standardized in terms of precise rules by the Spanish, French, and Italian dance masters from the 1740s onward. Moreover, this codification by the dance masters strongly influenced the way in which the bolero was presented in the theater and at the court. Boleros, seguidillas, and fandangos became fashionable dances from the 1750s onwards and in some ways represented the majos and majas : defenders of indigenous traditions.

It is important to note that the above-mentioned indigenous Spanish dances coexisted with the so-called currutacas dances: passepieds, minuets, and contredances . This situation is clearly reflected in the titles of the dance treatises published by Pablo Minguet e Yrol (1733-1775): El noble arte de danzar a la francesa y española (The Noble Art of Dancing in the French and Spanish Style) (Madrid, 1755), Arte de danzar a la francesa (The Art of Dancing in the French Style) (Madrid, 1755), Breve tratado de los passos del danzar a la española (A Brief Treatise on the Steps of Spanish Dance) (Madrid, 1764) (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Front page of Breve tratado de los passos del danzar a la española, by
Pablo Minguet e Yrol (Madrid, 1764)

This tendency is also clearly indicated in keyboard manuscripts ranging in date from 1763 through the 1790s that are held in the archives of the female convents of Santa Ana de Ávila and San Pedro de las Dueñas (both in Castile, Spain). In these, contredances and minuets are presented side by side in the same notebooks together with fandangos and seguidillas (table 1 ).2

Table 1: Entitled Dances Contained in the Keyboard Manuscripts of the Female Monastery of San Pedro de las Dueñas (León, Castile)

MS SPD1 (1762/64):
2 Minuets (Antonio Rodríguez de Hita 1723/24-1787)
Seguidillas “Al pasar Eva el arbol” (Antonio Rodíguez de Hita)
6 Minuets (Anonymous)
1 Gayta zamorana

MS SPD2 (1769):
1 Minuet (Scarlatti K. 471)

MS SPD3 (about 1770) :
1 Minuet (anonymous)
1 Fandango (anonymous)

MS SPD4 (about 1773):
1 Minuet (Antonio Rodíguez de Hita)
7 Minuets (anonymous)

MS SPD5 (1785):
1 Minuet (Antonio Rodíguez de Hita)
Minuet “L'aimable vainqueur” (André Campra's opera Hésione )
3 Minuets (anonymous)
1 Contradanza (anonymous)
1 Fandango (anonymous)

MS SPD6 (about 1790):
4 Contradanzas (anonymous)
4 minuets (anonymous)

MS SPD7 (about 1790):
4 Minuets (anonymous)
1 Fandango (anonymous)

Furthermore, starting in the 1780s, both varieties of dances—those of Spanish and foreign origin—began to commingle, thus giving birth to new hybrid forms, such as are found in the keyboard works of Félix Máximo López (1742-1821)3 and further evidenced in the records of Seville theatres, where Boleros alemandados (boleros in the style of allemande) and Minuets afandangados (minuets in the style of fandango) were performed.4

The names of some bolero dancers renowned in the eighteenth-century have been handed down to us through history. For example: Pedro de la Rosa, active circa 1740;5 Sebastián Cerezo, active circa 1780;6 Antón Boliche (d.1794);7 and Sebastián Requejo, active ca. 1800. The name of Requejo is noted in bolero history for the eponymous Requejo's Reform, which established several new rules for bolero dancing. These included the suppression of violent movements, as in the Buelta de pecho , and the prohibition against raising the elbows above shoulder level.8 One possible etymology of the term bolero is given by Don Preciso in the 1790s:

The term bolero originated in the passage of the dancer Sebastian Cerezo, one of the best dancers of his time, through the towns of La Mancha, where the lads, seeing him dance to the music's unhurried measure with a redoubling of the variations they knew of the seguidillas, thought that he was flying ( volar ) . . . so people started to talk about coming to see dance the one who flew or, as they called him, the Bolero.9

 Practically speaking, the origin of the bolero is that of a popular regional dance derived from the older seguidilla. The text of the bolero is based on the type of seguidilla, in which the metrical form consists of alternating verses of seven-and-five-syllables lines, plus estribillo ad libitum. The rhyme scheme is based on assonance.

The oldest textual seguidillas can be found in the Hispano-Hebrew jarchas from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Subsequently, seguidillas can be found in the Cantigas of Alfonso X and Martin Codax (thirteenth century), as well as in the works ranging from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries by Spanish writers, including Mateo Alemán (1547-1614), Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), Diego de Torres Villarroel (1694-1770), and Felix María de Samaniego (1745-1801).

The oldest surviving seguidillas set to music can be found in the Cancionero de Palacio (1475-1516) and have been attributed to Maestro Alonso (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Pero Gonçales, a seguidillas attributed to Maestro Alonso, Cancionero de Palacio 1475-1516 (ed. and trans. H. Anglés, Monumentos de la Música Española , Barcelona: CSIC, 1947)

The bolero : its structure and musical sources

The bolero is a triple-meter dance in moderate tempo performed either by one couple, several couples, or a single dancer. It inherited from the seguidilla its metrical literary form, triple meter, and structure, which consists of three parts known as coplas or mudanzas. This format is repeated three or four times, depending upon the customs of the region and the preference of the maestro . After every repetition, a break occurs known as Bien parado, where the dancer remains stationary but strikes appealing poses (tables 2-3). This structure is repeated three or four times, depending on the region or school.

Table 2: Main Characteristics of the Bolero

  • Triple-meter dance in moderate tempo;
  • Anacrusic rhythm, starting on the last eighth note of the third beat;
  • Distinctive castanet rhythm pattern:

Table 3: Parts of the Bolero

  • Musical introduction
  • Salida y desplante (reverences)
  • Mudanza primera (first part)
  • Paseillo (connects the parts, or Mudanzas )
  • Mudanza segunda (second part)
  • Paseillo
  • Mudanza tercera (third part)
  • Final: Bien parado

According to Suárez Pajares, the first source to make mention of the term bolero is a sainete (one-act farce) by Ramón de la Cruz entitled La hostería del buen gusto (1773). According to Suárez Pajares, the oldest surviving written musical scores of the bolero music are:10

 1. “Todo aquel que no sepa” from Arte de tocar la guitarra española por música by Fernando Ferandiere (c.1740-c.1816) (Madrid: Imprenta de Pantaleón Aznar, 1799);

2. Boleros with figured bass (Mp-4198, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, manuscript from the late eighteenth century);

3. Tiranas, Polos, and Boleras (M-2231, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, manuscript from the late eighteenth century).

To this list of eighteenth-century sources, our current research appends six additional boleros. Pursuant to our examination of Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas, we have identified six boleros among them: K. 225, 1753; K. 239, 1753; K. 380, 1754; K.454, 1756; K. 478, 1756; K. 491, 1756 (table 3) . Beyond a simple rhythmical influence, the aforementioned sonatas betray the evident structure of the bolero dance, as outlined in table 4.

Table 4: Oldest Extant Written Bolero Music

According to Suárez-Pajares, 1992:

Mp-4198, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid (late eighteenth century)

M-2231, Madrid National Library Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid (late eighteenth century)

“Todo aquel que no sepa,” from Fernando Ferandiere, Arte de tocar la guitarra española por música by (Madrid, 1799).

Source: Javier Suárez Parares, “El

Repertorio Bolero en la primera mitad del

Siglo XIX,” in La Escuela Bolera

MEC Madrid, 1992)

Our New Data:

Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti:

K. 225 (1753)

K. 239 (1753)

K. 380 (1754)

K. 454 (1756)

K. 478 (1756)

K. 491 (1756)

Source: Morales, in progress

These untitled dances are performed by Cristóbal Salvador according to the steps and choreography that have been handed down through oral tradition in the region of Murcia, where the dancer Requejo was born.

 Concluding remarks

From a methodological point of view, systematic research comparing eighteenth-century Spanish music and traditional dance has not only illuminated the degree to which dance practices from the mid-eighteenth century have been preserved, it has also provided a key as to how to approach the performance of Spanish music from this period and, beyond that, helped trace the written origins of traditional or folk music.

Prior research on the bolero had established the manuscripts Mp-4198 and M-2231 (dating from the 1790s and now housed at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid) as the oldest written bolero music preserved. By identifying as boleros the Scarlatti Sonatas K. 225, 239, 380, 454, 478, and 491 (dated in the Venice manuscripts 1753-56), we can today affirm that these are the oldest written boleros known to date and, therefore, that Domenico Scarlatti is the first musician of record to have composed boleros. Moreover, this fact indicates that the bolero (music and dance) had already acquired an explicit structure by the mid-eighteenth century, predating the compositions entitled boleros found in the tonadillas by Blas de Laserna (1751-1816) by forty years.

Finally, today, well-informed performers know the general rules of how to recognize and play the dances of the classical suite. Awareness of the rhythm, stress, and general structure of these dances undoubtedly aids in the accurate performance of an allemande, a chaconne, or a courante. It seems only right and proper that such incisiveness should also extend to the classical Spanish dances of the eighteenth century– boleros, seguidillas, fandangos, etc.—as well. It is with this goal in mind that our research continues.

1The presentation featured a musical performance during which Luisa Morales, on harpsichord, accompanied the dancing of Cristóbal Salvador.

2 For a complete catalogue of the instrumental music of San Pedro de las Dueñas, see Luisa Morales and Beryl Kenyon de Pascual, “Música instrumental del siglo XVIII en el archivo de música del monasterio de San Pedro de las Dueñas (León),” Revista Nassarre 12/2 (1996): 283-313; 13/1-2 (1997): 123-46; 15/1-2 (1999): 515-25; 18/1-2 (2002): 479-99. For a transcription of selected keyboard works, see Luisa Morales, ed., Juan Moreno y Polo, Sebastián Tomás y anónimos. Obras para tecla del siglo XVIII, MM de San Pedro de las Dueñas (León) (Zaragoza: Institución Fernando el Católico, 1997).

3Felix Máximo López: Dos juegos de variaciones sobre el “Minué afandangado” para forte piano, ed. Genoveva Gálvez (Madrid: Sociedad Española de Musicología, 2000).

4 Javier Suárez-Pajares and Xoán M. Carreira, eds., The Origins of the Bolero School, trans. Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez, Aurelio de la Vega, Lynn Garafola (Pennington, NJ: Society of Dance History Scholars, 1993).

5 Iza de Zamacola, Juan Antonio “Don Preciso”: Colección de las mejores coplas de seguidillas, tiranas y polos que se han compuesto para cantar a la guitarra (Madrid 1797- 1802) (new ed. Córdoba: Ediciones Demófilo, 1982).

6 Idem.

7 Juan Rodríguez Calderón, Bolerología (1807).

8Fernando Sor, “Le Bolero,” in A. Ledhuy and H. Bertini, Encyclopédie Pittoresque de la Musique (1835).

9Iza de Zamacola, Juan Antonio “Don Preciso.”

10 Javier Suárez Pajares, “El repertorio bolero en la primera mitad del siglo XIX,” in La Escuela Bolera (Madrid: MEC, 1992).

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