Posted in For Project 1 Examples

Example 1 Research, Part 2: Fandango and Bolero

Fandango, like many other Spanish dances, is a true mystery. Different sources cite different time of fandango’s emergence. Some say it appeared as as late as the 18th century (Apel, 1969: 307), some also mention 17th (Ruiz, 2007: 93), and some go as early as the 16th century (Martinez, 2003: 71). The exact birthplace is not known either. Although it is considered one of the oldest fundamentally traditional Spanish folk forms, there is a lot of research that points out the sub-Saharan African origin.

Blasis (1830: 28) mentions that a dance called chica, migrated to Spain from Central Africa where “every tribe dances it, particularly the Congoes.” It was from the Moors that “Spain received that dance now so peculiar to it, the Fandango, which is nothing else than the Chica, under a more decent form…” (1830:29)

Some sources cite more direct influences by the African slaves. Martinez (2003: 62) points out that in the 16th Century, Seville had the second largest population of African slaves in Europe. The slaves would often perform their music and dance, and their movements became so popular that the theater and dance groups adopted them. (2003: 63) The ending ‘ngo’ is also believed to have the African origin; hence zorongo and tango could have originated from the dances of these Black slaves. (2003: 33) For example, Tango’s precursor is said to be tangano, another African dance imported with the slaves. (Andrews, 1979: 75)

Fandango’s position was very close to that, as Ochoa points out, Rolando A. Perez Fernandez established the “Bantu, African linguistic and cultural origins of the fandango and its association with chaos.” (Cuevas and Jackson, 2004: 41) Beside the meaning chaos, the word connotes an invitation to a party as well. Similarly, Antonio Garcia de Leon says that fandango is derived from the bantu word fanda meaning ‘fiesta’. Martinez (2003: 63) mentions that:

“As early as 1464 the term fandangueros was used in Jerez to describe the noisy, animated gatherings Black and white slaves used to organize.” 

Finally, Ochoa describes fandango as a black bailongo (a gathering to ear, drink and dance) adopted by whites and descoloridos (bleached out or mixed people), and by its expropriation in the high spheres of the Spanish population, “fandango acquired a very particular twist in the Iberian Peninsula in the plays and music – ballet-pantomime, comedy, spinets, sonatas – and became recognized as typically Iberian, with this [false] copyright traveled parts of Europe and North America,” during the colonial epoch. (Cuevas and Jackson, 2004: 41)

The popular folkloric fandangos of Andalucía gradually assimilated into flamenco, best known of these are fandangos de Huelva, which consists of 33 different styles with 10 regional variations, fandangos de Alosno, which include 16 variations, and the verdiales – the free vocal styles grouped under the heading De Levante (the East) that are derived from regional fandangos: Maleguenas are flamenco fandangos from Malaga, tarantas are the flamenco fandangos from Almeria. Cordoba produced other famous and distinct local forms like fandangos de Lucena. (Martinez, 71)

Just looking at those above, it’s easily seen that there are a lot of flamenco palos (styles) that originated from fandango’s folk forms. But, instead of looking through these, I to economize my research by being interested in  another version which was used in art music – the courtly fandango dance.

Some of the early examples are notated in 6/8 time, but soon the standard notation in ¾ took over. Composers mostly used the court dance version of fandango with the instrumental tradition. As with the minuets afandangados, composers of classical music appropriated the fandango and other popular dances into more acceptable cultural forms and milieus and the appropriations of Spanish dance led to keyboard fandangos by Antonio Solar and others, among them Scarlatti.

Scarlatti spent nearly half of his life in Italy composing opera and half of his life writing keyboard works on the Iberian Peninsula, so that the Spaniards have placed him within a long lineage of Spanish composers and performers. Besides that his sonatas contain features reminiscent of Spanish vernacular music: the lively triple meters, the guitaristic pedal points and strumming patterns; argues that the Spanish dances could have also led to innovations in harpsichord technique which were pioneered by Scarlatti. Virtuoso episodes from Scarlatti’s sonatas engage the entire body in a new approach to the keyboard that differed significantly from a general focus on finger technique common in his time. For example, in a passage from Sonata K. 21, right and left hand verge towards each other with arpeggios in contrary motion to cross hands (m 22-28). This dance between hands replicates the intricate partnering of the fandango, in which dancers intertwine but never touch.

Rameau in his introduced Les Trois Mains – a fandango as a dance in his suite. In his opera Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart closes the third act with fandango for its finale. Another beautiful example is Boccherini’s fandango found in his Quintet G448. This example contains the castanets, which would often accompany the dance.

I was very curious as to why Ravel’s composition was renamed and how much of its musical elements affected this, but I couldn’t find much material regarding this subject.
Just that “His first working title was Fandango, but realizing that the increase in speed and the sudden stops characteristic of that dance were contrary to his idea for the new piece, he retitled the piece Boléro.” However, I wanted to really compare both dances and find more musical explanations as to why the change in title was logical.

Fandango is a lively dance with rapid movement, while bolero is more noble, modest and restrained. (Blasis) Esses (1992:633) cites the description given in the early 19th century by Cairon, that fandango’s steps “drag on the ground with its hurried and swift tempo”, and how this doesn’t give dancers the opportunity “to be able to perform in expanded and majestic steps, as in Bolero.” Bolero is credited to Sebastian Cerezo around the mid- 1700s. The etymology of bolero might be the word volero from the verb volar – to fly, since the movement of the Spanish bolero had some jumping that looked like the dancer was flying.  It is in part an imitation of folk dances, as it borrowed and combined brilliant, intricate and the most outstanding steps and changed them from seguidilla, polos and trianas, and of course – fandango. (Bonald, 1959: 32) It’s inevitable that the tempo of bolero eventually slowed down, because of the increasingly complex, showy choreography that worked against the musical momentum, slowing the beat down as the decorative gestures multiplied.

With its slow, elegant tempo, Bolero is also the most balletic of all Spanish dances that uses demanding and virtuosic steps, and it’s no surprise that “bolero soon made its way into ballrooms and onto stages as a truly Spanish dance that could compete with the popular French imports such as minuets, contradanses, and ballet.”

The popularity of bolero took, a different path than fandango, which came under the flamenco umbrella. In early 19th century, it led to the genre known as escuela bolera, a theatrical form of dance that combined the bolero, and other Spanish dances, with elements of ballet into a codified system of Spanish classical dance with much freer and more exotic movements in the torso and arms, livelier and earthier footwork and often loud stomps instead of delicate pointe work of classical ballet.

Musically, Fandango, has a characteristic harmonic progression. As Le Guin describes:

“Traditionally, sections of the dance alternated between major-mode tonality and the modal cadencia andaluza, based on the descending tetrachord la-sol-fa-mi.” (2006:100)

“The final cadencia is mi, and tonal ear will hear this as a dominant” and “will be encouraged to do so by the tonal section of the dance, but such resolution is not to be.” The tension builds up over this repeated subversion of the most basic relationship of tonality. Manuel (313) explains that Am-G-F-E should not be defined in Western terms as i-VII-VI-V, but as iv-III-II-I, with a minor being a temporary resting point and remains subsidiary to the E chord, which functions as tonic and finalis.

Guitarists would use the la-mi ostinato with many variations, and the keyboard fandangos by Soler and others retain this loose, improvisatory character. Soler uses the A-Dm ostinato in fast tempo, with occasional digression into a relative major key, and then conclude on the dominant A-major chord. The later fandango by Mozart and Boccherini adhere to this general scheme, however they conclude on the tonic of the minor key.

Instead of a courtly fandango, Lopez’s keyboard fandango, on the other hand, reminds a bit of the other form. While it is based on the Dm-A ostinato, there are copla-like passage with I-IV-V harmonic scheme, another distinctive pattern, which is primarily used in Andalusian, flamenco fandango.

Just like in dance, that borrowed and added in more elements, the music of bolero is also a lot more varied (Blasis, 34), borrowing from other dances, like fandango. There are also interesting forms. In Arcas’s Bolero for example, we see the changes in tone and temperament, with opening and the interludes having the fandango character, while the other parts are calmer (meno mosso) with different harmonies.

Bolero offers the richer harmonies and more freedom, that allowed the French who viewed the Spanish music as something exotic, especially in mid-19th century Paris, to explore it, since it was something that could reliably convey everything that they considered Spanish. (Bellman, 138) Parisian bolero can be heard in Listz’s song ‘Gastibelza’, in Berlioz’s song ‘Zaide’ (which even has optional castanets) and Lefebure-Wely’s Bolero de concert for organ.

Chopin’s Bolero, op. 19, for piano is an interesting example with cross-national elements. It is often regarded as a polonaise in disguise, on the grounds that the two dances share the same rhythm. But there are features in the composition that belong specifically to the bolero tradition – the strumming of one chord in the characteristic rhythm, the use of that strumming on its own, as well as melodic features more Spanish than Polish. It also has two completely different introductions – one instrumental and the other more self-contained and vocal. The music then slips out of its bolero act into the utterly different rhythm, character and even tempo of a nocturne, and is gradually lured back into it bolero steps.

Russians also exoticized Spain and played with its musical forms, like Glinka in his Bolero, and Moszkowski in his Bolero from the Spanish dances, in Op. 12 no. 5.

Rhythmic figures in both bolero and fandango are quite similar. I looked through various videos to see the folk performances of both dances, and the rhythm castanets beat out for bolero is similar to Ravel’s rhythm (Fig.a), unlike the one they beat for fandango (Fig.b). But for me, there is something even more important than the harmonic progression, the tempo and rhythm that defines Ravel’s composition as a bolero rather than a fandango.

Ravel, just like Debussy, heard both the exoticized Spain of the earlier musicians, even though they’ve seen the direct import: Gypsy musicians from Granada performing flamenco music and dance. Debussy’s Spain is amazingly focused, an obsession with a single image, a Spanish locale – Alhambra, both in Soiree dans Grenade and Iberia, he showed it adrift in time, as a place where pasts and present float in and out of each other, yet a place that he never visited. Ravel’s Spain on the other hand is encyclopedic, embracing the whole range of that century-long tradition of exoticism and adding an important new theme to it: “The sense of a bygone time that is not only definite, but is the entire point of music.”

It’s true that the complex counter-rhythms and cross-accentuations Ravel used occur in flamenco and the folk dances it emerged from, but instead of fandango, the way he explored the Spanish exoticism in this composition, took us back to the Parisian bolero, the earliest genre of Spanish mania in France. In other words, Ravel coupled the mechanical nature or “the extreme objectivity”, not with flamenco, but the “the cultural otherness”. In this Ravel goes so far as to make the issue of Spanish exoticism without it being about Spain at all. While the early minutes actually have room for movements of the Spanish dancing, by the end any trace of exoticism is overwhelmed by the repetition, volume and machine-like coordination.

In Bolero’s final moments, “the friction between melody and mechanism finally causes ignition, the tonality lifts off from C major to E major and, as it falls back, the edifice collapses”. The composition “ruptures in the destruction of both the inhuman mechanism, and death of the human dance.

As Bellman writes, what Ravel had actually done is sacrifice the tradition of Spanish exoticism to his own consciousness of conditions of modernity. Ravel took us back to the Parisian bolero, as if to end it. In this sense, he certainly couldn’t have composed a fandango, but a bolero-to-end-all-boleros.

List of illustrations:




Apel, Willi (1969) Harvard Dictionary of Music. Harvard: Harvard University Press

Ruiz, Luis Lopez (2007) Guia del flamenco. Madrid: Ediciones AKAL

Martinez, Emma (2003) Flamenco: –all You Wanted to Know. Mel Bay

Blasis, Carlo (1830) The Code of Terpsichore. The Art of Dancing. London: Edward Bull

Andrews, S. (1979) “Take Your Partners”, Melbourne: Hyland House

Cuevas, Marco Polo Hernandez/Jackson, Richard L. (2004) African Mexicans and the Discourse on Modern Nation. Lanham: University Press of America

Esses, Maurice (1992) Dance and Instrumental Diferencias in Spain During the 17th and Early 18th Centuries. New York: Pendragon Press

Le Guin, Elisabeth (2006) Boccherini’s Body: An Essay in Carnal Musicology. Berkeley and Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, Ltd.

Manuel, Peter (1989) ‘Modal Harmony in Andalusian, Eastern European, and Turkish
Syncretic Musics’. Yearbook for Traditional Music 21: 70–94.

Bellman, Jonathon(1998) The Exotic in Western Music. Northeastern University Press





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