French Historian Alain Gobin spent years of research in compiling the most comprehensive documentary on flamenco. His work will appear regularly in a series for Guitarra Magazine. Please see the end of this article for links to other chapters in this series!
Flamenco has a solid reputation for being hermetic to those who have not been initiated into it. Some pretend that this hermeticism is nothing but a pretext to disguise its limits and insufficiencies.
Isn't flamenco, under these conditions, nothing but a carefully managed eye fooler?
The question of its deep-seated nature cannot be forever eluded. Are we in the presence of true art or a popular art? Yet, it seems to be accessible only to the initiated, even though they are relatively small in number.
It is a fact that flamenco, formed by shades of light and dark, is elusive. It loses its own authenticity in contact with the forces of the music hall footlights. Yet, it resurges with its own complete vigor in semi-dark caves.
Authentic art or mere folklore! Devoted to night club spectacles! Therein resides the depth of the problem. Well, it appears often that without the knowledge of certain key principles, one wouldn't know what judgment to bring to bear in this regard.
It seems, then, that flamenco music is a tributary of the chance moods and qualities of its interpreters and thus its riches are periodically re-discovered. We can give to this phenomenon a double explanation.
To begin with, one ascertains that the first impression of flamenco doesn't exhaust its substance, because it is an art of the initiated which doesn't reveal its aspects, its components, and its degrees but by a slow and constant progression.
So it is knowledge of the guitar that permits the discovery of the nature of flamenco, the understanding of the dance and its significance, the analysis of the song and its value.
It appears then that the musical richness, plastic and emotional, of flamenco gives one the privilege of savoring those aspects which answer best the taste of an era.
There was thus, a golden age of the song followed by a beautiful era of the dance before the guitar was recently rediscovered.
This cyclic vision of flamenco is considerably detrimental to its understanding because, above all, it is a synthesis of these three complimentary elements, namely the song, dance, and the guitar.
The fact is that in our time, in spite of this richness of flamenco, it is on its way to disappearing.
Now, from a curious point of view, this state of affairs awakens an artistic interest, which, stirred by the worry of its preservation, provokes a live reaction against the decline of this accomplished art.
This disappearance, slow but inexorable, is being governed by the character of the two essential components of flamenco art; the esoteric and the oral tradition.
Esoteric art! Flamenco, it is! With a double title!
To begin with, by its contents, due to the complexity of its structures and their tenure, it is rendered particularly difficult to seize it in its own entire subtlety.
Consequently, the fact remains, that its perpetuation is assured by its own audience, a social milieu, appreciative, restrained, and closed.
In this regard, it is revealing to notice that the social elite and the intellectual Spaniards have rarely condescended to lend their ears to the manifestations of flamenco music. It was necessary for strong individuals, moreover scholars, convinced of the artistic value of this inheritance, to reveal to their contemporaries the richness of gypsy Andalusian folklore. Manuel de Falla, Felipe Pedrell, and Garcia Lorca figure prominently among the eminent persons who contributed to the knowledge of flamenco.
Consequently, this knowledge is difficult to acquire because there are no rules written about it, no melodies recorded. All of it is transmitted orally from person to person.
Following the images of an old African proverb, it is true that when a flamenco artist dies, "a musical library disappears with him."
Yet the interest that can be carried to flamenco art does not limit itself to the knowledge of this esoteric aspect nor to this complex musical initiation. It also resides in the fact that it is an art that occupies an original place in the bosom of universal music.
Placed at the oriental and occidental confluent traditions, it is, nevertheless, irreducible to each one of them. It appears as an original artistic manifestation that unites oriental subtleties and refinement to the European genius.
The blending of the two cultures, at this point, has been accomplished so that the contribution of each is no longer transparent.
Also, is it more probable that it is by its echo in modern music that flamenco can attract attention?
Hasn't it for a century marveled the greatest classical composers?
Credits to Presses Universitaires de France
Prof. Alfred Valerio, French, Italian, Piano, Theory, Mus. B., Mus. M., Chicago Conservatory of Music, post graduate work in music, studied in France, graduated with a diploma in languages and commerce from S.A.S. Haute-Savoie, France. Travelled extensively throughout Europe, achieved scholarships in Italy, France, and U.S. Author of several books and charts on musical technique and French. He has taught languages for the Italian and French consulates and various conservatories. Composer of piano sonatas, songs, methods. He has taught classical guitar in colleges and universities in the Chicago Area.
Thanks for reading! Below, we've assembled a list of all the chapters so far in this exciting series!