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"The demoniac tune of the zarabanda”: erotic dance-songs in Early Modern Spain

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The zarabanda was a dance-song (baile cantado) originated in Central America that flourished in Spain in the decades after 1580 and further disseminated beyond its borders as a court dance whose best known example is the noble French sarabande. The severe criticism by moralists and authorities resulted in a prosecution by the Inquisition in México (1559) and prohibition in Spain (1583 and 1615), owing to the obscenity of both text and gestures; still in 1623, Giambattista Marino echoed this perception in his description of this “oscena danza” in L’Adone. No source of early zarabandas survives in music notation, most likely because they were orally transmitted and never copied down, but the very low number of extant poetic texts (some with guitar alphabet), most of them in non Spanish sources, suggest that, in the long run, the proscription was successful.

This paper will explore the early zarabanda attending three different aspects: text, music and gesture. First, it will analyze the surviving poems to illustrate the prevalence of explicit sexual references; second, applying the metric rules of Spanish sung poetry to the harmonic and rhythmic patterns of guitar zarabandas, it will provide a written and recorded reconstruction of its melody; third, it will argue with examples that even the most straightforward representation of the poetic content would result into very explicit gestures that, not surprisingly, horrified even the mildest censors in the officially decorous Spanish society of the so-called Golden Age. The remarks of the theologian Francisco Suarez (De virtute et statu religionis, 1610) regarding the different degrees of sinfulness of words and music will be brought forward to explain how the most demoniac of all songs was eventually admitted into the church.

Álvaro Torrente earned a degree in Musicology at the Universidad de Salamanca (1993) and a PhD at the University of Cambridge (1997). After two years at Royal Holloway, University of London, he was appointed at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (1999), where he is currently Lecturer in Music History and Director of the Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales. Since 2007 he is member of the Directorium of the International Musicological Society. He has been Visiting Scholar at NYU (1999) and Yale University (2009-2010). His research and publications focus on vernacular genres in the Iberian world and on Italian opera of the 17th and 18th centuries. He edited with Emilio Casares La ópera en España e Hispanoamérica (ICCMU, 2001), and with Tess Knighton Devotional music in the Iberian World: the villancico and related genres (1450-1800) (Ashgate, 2007), which received the Stevenson Award of the American Musicological Society in 2008. With Ellen Rosand and Lorenzo Bianconi, he is General Editor of The Operas of Francesco Cavalli (Bärenreiter). His editions of La Calisto and L’Ercole Amante have been performed at the Bayerische Staatsoper, the Royal Opera House, the Nederlandse Oper, Theater Basel and the Grand Théâtre de Genève, while his edition of Cesti’s Orontea will open a new production in Oper Frankfurt in February 2015. His volume on the seventeenth century music will be published shortly as part of the History of music in Spain and Latinamerica currently published by Fondo de Cultura Económica.

This talk is part of the Faculty of Music Colloquia series.

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