Flamenco - What is it?
Flamenco music is an amalgamation of assorted musical grains inherent in the varied cultures of Spain. Flamenco is a three part Spanish art form of Cante (the song), Baile (the dance) and Toque (guitar playing). There are different genres of flamenco such as alegrias, fandangos, zapateado, soleares and sequiriyas. Flamenco origins date way back to the 8th century from Andalusia when Spain was under Arab rule. This music form developed thereafter and during the18th century guitar was used as the musical instrument. It is regarded as a fusion of four cultures - the Gypsies, Moors, Jews and mostly the Andalusians.
What distinguishes the Flamenco guitar from the Spanish guitar?
There are several basic differences between Flamenco and the Spanish (classical) guitar. To mark out a few, flamenco guitars are built with cypress timber for back and sides and spruce timber for the top whereas the Spanish guitars are made with rosewood for back and sides and spruce or cedar timber for tops. Flamenco guitars are lighter and have a thin top whereas Spanish guitars are less shallow. Flamenco goes for a faster action on the chords because the strings are set much lower than on a classical one. Traditional flamenco uses tuning pegs which produces a different tune than that of a classical Spanish guitar. Also, the fretboard of flamenco is wider. However, the biggest difference to classical guitar is the use of rhythmic techniques. A flamenco guitar employs a vast array of percussive and rhythmic techniques to give the music its characteristic feel.
How is Spanish guitar used as an accompaniment to flamenco music and dance?
The early flamencologists claimed that flamenco originally was purely vocal. Later on, the songs were blended with flamenco guitar called a toque, rhythmic hand clapping, feet stomping and dance. Guitar players supporting the dancers more and more gained name, and so flamenco guitar as an art form evolved. Flamenco has many differences with classical guitar because it is basically just the guitar addition to the dancing and singing with guitar solos introduced later in this genre.
Playing a Flamenco guitar requires the player to adopt a different pattern than that used by a traditional guitarist. A flamenco guitarist holds the instrument across his legs and supports the guitar, placing the neck of the guitar more or less parallel to the floor. Keeping the upper right arm by the body of the guitar makes it easier to play certain techniques. Flamenco guitar technique is uniquely characterized by Golpe, Picado, Rasgueado, Alzapua and Tremolo.
Golpe - It is a finger tap on the golpeador at the area above or below the strings. It is usually performed with the middle or ring finger.
Picado - It is a technique used rapidly to play a melody where musician plays scale passages by alternating the index and middle fingers.
Rasgueado - It is a guitar finger strumming technique which is executed using the fingers of the strumming hand in rhythmically precise, and often rapid, strumming patterns.
Alzapua - It is a thumb technique in quick succession to give it a unique sound.
Tremolo - It is a technique with which various trembling effects are created.
The era of 1780–1850 was referred to as "The Hermetic Period" since the flamencologists, like Molina and Mairena, secretly danced in Gitano homes in the Seville and Cádiz area. Flamenco developed rapidly in cafés cantantes, which were a type of venue offering ticketed public performances between 1869 and 1910. This era was called “the Golden age of Flamenco”. Silverio Franconetti, the first "encyclopedic" singer, a sailor of Italian descent was the first to sing in all palos, instead of specializing.
In the 19th century, composers wrote musical scores and operas of flamenco themes, which were associated with the Gitanos. A trip to Spain was incomplete without seeing a flamenco show. In 1922 café cantantes were replaced by theatres, Flamenco became commercialized. The leading artist at the time was Pepe Marchena, La Niña de los Peines, Manolo Caracol, Manuel Vallejo and El Carbonerillo.
In recent years, the Flamenco guitar community has trended toward more complex syncopations, along with more ‘modern’ harmonies. Musicians have attempted to combine the Flamenco guitar with other instruments as well. Vicento Amigo, Teye, Alex Fox, Mario Escudero, Carlos Montoyo and Sabicus are the ones who have claimed a space in the hall of fame with other famous Flamenco guitarist.
Who was Antonio de Torres?
Antonio de Torres was a legendary guitar maker of the 19th century. His designs are still closely followed to make modern classical guitars by many. Torres was born in 1817 in Almeria, Spain. Throughout his life he made around 155 guitars. Torres guitars were unique and characterized by a narrow waist, similar upper and lower bouts, about 650 millimeter string length, a small body size and shallow depth. The balance and integration of the design elements are best that describes Torres guitars. Torres died in 1892 at the age of 75.