Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Forms – Tientos

Flamenco Forms – Tientos

A correspondent asks about the flamenco form called the tientos.  I tend to think of Rafael Romero and Jacinto Almadén for tientos, a form which seems real serious (sometimes deadly serious) but doesn’t seem “jondo” or “deep” — not because I reserve that term a priori for the big 3, but because tientos and other serious cantes don’t seem to have the same approach or the same aesthetic objective.  For me, even the best tientos (or peteneras, or caña, or serrana) just sort of lies there — it may be done well, or badly, or brilliantly, but it doesn’t have the potential to reveal vast layers of deep meaning to me.  I wish I appreciated these forms more.

It’s also worth noting that while there may be several sort-of-different melodic approaches for a singer to choose from in the tientos, it seems there’s really only one tientos; of course, this is quite different from the case of siguiriyas and soleá, which have literally dozens of different manifestations, often bearing the names of individuals or places.  (The tonás/martinetes may have had many distinct variants as well, though most have been lost.)

The big Cinterco Dictionary says the tiento (it insists on the singular, though it says it’s a plural noun) “is a song with three or four 8-syllable lines, usually followed by one or several 3-line estribillos, whose measure is uniform.  It’s a recent song, dating from the beginning of this century — derived from the earlier tango, which has the same compas, though the tientos is slower, more solemn and complex.  It was in Cadiz where it began to be called the “tango tiento“, which means “tango lento” (slow tango); later, in Seville, this term was forgotten, so only the adjective “tiento” remained and the form became a new cante in itself, due to the further slowing of its pace, and evidencing a certain influence from matrixes (matices) of the siguirya and the solea.  It’s a danceable cante, with verses that are customarily sentimental (patética) and sententious.  As a dance, some say it was created by Joaquin El Feo.  It is majestic, sober and dramatic, with a decidedly ritual air.  Oral tradition says (the singer) El Marrurro was one of the first to cut the tientos to this style, after which El Mellizo fixed it in its present form/context.  Molina and Mairena write: “It was Enrique el Mellizo who aggrandized the tango until it became the tientos.  Quinones seconds this, and agrees that (the incomparable Gypsy singer) Manuel Torre was the first “divulgador” (to give it a public profile), as he was announced in his 1902 presentation (theatrical debut?) in Seville as a singer of tangos (i.e., tientos).  But José Blas Vega (one of the dictionary’s two authors) affirms that its first presenter (difusor) was don Antonio Chacón, writing: ‘The tango-tiento de Cadiz, of El Mellizo, is the musical “equilibrio” from which Chacon pulled forth the tientos; he knew the Cadiz school of song, and brought to it his great creative and musical sense, so the tientos of Chacon are impregnated with enormous melodic value.  Chacon may also have heard tientos in Jerez, by Marrurro, whom he knew and admired in his youth.  Those tientos, of Marrurro, have been lost, though (guitarist and cante expert) Perico del Lunar referred to them.  The first reference to tientos appears in 1901, but the name didn’t gain currency until years later.  And although Chacón in his recording of 1909 and 1913 kept using the name tangos, he is credited with spreading the name tientos simply because the public, and aficionados and artists, identified the new modality of tangos lentos or tientos with the style that Chacón — not Manuel Torre and not Pastora Pavón — gave to it in recasting it.  Later, there were written references like this one from 1914: ‘How often I’ve heard people sing the famous tango popularized by Chacón, the Gayarre (who was Gayarre — an opera star?) of flamenco, as in “Qué pájaro será aquel“‘, thus alluding to the famous tientos verse.  Paco Percheles wrote: “Don Antonio Chacón was, contemporaneously with Manuel Torre, the other artificer of the tientos, which he popularized in Madrid, elevating them, as with everything to which he applied his art and his faculties, to a higher level.”  Augusto Butler wrote “Undoubtedly, it was Chacón who gave the form vigor and strength upon adding it to his exhaustive repertoire — and evidently gave it the name tientos.”  But José Blas Vega clarifies “These comments don’t stop us from affirming, in the spirit of truthfulness, that Manuel Torre with this version of tango lento, much more accented by him due to his interpretive tendencies, met with great success in Seville.  From him and from Chacón, Pastora Pavón (Niña de los Peines) got her main influences for tientos.  It’s enough to hear the tientos of Chacón and analyze them through extensive recordings, to appreciate that he has been the modern fundamental fount of this style, in which the tracks of the maestro are perceived directly or indirectly in some 70% of recordings, though time has unfairly obscured his creative and diffusionary labor.”  For some years now, not just in public but in recordings, most interpreters have linked the tientos to the tangos, usually beginning with tientos, given its greater expressivity and possibilities for timing (temple), and ending with tangos, which is easy, since the guitar simply has to lighten/brighten (aligerar) the rhythm.  Other important past interpreters were Tomás Pavón, Aurelio de Cadiz (Sellés), Manolo Vargas, Antonio Mairena, Pepe de la Matrona, Bernardo de los Lobitos, Manolo Caracol and Terremoto.  Today its a common (prodigado) cante with evidences of its Cadiz and Triana sources, as well as the personal touches of its early specialists, which makes it fair to say that in the last 50 years it scarcely shows any evolution (por lo que puede decirse que en los últimos 50 años apenas si se aprecía en los tientos alguna evolución).

End of excerpts from the out-of-print Diccionario Enciclopédico Ilustrado del Flamenco, Cinterco, Madrid, 1988 (which has an aversion to paragraphing).

I disagree with the idea that the tangos and the tientos have essentially the same rhythm.  Speed aside, I know that the tientos has a “dotted” rhythm, which I hear as “and-a-ONE,-and-a-two,-and-a-THREE,-and a four,…” — the same “trick” rhythm that identifies the faster, and major-key, tanguillos and zapateado; the tango, on the other hand, has a flat-footed, 4/4 or even rhythm, “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and…”, just as boring as, say, the farruca rhythm, and so easy and obvious that even an American (me, anyway) can play it.  (Lately, modern guitarists have jazzed up the tango rhythm a bit by using neat triplet rasgueo — but the basic pulse remains simple.)

Brook Zern

February 5, 2014   No Comments