Writings and essays about flamenco

From 1850 — The First Accurate Description of Early Flamenco Singing by Gevaert – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Long ago, I posted something from a Spanish magazine, a report on flamenco in 1850 as written by Gevaert, a noted Belgian musicologist of that era. Here’s a brief excerpt, starting with the words of the modern-day author Arie Sneeuw and then quoting Gevaert:

“Finally, we have the brief description, already referred to the repertoire in totality, of the use of the voice and the tesitura characteristic of cante flamenco:

‘What also testifies to the Arab origin of these cantos is the guttural and cut-off, interrupted (entrecortada) way of singing — a way that seems to be compulsory (de rigor) for all of them. All of this music is sung in the highest registers of the voice, and it is not uncommon to hear the entrada (entrance passage) of a cana or of a fandango done with a C-note from the chest (realizada con un do de pecho).’

(Sneeuw then says): “Since starting a phrase with a C from the chest is probably the most difficult way of doing any type of singing, this passage, together with the one above which refers to breathing, gives us an idea of the demands that were placed on singers in those days — or that they imposed upon themselves, since one would customarily implicate the other.

On the other hand, the somewhat forced tesitura which the cante demanded — and which to a greater or lesser degree it still demands today — seems to be a natural corollary of the descending melodic line, as commented on earlier.”

End of excerpt. Again, it seems that a high voice has been part of flamenco, certainly of professional flamenco, for a long time. I’ve gotten a vague impression that the impetus for this might be related to Italian operatic style, though of course there is no other Italianate influence in flamenco song (I hope.)

Brook Zern


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