Friday, April 21, 2006

Flamenco Guitars and Gypsy Troupes Part I

Victorians found the sonorous notes of guitars and their accompanying wailing love songs to be especially endearing during moonlit forays or on starry nights.

Music was evolving both on and off the Continent (Europe), like everything else during the Victorian Era. International sentiments were mixing into America’s melting pot, including in the realms of musical entertainment. The telegraph and shipping line innovations were making the world smaller. Europe’s popular music was quickly available in burgeoning America.

Back in Europe, the Iberians were evolving the guitar and spanning the gap between Gypsy fairground antics and Royal courtroom entertainment. Flamenco, in particular, was coming out of its Primordial-egg state and even reached one of its golden eras during the late Victorian era. With the increasing demand for the guitar in global markets, its popularity increased quickly with its availability. During Victoria’s reign, Flamenco was incorporating multi-cultural elements and was even becoming a preferred dance form.

In Europe, Valencian-aristocracy (descended from the Kingdom of Navarre) were especially taking an interest in the commonplace entertainments of Gypsies and their musical collusion with the Arabic and Jewish communities amongst Mediterranean port cities. To be frank, the said aristocracy began showing up in formal black ball gowns and attire to partake in the wild festivities the Gypsies made available to the public. Although the Valencian ladies dressed formally in silks, their full-skirts were unsuported with wires or cage-like structures for such wild nights on the arms of their "dons." The flamenco was the in-thing, and its popularity was already hitting the current and former Spanish colonies and territories, all the way up to the royal courts of Mexico, as well as in Europe. The guitar, of course, was heavily in use at such locales and was being competitively mastered, as the Iberians had a history of driving musical-technique innovations -- the wilder, the better.

The guitar’s acknowledged Gypsy roots also helped increase its popularity among the masses across the Atlantic as Gypsy bands migrated. The Gypsy bands were appearing regularly at fairgrounds -- part of the reason that guitar music became synonymous with the musical forms that moved Westward to entertain settlers and business moguls, alike. After all, what would a campfire have been without the five-string?

Guitar music had reached the echelons of royal-court entertainment during the Renaissance and in the Victorian era guitarists were mastering it with renewed vigor as the Wild, Wild West re-popularized it. With the addition of new strings, not to mention its new shape -- that of a woman’s torso, the guitar became embedded in every level of society. A nicely translated term paper from Spain posted on the Internet details a few of the key innovators along with timelines of the evolution of the guitar and its roots in Spain.

The popular instrument was invented in Spain. It was a legacy from the Arabs after the Islamic-Moorish invasion in Europe. When Crusade-era Spanish Kingdoms re-conquered the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, their Aristocracy immediately incorporated the Arabic forms of arts and entertainment, including lute music. Authors of Victorian literature can get a feeling of the Victorian guitar music from modern performers such as Loreena McKennitt.

Renaissance-era creativity then incorporated the instruments, including the Arabic stringed instruments, into everyday entertainment. About as amusing as playing chess or engaging other parlor entertainment to the later Victorians who became well accomplished at both.

The Victorian era saw many new businesses arise, and musical instruments are not to be overlooked since they comprised the largest part of available entertainment as the West was won. In Spain, prominent name-brands were already synonymous with the increasingly esteemed guitar and commanded hefty price tags. As Americans increased their wealth, they also increased their imports of pricey European luxury items and the rising name-brands. Let’s face it: the incorporation of guitars into Society’s classical soirees also had a hand in the guitar moving Westward. Variations on classic sonatas and the like from the Victorian era are still popular and available today.

Moveable guitar chord-patterns, however, weren’t in play quite yet, and wouldn’t be until around the beginning of the Edwardian era, but a clever author can always allude to whatever musical innovations their heroic characters can improvise. Strumming and picking were well in play. Add into the equation the percussion instruments of those guitar-aficionados, the traveling bands of Gypsies, and you can understand why on-looking crowds went wild and tossed coins in their requests for more of the mostly Iberian-derived, innovative music.

Cowboy crooners singing to coyote moons around campfires come close to comparing to the traditional songs of unrequited love and broken hearts that the Gypsies brought with them from the Iberian Peninsula when they made a showing in America.

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