Quivering Quavers

Spaniards should stop reading right here for their shameful secret is out. Get ready to compose yourself. Their national soul music plucks heartstrings as it does guitar strings but alarmingly it inspires non-Spaniards to get their plectrums out and do even better. Well they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The evening sun settles over Seville’s Plaza de Espana; life is idyllic but there’s something missing, which you cannot fathom. Suddenly you hear the melancholy melody of a guitar and the missing link is discovered. Your head swims with delight to Sueno en la Floresta (Dreams in the Magic Garden). As T.S Elliot observed: ‘Music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all, but you are the music / While the music lasts.’


This incomparable beautiful evocation of Iberian charm was composed by the Paraguayan, Agustin Barrios Mangore whom John Williams described as the greatest guitarist of all time. Others might say it is equalled by contemporary English composer Richard Harvey whose Antico for Guitar frequently tops the most requested Spanish dream music.

Little conjures up the vibrancy of the Spanish spirit than does Espana, composed by Frenchman Emanuel Chabrier after his return from a visit to Spain. The French love affair with their Spanish neighbour gave us Bolero. It caught the world’s imagination when skaters Torvill and Dean used it underscore their Olympian ice-drama in 1984.. This soft to frenzied musical drama with its heart-stopping finale was composed by George Bizet.

It was the same French composer who created Carmen, arguably the world’s most loved opera; a passionate musical reflecting the anguish of Andalucian romance, pathos and murder. His compatriot Jules Massenet’s Meditation captivates us all but almost as well known, his opera El Cid based on Spain’s revered military hero.


Just as the German-Austrians commandeer our sun beds they are adept at grabbing the best tunes. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was set in Seville; his Don Giovanni was based on the exploits of Spain’s own Casanova, Don Juan. At any Spanish music extravaganza Johann Strauss Jnr gets them off their seats and into the foot-tapping aisles with his Spanischer Marsch.

Passionate love and revenge fuel the drama of opera. Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was inspired by a Spanish play when he created The Force of Destiny. Rossini, another Italian put northern competitors in their place with his Barber of Seville.


The Russians won’t play second fiddle to anyone either. Who can leave the castanets in the drawer when the first chords of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol lift the casa rafters? Then there’s fellow Russian Peter Tchaikovsky with his mesmerising heel-tapping hand-clapping Spanish Dance in the ballet The Nutcracker. The father of Russian classical music Mikhael Glinka composed the embodiment of Spanish musical spirit with his Summer Night in Madrid.

Could it be that without any Spanish intervention there will always be Spanish music to enjoy? Everyone wants to be Spanish; it is the way it has always been, so it wasn’t a British invention after all.

Talking of which the Spaniards might respond by reminding us that the names of England’s greatest composers are hardly English sounding. Fritz Delius and George Handel (German), Gustav von Holst (Swedish), and of course the epitome of English jingoistic music, Edward Elgar..

Oh, if Ralph Vaughan Williams had only composed The Spanish Lark Ascending life would be complete. Touche. (Trust the French to get the last word in).


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