Siete canciones populares españolas, by Manuel de Falla, is one of the most popular cycles of folk-songs in music history. Originally written for piano and voice, there are transcriptions for voice and guitar, cello and piano and two versions for orchestra.
Siete canciones populares españolas (“Seven Spanish Folksongs”) is a cycle of traditional Spanish songs. Filtered and re-arranged for soprano and piano by Manuel de Falla in 1914, it quickly became one of the most popular set of Spanish songs. Originally dedicated to Madame Ida Godebska, who hosted regular gatherings for Parisian artists (like the Mallarmé tuesdays) and arranged for the first edition of the songs, the cycle is one of the most transcribed in music history since the times of Bach: there are arrangements for solo piano, voice and guitar, piano and cello and two versions for orchestra.
De Falla himself wrote: “In all honesty, I think that in popular song, the spirit is more important than the letter. The essential features of these songs are rhythm, tonality, and melodic intervals. The people themselves prove this by their infinite variations on the purely melodic lines of the songs.”
The songs derive from different regions of Spain, maintaining their original character and appeal without ever falling into cliché. All of them deal with love and everything that comes with it, joyful or painful. As it usually happens with great composers, De Falla added his own twist to the original songs, thus making them more interesting.
You can find a detailed analysis of each of them here:
A Dream” is a song on a poem of Edgar Allam Poe for voice and piano, composed by Guenter Buhles in 2003. It is part of the cycle “Four Songs of American Classics”, that contains two poems of each: Poe and Walt Whitman. The recital took place in Stadthaus Ulm, Germany, in 2007.The complete cycle can be heard under the link “Musikbeispiele” on
“The Little Sparrow whose Singing Enchanted the World.”
This French born star of international acclaim is famous for her love ballad, Non je ne regrette rien (No Regrets). When she sang it, accompanied only by a pianist, her body language and expression screamed the opposite. A tortured soul, Edith Gassion was constantly haunted and embittered by life and lost loves.
In most respects Edith was a waif. Her father was a circus performer, her mother an alcoholic street singer who cared nothing for her. The chanteuse was, so she claimed, born on a gendarme’s cape under a street lamp. The teenage Edith Gassion was to follow both her parents’ careers into entertainment.
As a street singer Gassion was partnered by her life-long friend Simone Berteaut, who worked for a pimp. There is no suggestion that she herself was ever a prostitute. When the couple’s relationship ended he tried to shoot the melodic singer; fortunately the attempt failed. Not so fortunate, Edith Gassion’s tiny daughter, Marcelle, who died from meningitis when just two-years old.
This was at a pivotal point in Edith’s life. Whilst she was trying her luck as a club singer, calling at restaurants along the Champs-Elysées, the young chanteuse was approached by Louis Leplée. Handing her a scrap of paper upon which was scrawled his name, address and also ten francs, he invited her to meet him that she might audition at his club, Le Gerny’s which was situated on Rue Pierre Charron.
Louis loved her voice but he was not so enamoured of the young singer’s family name, Gassion. After giving it much thought he changed the singer’s name to Piaf, which is Parisian slang for sparrow. Edith from there on became known as the Little Sparrow.
The salon singer’s opening night at this watering hole for the well-heeled was for her a terrifying affair. Picture her in her black knitted dress with a casually flung scarf to hide its missing sleeve. Edith that magical night sang her Parisian love melodies from the heart. The chanteuse sang with passion as she breathed raw emotion from each of the unknown song’s sentimental words.
At first the audience was indifferent. Then, gradually the diners chatter died and heads began to turn. Soon one could have heard a pin drop. During her performance that night the sparrow turned into a nightingale. The audience, instinctively mesmerized by her distinctive passion, was entranced. That night the Little Sparrow left the stage to riotous applause. Her growing popularity was to bring her international fame.
Paris being Paris, Piaf was often in the company of France’s most illustrious stars of cinema and theatre whilst also rubbing shoulders with its most notorious gangsters. All came crashing down when Louis, her mentor, was murdered. Although Edith was not involved in his violent death it was thought she was in some way implicated. The club closed, her performing contracts dried up and her friends deserted her. The Little Sparrow was now back to where it all began. It was to be 1939 before she recovered her fame.
During the 1940 – 1945 years of German occupation she entertained her country’s occupiers who adored her. It has been claimed she had more lovers than songs but it was her voice that made her fortune and fame, which is just as it should be.
Edith died in 1963 as a consequence of high-living with the low life. Over 100,000 mourners attended her funeral. The solemn occasion brought Paris to a standstill. The Parisian street singer had once been the most highly paid star in the world yet she died in debt. Regrets? Yes, there are a few.
Forgive me if some of the artistes I cover tend to belong to a previous generation or two. I do so for a reason. Many of the older generation recognise and appreciate truly great music. It is my fond hope that mentioning such names as Irish tenor John McCormack will encourage younger generations to take a step back. Perhaps they would extend their small and great pleasures of life by discovering that there is much more to music than that foisted upon them today.
John McCormack, the forth of eleven children, was born of humble Irish beginnings. He was not humble for long. Quite early on in his singing career he became a confidant of the Irish writer James Joyce. James was related to William Joyce, inaccurately described as World War Two’s Lord Haw Haw. The Irish tenor, McCormack was to become one of the 20th Century’s greatest and richest musicians.
As with many great tenors today, McCormack’s singing accomplishments were broadly based and crossed the social classes. However, he was first and foremost considered an Italian-style singer. Furthermore, he recorded French operatic arias in the Italian language. Ask your average singer how many notes he can sing in one breath: McCormack could hit 64 notes before drawing the next breath.
Up until his death in 1945 John McCormack was one of the world’s top recording stars. He broadcast regularly by radio and featured in several movies. As a child, whenever a song of his was announced by a radio presenter, my Irish mother would threaten us with an instant and very cruel death if any of her five brats uttered a word.
McCormack was not just a tenor for opera toffs: Most will remember him for the most famous of all the Great War’s songs; It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. McCormack was the first to record this ballad it. Many will remember the Forces Sweetheart Vera Lynn’s Keep the Home Fires Burning; this was another of the Irish tenor’s great singing successes.
Those were the days when great singers shaped the generation’s thinking. Such periods known as Victorian or Georgian could as easily be said to be McCormack, Beatles or Pavarotti eras. Their stamp on the nation’s psyche was as deep.
McCormack’s was an age that was evoked by songs and ballads such as The Wearing of the Green, The Minstrel Boy, and The Last Rose of Summer. There seemed to be less of a barrier between opera and the ballads so beloved by our cloth-capped forebears. The barrier is being broken down today by Andre Bocelli and Welsh diva Katherine Jenkins.
Long before the Beatles and Madonna, John McCormack, largely unknown to hundreds of millions of those born after 1945, was one of the world’s most acclaimed and richest performers.
The tenor lived internationally and owned owned race horses and stables. He splashed out as only the truly wealthy can and bought Runyon Canyon near Hollywood. He surely warmed to it when he was filming Song o’ My Heart as his earnings from the film paid for it. The world famous singer named the mansion built at Runyon Canyon San Patrizio after the patron saint of Ireland. It became a much used watering hole by the Hollywood greats of the period.
He ended his life at his home near Dublin at the age of just sixty-one. No one can follow his bright starlit curve through the first half of the 20th Century without being impressed by the career of a child born of Co. Athlone Irish mill workers.
Renewed enthusiasm for national identity expressed through music lies behind the current craze for Portugal’s Queen of Fado, Amalia Rodrigues. The blues singer’s fame once eclipsed that of French soul-singing waif Edith Piaf and Nana Mouskouri of Greece.
Amalia. The Film, a movie released ten years after the star’s tragic death in 1999 was recently released and drawing crowds wherever it was shown. As the Flamenco is primarily an Andalusia dance form backed by vocals. Portuguese Fado is a singing sensation aptly described as ‘hauntingly melancholic.’ The name fado means fate.
Amalia Rodriguez singing evokes the intensity of Portuguese soul as no other. Born in Mouraria, a poor district of Lisbon, her Billie Holiday style of delivery needed only the backing of the guitar or the Portuguese mandolin. Essentially Amalia’s voice was both the music and the backing.
During her stardom Rodriguez became an icon for tens of millions throughout Europe; especially Portugal, Spain, and the Americas too. When she died, Portugal, her homeland declared three days of national mourning and suspended an impending general election. The fado singer’s fame spanned nearly thirty years and is now being re-lived through the film portraying her life.
Amalia The Film is already attracting controversy. It tells the story of the singer’s rise from extreme poverty to international stardom. Some pundits, principally members of her family, say the movie has been ’sexed up’ to boost audience figures. Director Carlos Coelho da Silva disagrees, emphasising that the film, using original recordings, was thoroughly researched and drew on the recollections of all who knew her well.
Undoubtedly Amalia was a bewitching woman of great beauty and passion. She will be remembered best not for her lovers but for her singing which plumbed the soul depths of all who listen to her. For today’s generation, wherever the movie draws crowds, Amalia Rodriguez is both revelation and inspiration. For those of us who have adored her since the 1950s she is part of our very being.