I have just returned from the blue skies of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the city where ‘Reconquista’ is set, to grey old London town. I came back to vote in the EU Referendum, but I’m missing Jerez already.
There’s a lot of music in Jerez right now. The city has a Conservatory of Music, there are lots of flamenco schools and there are concerts in many of the city’s old monuments, like the 13th century Alcazar and the monastery cloisters, as part of the ‘Noches en Verano’ programme of summertime events ( the photo, right, was taken at a concert in the Alcazar ). One of the town’s largest squares, Plaza Arenal, where the tournament takes place in ‘Reconquista‘, has a beautiful, old carousel in place, which plays music as it turns every day.
There was probably music in Jerez in the distant past too. King Alfonso X ( The Wise King ) wrote songs himself, the music and the lyrics. I heard some of these performed in the Alcazar last year.
The songs, or Cantigas, are about the miraculous interventions of the Virgin Mary in the lives of ordinary citizens, usually when they are in trouble or need her help, but sometimes to chastise them when they have been boastful or vain. The King also wrote satirical songs which poked fun at people and love songs. The Cantigas were written in Galician-Portuguese a ‘lyric’ language of the court, not Castilian, the everyday language used by ordinary people, but not Latin either. Most of the King’s writings were in Castilian, so that ordinary people could understand them. This was quite unusual at that time ( though not in Spain ). Chaucer was one of the first English people to write books in English and his Canterbury Tales were very unusual when they were published in the 1380s, over a hundred years later.
The music is interesting, as are some of the instruments used to play it, in part because the lute or guitar-like instrument ( see illustration above ) has something in common with today’s flamenco guitar. Medieval Moorish influences are clear in the flamenco rhythms and music which you can hear in Jerez today. Have a listen to the video clip attached to this article – Lamento – about a flamenco performance earlier this year in Jerez, the influence is obvious.
However, the Cantigas were set to types of tunes well-known in the Middle Ages, such as the rondeau and the virelai. They were played on a variety of instruments, like guitars, lutes, drums and other percussion, flutes and pan-pipes. Sometimes the songs were unaccompanied. This type of singing, like the chants by monks in a church, is called a cappella, literally ‘of the chapel’.
But when I was in Jerez last Saturday I saw a completely different sort of musical performance, this was a charity gala performance of Mary Poppins, entitled ‘El Viento del Este‘, in the Teatro Villamarta. Everyone clapped and sang along to the songs and afterwards people ( of all sizes ) had their photos taken with the cast. Supercalifragilisticexpialidoso!
You can read more about King Alfonso’s songs and listen to one of them, called Strela do Dia, or Star of the Day here.