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Spanish Dances

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Luis Serrano Alarcón

Luis Serrano Alarcón

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Subtitle: First Book

General Info

Year: 2021
Duration: c. 14:15
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Piles (?)
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown


1. Petenera - 2:50
2. Zortziko - 4:35
3. Jota - 6:00


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Spanish Dances (First book) is the beginning of a project that aims to explore some of the sources of the rich and varied traditional Spanish music. The chosen format is taken from the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz who, in his masterpiece Iberia, distributes the 12 pieces of the suite in four books with three pieces in each of them. In this work, all the music is original by the composer. No quotation is used (except for the coda of the Zortziko and other very specific winks that the composer invites you to discover). Furthermore, the author does not intend to write authentic Spanish dances but, from the basic essence of each one of them (rhythm, tempo, melodic character, structure, etc.), to explore its possibilities through his own language and musical aesthetics.

I. Petenera. The petenera (or peteneras) is a flamenco palo with a 12-beat measure. This would relate it to other characteristic styles of this Andalusian popular music such as bulerías or alegrías. In each of the measures of the petenera, the accentuation occurs in beats 1, 4, 7, 9, and 11. This is represented in the score, generally, with a simple alternation of 6/8 and 3/4 measures. There are different versions of this cante: the old and the modern, and this in turn can be short (chica) and long (grande). The so-called petenera grande is not danceable, unlike the short one, which can be danced accompanied by clapping. The tempo of the sung petenera is usually slower than its danced variant. Within Spanish music we find examples of peteneras in pages of Sarasate, Albéniz, Turina, or Moreno-Torroba, among others.

In this work, the petenera maintains the rhythmic essence, as well as the characteristic use of the Phrygian flamenco mode in the melodic lines, but it also presents important modifications with respect to the more conventional version of the dance: in the first place the tempo is faster, thus giving the music a vigorous and frenetic character. It has also been decided to suppress the alternation of 6/8 and 3/4 measure signatures, on the one hand to reduce the continuous presence of the time signature, thus giving a cleaner vision of the score; and on the other, and more importantly, because the alternation of these measures is not always strict (sometimes we find two or more measures with metric of 6/8 or 3/4 consecutively), and in addition, the use of the hemiolia is frequent: in some moments, there are sections of the band that are performing with binary metric while others do it with ternary metric. The composer considers that in this way the conductor has greater flexibility when deciding how to approach each passage and thus provide a more personal perspective to the performance.

II. Zortziko. The zortziko is a typical rhythm of traditional dance in Euskadi and Navarra. Although there are variants in time signature of 2/4 and 6/8, the most common zortziko is written in 5/8, with three beats of different lengths: eighth note, quarter note, quarter note. The typical instrument used to perform the zortziko is the chistu accompanied by the tamboril. Some theories indicate that the zortziko measure was due to an evolution of a 3/4 deformed by the musicians with the intention of following in the footsteps of the dantzaris. Although its origin and diffusion are totally popular, some authors such as Sarasate, Albéniz, Guridi, Turina, or Sorozábal have used it in both symphonic and pianistic repertoire. Outside of Spanish repertoire there are also examples of the zortziko rhythm, perhaps the most important being that found in the first movement of the Trio in A minor by Maurice Ravel.

In the Zortziko of this work, the piccolo is the instrument that represents the singing of the chistu, both in the first theme and in the final coda in which, from off stage, she performs the Zortziko de Lantz, a popular dance from Navarra, the only one authentic quote that we find throughout the work and that is one of the few zortzikos written in 2/4. With this ending, the composer tries to represent how, while the band languidly closes the movement over the tonic G, the echoes of a popular dance are heard in the distance, outside.

III. Jota. The jota is one of the most widespread traditional dances and songs in Spain. We find variants in practically all the regions of the country: Aragon, Castilla, Valencia, Navarra, Mallorca, Basque Country, Extremadura, etc. Closely related to the fandango, the jota is a dance generally written in 3/4 measure, although we find examples written in 6/8, a measure that, according to some authors, is better adapted from a choreographic point of view. The traditional harmonizations stick to tonic and dominant chords in a major mode, while the accompaniment is usually carried out by a rondalla and castanets. Of all the variants, the Aragonese jota is the most popular, and the one that has served the author as a model for its composition. The Aragonese jota is a genre that combines dance and song. In spite of this, it is known that the jota as a dance was earlier, since no letters of jota are known prior to the nineteenth century. The usual structure is ternary: the first section, of a live character (corresponding to the danced part) is introduced by the llamada (call), which consists of four beats of quarter note on tonic harmony, after which are exposed a series of eight-bar phrases called variaciones (variations, but not in its classical sense) that feature a rigid pattern that alternates tonic and dominant chords as follows: The second section is the copla, the part sung. The lyrics of the copla is a quatrain that is sung in seven verses due to the repetition of some of them. Its tempo is slow and the harmonic structure keeps moving between the degrees of dominant (with which it begins) and tonic. After the copla, the jota concludes with a return to the initial tempo, the recapitulation of some of the variaciones and, sometimes, a final accelerando that gives the conclusion a great brilliance. The whole jota is permanently in the same tonality, almost always major.

The jota has been one of the best-known and most widespread genres of Spanish music. It had a great apogee, especially in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. It was used by the majority of Spanish composers of that period and many from other countries. Of the first, Sarasate, Albéniz, Granados, Turina, Falla, Rodrigo, or Bretón stand out, among many others. Among the non-Spanish composers who used the jota, we find Liszt (Rapsodia Española, S. 254), Glinka (Capricho brillante sobre la Jota aragonesa), Glazunov (Grand pas espagnol), and especially the French composers: Saint-Saëns (Jota Aragonesa, Op. 64), Ravel (Rapsodie Espagnole), Debussy (Iberia), Chabrier (España), Bizet (Carmen), et al.

The jota of this work, as has been said, is inspired by the essence of the Aragonese jota. The main challenge that the composer has encountered is how to maintain this essence without being subjected to the rigor of its harmonic scheme and its unitonal character. The structure of the variaciones has usually been kept in groups of eight measures, and the harmonic scheme of each of them has also been generally respected, with the exception that there are numerous modulatory inflections that give the music a certain sinuous character. The structure follows the conventional scheme with some modifications. The introduction develops the characteristic llamada of four quarter notes and briefly anticipates the melody of the copla. In the first expositive section, the different variaciones give way to the copla, in this case much more extensive because, although the composer has maintained the traditional melodic and harmonic patterns in its beginning, he has developed the rest of the section freely. The singing of the copla is performed by the flugelhorn, not only because of its sweet timbre, but because this is the instrument that, generally, performs as a solo the coplas in the transcriptions of the jotas in the Spanish bands. The recapitulation leads to a last and brilliant appearance of the copla, after which the closing section starts, in which a series of variaciones lead through a progressive crescendo and a final accelerando to a brilliant coda.

Luis Serrano Alarcón’s Spanish Dances were commissioned by 12 U.S. university ensembles and their directors, including the Baylor University Wind Ensemble and its conductor, Dr. Eric Wilson. Tonight’s performance serves as the inaugural world premiere, and we are indebted to Luis Serrano Alarcón for providing the wind band repertoire an inspired, creative work celebrating rich and diverse musical styles and cultures.

- Program Note from Baylor University concert program, 16 September 2021


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State Ratings

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  • Baylor University (Waco, Tx.) Wind Ensemble (J. Eric Wilson, conductor) – 31 March 2022 (CBDNA 2022 Southwestern Conference, Waco, Tx.)
  • University of Texas, Arlington, Wind Symphony (Douglas Stotter, conductor) – 25 February 2022
  • Concordia College (Moorhead, Minn.) Band (David Colado Coronas, conductor) - 13 February 2022
  • Baylor University (Waco, Tx.) Wind Ensemble (J. Eric Wilson, conductor) - 16 September 2021 *Premiere Performance*

Works for Winds by This Composer