Spanish: Musical Adaptations of Verse

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Poetry has always straddled the line between the spoken and the written word. In Spanish history and literature, this is absolutely true. From cante jondo songs of Andalucían flamenco (which influenced avant-garde poets like Federico García Lorca), to pop-rock adaptations of twentieth-century Spanish poetry, a melodic line often shapes and guides verse in an entirely new direction.

In this module, we’ll consider two examples of verse that have been adapted into popular songs over the course of the riotous twentieth century. While the musical performances of two songs may sound a bit dated to our 21st century ears, they both found great success during their respective eras. Most importantly, the texts themselves will help us begin to get a sense of just how collapsible the line is between poet and songwriter, musician and reader, ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture…

Text 1, by Antonio Machado, was published more than two decades before the Spanish Civil War. When war came, Machado found himself on the ‘wrong’ side of the fight as a supporter of the Second Spanish Republic – along with most of his peers in the so-called ‘Generation of ‘27’ of avant-garde poets. Machado died in exile in France in 1939, but his work found a new voice through the Catalan singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat, pioneer in the Catalan ‘Nova Cançó’ movement. Serrat adapted Machado’s verse for his song ‘Cantares’, which was released in 1969 during the height of the Franco dictatorship.

Text 2, by Rafael de León, gained its fame amidst a post-Spanish Civil War call for entertainment and a new “folklore español”. After the war, the triumphant Franco regime attempted to use popular music, inspired by Hispanic and Andalucian tradition, to unite and uplift the Spanish people through a dark and difficult time. While the text itself is not exactly cheerful, you might be able to imagine it consoling some lonely souls as it crackled over the radio in the post-war years…

To get started, read through the texts below in their entirety. Look up any words you don’t know, then work your way through the activities. The creatively inclined amongst you will find a challenge at the very end…