Aguado – Variations on the Fandango, op. 16. The complete preface by Brian Jeffery (1982)

Dionisio Aguado’s Variations on the Fandango are among the most exciting works for the guitar from the nineteenth century. In them, plainly to be heard, the rhythms and harmonies of Spanish popular music, closely related to what we today call flamenco, sweep dramatically and compellingly along. In the fandango, wrote Casanova, “is found the expression of love from its beginning to its end, from the sigh of desire to the ecstasy of possession”. This piece can hold any concert audience spellbound.

The piece also has a particular significance, by its date in the history of Spanish music. It, and the one other piece which Aguado composed on the Fandango (Le Menuet Affandangado, op. 15), have no parallel in his output, or indeed, in that of any other composer of the time. No other surviving piece of music from the early nineteenth century, as far as I know, brings so vividly to life, and at such length, the rhythms of the fandango and the whole tradition of popular music that it represents. How did this happen? To answer this, we must go back and look at the life and circumstances of the composer.

Dionisio Aguado

Aguado was born in Madrid in 1784, the son of a notary in the ecclesiastical administration. He received a good classical education, and simultaneously, from an early age, studied the guitar with the most famous guitarist of the time, Padre Basilio. He took no part in the wars of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain (the so-called Guerra de la Independencia, 1808-14), but instead retired to a village outside Madrid and there devoted himself to the study of the guitar. In about 1826 he travelled to Paris; lived there for some eleven years; and in about 1837 returned to Madrid where he died in 1849. He composed a great deal of music for the guitar, including studies, many waltzes and contredanses, sets of variations, and so on; and three versions of a famous method for guitar which is the great classical method for the instrument.

The first English translation of this method has recently appeared as his New Guitar Method, closely based on the original editions and with a full introduction.(1) It is a most interesting and full text, practical for those wishing to learn the instrument, and valuable from a historical point of view. But neither the method nor Aguado’s other compositions show any signs whatsoever of Spanish popular music: the musical interest and idiom are exclusively in a central-European style, influenced especially by the French style in the middle part of Aguado’s career.

Aguado’s two works based on the fandango are, therefore, isolated in his music. They were published in Paris in about 1836, as his op. 15 and op. 16, which is to say, his last numbered opera. And it so happens that the date and place of their composition begin to give us a clue about why and how they were composed.

Spain, Romanticism and the guitar

The growth of Romanticism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries awakened an interest in countries that were considered remote. One such was Scotland (its songs were enthusiastically adopted, for example “Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon” on which Sor composed his Variations on a Scottish Theme, op. 40 published by Tecia Editions in this same series); Greece was another (Greek popular dance rhythms appear, for example, in Onorato Costa’s Souvenir d’Orient ou Fantaisie Brillante, op. 12 for flute and guitar, also published by Tecla Editions in this same series); and Spain was another. Already in 1798 we find the Italian Carlo Canobbio publishing a Fandango for violin and guitar in St. Petersburg.(2) When Napoleon’s armies invaded Spain and the Allied forces also went there to combat them, thousands of non-Spanish Europeans found themselves in Spain and exposed to its culture. And it so happened that at that particular time, the popular arts were flourishing in Spain as never before. “It was the age of the growth of the bullfight, of the flowering of the minor arts and handicrafts, and above all of popular music and dance” (Gerald Brenan, The Literature of the Spanish People, London, 1963, p. 302). After 1813, this culture was transmitted by the French when they retreated; by the English who had fought in the Peninsula; and also by the thousands of Spaniards who were forced to leave their country as political refugees. The bolero swept Europe (in a transformed version, it is true), and all kinds of Spanish things became familiar that had been less widely known before. Bullfights, ceramics, fabrics; pride, gallantry, and serenades; it was in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars that the image of Spain that today so often degenerates into tourist advertisements formed itself, in a more noble way, for the first time to any considerable degree of strength.

Swept helplessly along with that image was – the guitar. The preferred accompaniment for Spanish songs, the perfect visual accompaniment for pictures of Spain: it was impossible that so powerful an image could be resisted. From the Napoleonic Wars onwards, the European sensibility inevitably thought of the guitar as something Spanish.

In Spain itself, though, the picture of the guitar was very different. Did Spanish composers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries regard the guitar as quintessentially Spanish? Did they compose for it in the style that we might expect, with strummings, triplets, augmented seconds, and so on? Far from it. On the contrary, they made a clear distinction between two uses for the guitar when they wrote down music for it: one as an accompaniment to popular song, and the other as a solo instrument and as an accompaniment to art-song; and only in the first are the peculiarly Spanish characteristics to be seen. They are present in seguidillas and other types of popular and semi-popular songs by Sor, José Rodriguez de Leon, and anonymous composers (the best are probably Sor’s Seguidillas (3) but not in the surviving solo guitar music. In Spain at that period, when music for the guitar as a solo instrument was written down, it was treated exactly like any other instrument, and the music written down for it in that capacity does not show Spanish popular characteristics: the style in the solo music which has so far been discovered is always central-European or Italianate. This is the case with Sor’s pre-exile pieces such as his Sonata (later called Grand Solo) op. 14, or his Fantasia op. 7; with Federico Moretti’s music for solo guitar; and with Aguado’s studies composed before he left Spain. The distinction between popular vocal Spanish, and classical central-European instrumental, is very clearly to be seen, for example, in the music supplement to Fernando Ferandiere’s Arte de tocar la guitarra española (Madrid, 1799)(4): when Ferandiere writes for solo guitar, his music is stylistically central-European, but when he prints seguidillas for voice and guitar, he immediately uses the popular Spanish characteristics which we are discussing. Moreover, those characteristics are limited to songs in which there is a popular element. In Spanish art-songs of the period with guitar accompaniment, such as Moretti’s Doce Canciones (5) they do not appear. This does not mean (not at all) that solo guitar music in the popular style did not exist in Spain at the time; only that, in general, it was not written down.

Now (to return to Aguado), when Spaniards left Spain after the war was over and went to other parts of Europe, they took with them the concept of the guitar that they had been used to in Spain: namely, as an instrument like any other, which was indeed associated with a popular as well as classical tradition but which could certainly perfectly well be written for in a classical style. When Sor went to Paris and London in the 1810s, he published for the guitar minuets, divertimenti, sets of variations, but not music in Spanish popular style. When Aguado went to Paris in about 1826, he published (at first) only such things as waltzes and contredanses, and nothing at all that was recognizably Spanish.

But Sor and Aguado must soon have become aware of the European feeling about the guitar. They were, after all, the most famous Spaniard-guitarists in Paris, and their association with Spanish things and with Spanish music grew stronger with the years. In March 1831, for example, they both played in a concert with the pianist Jose Miró y Anoria and the famous singer Manuel Garcia. (6) In 1835 the Encyclopédie Pittoresque de la Musique published not only a biography of Sor of which by far the greater part is devoted to his childhood in Spain, but also an article written by Sor himself on the history of the Spanish dance the bolero.(7) Soon the attitude of the public towards the guitar and towards Spain was bound to have its effect on their music- and so it happened. In about 1833 Sor published his Fantaisie for two guitars, op. 54 bis, in which a section with characteristic Spanish rhythms is headed “dans le genre Espagnol” (8): never before had he published anything for guitar without voice which had these popular Spanish characteristics. And some three years later, Aguado followed suit with his two pieces, Le Menuet Affandangado and Le Fandango Varié. These three works by Sor and Aguado are more obviously Spanish in style than any other guitar music of the time that I have found, by any composer. It is as though both composers gave way: as though after so many years of writing nothing at all for guitar without voice in what we now might regard as a characteristically Spanish style, they yielded to public demand and wrote music of this kind.

What was happening, culturally, in Paris precisely in the 1830s? Is there any way in which the action of Sor and Aguado can be interpreted in terms of that Parisian culture? Indeed there is, and I would suggest that the dates fit exactly. It is possible to see the two composers in context, aware of the times in which they lived and reacting to them.

The cultural phenomenon in question was a strong reinforcement of the already existent Romantic movement. In 1830, Victor Hugo’s idealized and romantic play about Spain, Hernani, took Paris by storm and meant the triumph, overnight, of the new generation of romantic writers and other artists. The opening, which today is recognized as a key event in French cultural history, not only strengthened Romanticism in general, but of course specifically the way in which Europe felt about Spain. Basically no new factors in this respect were presented by Hernani; but the old ones were henceforth much more in the public consciousness. From 1830 onwards, the romantic vision of Spain became a permanent part of the European mind, and is still with us today. Hugo’s Ruy Blas followed in 1838. In 1840 Theophile Gautier went to Spain and later published his Voyage en Espagne. Works such as Bizet’s Carmen, Ravel’s Bolero, and Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch followed later. Inevitably the vision of the guitar as a specifically Spanish instrument was bound to be strengthened to the point of inescapability, and Sor and Aguado, who were both living in Paris at the time, could not avoid it. It seems clear that when they composed these Spanish-style pieces in the 1830s, they were responding to a newly strengthened attitude among the cultured public. This music is their contribution to a movement which was current in Europe and particularly Paris at precisely that time.

When Aguado decided to publish something for solo guitar in the Spanish popular idiom, it was the fandango which came to his mind: first the curious combination of a minuet and a fandango, Le Menuet Affandangado, and then the variations here published. Now, it so happens that there was a very good reason why he should have thought of the fandango in particular. To see what that reason was, we must again go back in time.

Casanova and the fandango

The fandango was one of the most famous of Spanish dances. Originally, it seems that it came from “the Indies” – that is, from the Spanish possessions in Central or South America-to Spain in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries. It was an extremely sensual dance, and it gained tremendous popularity in the course of the eighteenth century. The famous Casanova danced it in Madrid in 1768, and he described that erotic experience in his Memoirs. To give an indication of the nature of this Spanish dance, whose spirit certainly survives in Aguado’s music, and to indicate one way in which a performer today might approach it, I cannot do better than quote Casanova’s words. He has gone to one of a series of masked balls in Madrid organised by the Count of Aranda, and a fandango is being danced:

Ce qui me ravit dans ce spectacle, ce fut quand, vers le minuit, au son de l’orchestre et au bruit des claquements de mains, on commença par couples la danse la plus folle qui jamais se puisse imaginer. C’était le fameux fandango, dont je croyais avoir une idée juste et dont j’étais à mille lieues. Je ne l’avais vu danser qu’en Italie et en France, sur la scène; mais les danseurs se donnaient bien de garde d’y faire les gestes qui rendent cette danse la plus séduisante et la plus voluptueuse possible. On ne saurait la décrire. Chaque couple, homme et femme, ne faisant jamais que trois pas et jouant des castagnettes, au son de l’orchestre, font mille attitudes, mille gestes d’une lascivité dont rien n’approche. Là se trouve l’expression de l’amour depuis sa naissance jusqu’à sa fin, depuis le soupir qui désire jusqu’à l’extase de la jouissance. Il me paraissait impossible qu’après une danse pareille la danseuse pût rien refuser à son danseur, car le fandango doit porter dans tous les sens l’irritation de la volupté. Le plaisir que j’avais à voir cette bacchanale me faisait jeter des cris. Le masque qui m’avait mené là me dit que pour avoir une juste idée du fandango, il fallait le voir exécuté par des gitanas avec des cavaliers qui le danseraient aussi bien qu’elles.

Mais, lui dis-je, l’Inquisition ne trouve-t-elle pas à redire à cette danse?

La Pichona [a lady present], prenant la parole, me dit qu’elle était absolument défendue et qu’on n’oserait pas la danser, si le comte d’Aranda n’en avait donné la permission.

On me dit depuis que lorsqu’il prenait à ce comte de refuser la permission, on quittait le bal en murmurant, et que lorsqu’il la donnait, on ne tarissait pas sur ses éloges.

(Mémoires, vol. X, Paris, 1931, pp. 281-2)

(“What ravished me the most in this spectacle was when, about midnight, to the sound of the orchestra and of the clapping of hands, the couples began the maddest dance that can possibly be imagined. It was the famous fandango, which I thought I knew but from which I was a thousand miles away. I had only ever seen it danced in Italy and in France, on the stage; and the dancers there had taken care not to make use of the movements which make this dance the most seductive and the most voluptuous possible. It is impossible to describe. Each couple, man and woman, never taking more than three steps at a time and playing castanets, to the sound of the orchestra, make a thousand movements, take up a thousand attitudes, with a lasciviousness with which nothing can compare. There is found the expression of love from its beginning to its end, from the sigh of desire to the ecstasy of possession. After dancing such a dance, it seemed to me impossible that a woman could refuse anything to her partner, for the fandango must carry into all the senses the spurs of pleasure. I so much enjoyed watching this bacchanal that I cried out loud. The masked gentleman who had taken me there told me that in order to have a true idea of the fandango, one should see it danced by gipsy women with partners who danced it as well as they did.

“But,” I asked, “does the Inquisition not have anything to say against this dance?”

La Pichona (a lady present) said to me that it was absolutely forbidden, and that no one would dare to dance it, if the Count of Aranda had not given special permission.

I was told afterwards that when this count chose to refuse permission, people left the ball grumbling; and that when he gave it, praise for him was unceasing.”)

Casanova learned in three days how to dance the fandango to perfection; he sought out a beautiful Spanish girl, Doña Ignazia; and he took her to another of the Count of Aranda’s masked balls. The moment came for the fandango.

Doña Ignazia, mélange de volupté et de dévotion, chose commune en Espagne, dansa le fandango avec tant d’abandon et tant de feu, qu’aucune parole n’aurait pu me promettre ce que me promettaient ses attitudes voluptueuses. Quelle danse que le fandango! Elle enlève, elle brûle, et cependant on a voulu m’assurer que la majeure partie de ceux et de celles qui la dansent n’y entendent aucunement malice. J’ai fait semblant de le croire.

(Mémoires, vol. XI, Paris, 1933, p. 10)

(“Doña Ignazia, who was a mixture of sensuality and devotion (something which is common in Spain), danced the fandango with such abandon and such fire, that no words could have promised to me what her voluptuous attitudes were promising. What a dance the fandango is! It carries you away, it burns you; and yet I have been assured that most of the men, and women, who dance it see nothing wrong with it. I pretended to believe this.”)

Padre Basilio-or rather, “Tío Miguel”?

By the time of the French invasion of 1808, the fandango and the bolero were the two most celebrated Spanish dances, and both of them caught the imagination of the whole of Europe. Mozart used a form of the fandango in The Marriage of Figaro, act 3, and other Spanish and non-Spanish composers have used it on occasion ever since. Guitarists will be familiar with the fandango rhythms in one of Boccherini’s quintets for strings, later arranged by Boccherini himself (9) for guitar and strings. There is no doubt that by the 1830s, when Aguado was writing, the fandango was widely known to the public throughout Europe. It still exists today, and is particularly associated with Andalucia: varieties of it are recorded such as Malagueñas, Rondeñas, Murcianas, and Granadinas. But these varieties do not and did not exhaust the many types of fandango which have existed in different times and at different places, so that if we try to define it, we find the precise form is hard to pin down. One historian has written of it that “endless chances for argument are offered over the mere definition of terms”. (10) But it certainly was always in triple time, and around the beginning of the nineteenth century it was always lively. In Spain, the preferred accompaniment to the dance and to the sung words was the guitar.

One performer on the guitar achieved great fame in late eighteenth century Spain with the fandango: Padre Basilio. A monk by profession, in secular life named Miguel García, he was the most famous guitarist of the time. A favourite at court, he is said to have taught the Queen of Spain and her own favourite Godoy; when he played, crowds gathered beneath his balcony to hear him; and he is known to have played, particularly, the fandango. Boccherini, composing his Fandango for strings (op. 40, no. 2), headed it “Quintettino imitando il fandango che suona sulla chitarra il Padre Basilio”. (11) (It is this very piece, later arranged by Boccherini himself for guitar and strings, which is so frequently played today.)

Now, Padre Basilio was Aguado’s teacher. At the age of six (or eight, says another source), the young boy took lessons from this virtuoso. Impossible that the fandango should not have been played by master and pupil, and – doubtless – remembered by the pupil some 45 years later. in a foreign land.

But first, a curious question occurs. Padre Basilio was, we know, a man of great fame and eminence: his social standing and his celebrity were of the highest. Why, then, should he have taken as his pupil a six- (or eight-) year-old boy, the son of a rather obscure and not very rich notary in the ecclesiastical administration? At that age, the explanation of budding and evident genius simply does not suffice: there must, surely, have been another reason. And I think I have found it: I cannot confirm it until the relevant documents are found, but I will place a substantial stake on its being correct. It is, I suggest, that Padre Basilio was Aguado’s uncle. What was Padre Basilio’s name in secular life? Miguel García. And what was Aguado’s full name? Dionisio Aguado y García: in other words, his father’s family name was Aguado and his mother’s was García. True, García is a common name in Spain; but if Miguel García, monk of the Cistercian order, was the brother of Doña Maria García, married to Don Tomas Aguado and the mother of the young Dionisio Aguado y García, the fact that he took the boy as his pupil would make very good sense. We know that Aguado was devoted to his mother: if my suggestion is correct, what more likely than that it was she who encouraged him to follow in the footsteps of her famous brother?

But whether or not Padre Basilio was Aguado’s uncle, it is at least certain that he was his teacher, and that he was particularly famous for his playing of the fandango – and this in Madrid in the 1780s and 1790s. And in about 1836 his pupil Dionisio Aguado published in Paris a work which was a fandango and which was totally unlike anything else which he had ever composed – utterly different in every respect, harmonically, rhythmically, nationally, in its very essence. I suggest that in Le Fandango Varié (here published as Variations on the Fandango) we have not merely a fandango remembered by Aguado from many years before, but essentially, the performance of Padre Basilio from the late eighteenth century in Madrid, written down: the same performance which had held audiences spellbound under his balcony, and which inspired Boccherini to the point of composing string music in imitation of his style. In this work we can take the history of Spanish popular music back, not merely to the 1830s in Paris, but, I believe, beyond the turn of the eighteenth century to about the year 1790; and as far as I know, it is the only document of its particular kind yet to be discovered. This is the first edition of it which describes the context of this fascinating piece.

The text

Source: Le Fandango Varié pour Guitare, par D. Aguado Op. 16. Propriété de I’Auteur. Prix: 4f. 50. A Paris, Chez l’Auteur, Inventeur du Tripodison ou Porte-Guitare, Place des Italiens, No. 5, et chez les principaux Editeurs de Musique. 11 pages. Plate no. 16. Copy: Washington, Library of Congress. Date of publication: after 24 January 1835, when the Bibliographie de la France listed Aguado’s works up to and including op. 14 but not op. 15 or op. 16: and doubtless before Aguado’s departure for Madrid in about 1837. Probably 1836. Later reissued by Richault. A Spanish edition was published in Madrid by J. Campo y Castro as El Fandango Variado probably in the 1840s (copy: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). A German edition entitled Le Fandango Varié was published by J.A. Böhme in Hamburg, again probably in the 1840s (copy: Copenhagen, Royal Library).

Obvious printing errors are corrected without note. Notation has been somewhat altered to conform to modern usage, but because the piece is essentially improvisatory, the notation is inevitably not always precise. The fingering is Aguado’s own, from the original edition. On page 3, line 4, bar 2, the last note is D in the original edition but has been altered to E on the analogy of line 3, bar 1. The musical phrase which appears twice on page 3 at line 4, last bar, and the whole of line 5, appears only once in the original and not twice. Musically it seems so obvious that it should be repeated that in this edition we have written the phrase out twice. Other places where phrases could be played twice rather than once (but not quite so obviously, and let us remember that Aguado himself did not indicate them) are: page 4, line 5, last two bars; page 4, line 8, bars 2-3; and page 8, line 3, last bar and line 4, first bar. On page 5. line 3, bar 1, the triplet is dotted in Aguado’s original; we have changed it on the analogy of the other triplets in this passage.

As this edition went to press, Editions Chanterelle published their volume The Selected Works of Dionisio Aguado, which includes this work. Some differences can be observed, due to the fact that the original copies used for that edition and for the present one are not identical. The most significant differences are: page 2, line 4, bar 1: C instead of D (also line 5, bar 1). Page 2, line 4, bar 2: G instead of A (also line 5, bar 2). Page 3, line 1, bar 3: last notes C instead of D. Page 3, line 1, bar 4: first notes E instead of F. Page 6, line 7, bar 1: D instead of E throughout. Page 6, line 7, bar 2: C for De throughout. Page 7, line 1, bar 2: first treble note F instead of E; second treble note E instead of G. Page 7, line 3, bar 3; last note C instead of F. Page 7, line 5, bar 2: the minim is F instead of G.


(1) Aguado: New Guitar Method (Tecla Editions, 1981), q.v. for all biographical references on Aguado.

(2) Copy: Leningrad State Library.

(3) Sor: Seguidillas (Tecla Editions, 1976).

(4) Facsimile edition published by Tecla Editions, 1978.

(5) Facsimile edition published by Teclia Editions, 1978.

(6) See my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist (Tecla Editions, 1977), p.105.

(7) The article on Sor is published in its entirety in Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist; and the article on the bolero in the edition of Sor’s Seguidillas listed above.

(8) Sor: Complete Works for the Guitar (Tecla Editions).

(9) Conclusive evidence that this and other quintets were arranged for guitar and strings by Boccherini himself, and not by some other arranger, has recently been discovered by Matanya Ophee in a set of letters from the period now in France. See M. Ophee: Luigi Boccherini’s Guitar Quintets: New Evidence (Editions Orphee, Boston, 1981).

(10) Mary Neal Hamilton, Music in Eighteenth Century Spain (Urbana, 1937) pp. 152-4.

(11) Yves Gérard, Catalogue of the Works of Luigi Boccherini (London, 1969), p. 387.


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