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Most visitors to Catalonia will be familiar with the sight and sound of the sardana, the simple round dance performed to the distinctive accompaniment of the cobla throughout the country. Yet while a Catalan folk music tradition can be readily identified it is more problematic to define a Catalan school of composition even at the high point of musical activity in the first third of the twentieth century. Clearly, the disruption of the Civil War and Franco dictatorship and the resulting diaspora of many of the protagonists, notably Roberto Gerhard, Jaume Pahissa and Pau Casals, had a deleterious effect on the consolidation of any such school. This chapter will explore the increase in musical activity from the time of the Universal Exhibition in 1888 until 1936 as well as developments later in the twentieth century.
Cultural heritage and contexts for music-making are central to this study; but music and language are also inevitably intertwined. The extent to which both the flourishing of a distinctive musical culture and its subsequent disruption is inextricably linked to the history of the language has yet to be thoroughly explored but is, nonetheless, immediately evident. Once again, in this respect as in so many others, we are faced with the notion of the history of Catalonia repeating itself as the cultural situation in the early decades of the twentieth century has a precedent in a much earlier period, as is readily apparent in the chapters by Alexander Ibarz and Miquel Strubell.
From the second half of the fourteenth century, the Catalan–Aragonese court witnessed intense musical activity that coincided with a flowering of literature in the vernacular. This, too, was largely disrupted by political circumstances. When the ambitions of the first non-Catalan-speaking king, Alfons el Magnànim (1396–1458), focused on expansion in the Mediterranean and, in particular on taking Naples (which he entered in triumph in 1443), the royal court in Barcelona ceased to be the focal point for musical activity. Furthermore, with Castilian correspondingly established as the language of the court in Naples, surviving musical settings of Catalan verse dwindle and display few distinctive stylistic traits.
In the late 1440s and early 1450s, Alfonso de Palencia (1423–92), a young Castilian scholar and prebendary of burgos Cathedral who later served Queen Isabel as royal chronicler and adviser, traveled to Rome. According to a route outlined in his Tratado de la perfección del triunfo militar, he traveled through Castile to Barcelona, north and east through southern France, across the Alps and down to Florence, continuing south to Siena, Perugia, Rimini, and Rome. He is much struck by what he sees and experiences on his travels, particularly by Florence, and has the opportunity both in that city and in Rome to be drawn into the circles of humanists who flourished there: in Rome he entered the service of Cardinal Joannes Bessarion and also studied in the Studio Romano with the Cretan humanist Georgios Trapezuntios. In this Tratado, a humanistically inspired debate on the subject of disciplina militaris, originally written in latin in 1457–58 and translated by the author into Castilian in 1459, the allegorical figure of Exercitio – who represents Spanish prowess in physical combat – travels along the route outlined above to seek Discretio in Florence, where much of the debate takes place.
On his way through southern France Exercitio stays at an inn in an unnamed town where supposedly the king and his noble retinue are in residence. Exercitio is much impressed by the gaiety of the French who seem always to be singing and dancing in the streets.
These lines adorned one of the triumphal arches built in honour of Ferdinand of Aragon's ceremonial entry into Valladolid on 5 January 1513. This event, like so many other such entries throughout Europe during the sixteenth century, was intended to recall the Triumphs of the Roman emperors, though it was also embedded in a long-established entry ritual. The ephemeral buildings all'antica, the apparati, street decorations, pageants with allegorical, mythological and historical figures, as well as music and dancing of various kinds all formed part of a royal spectacle devised according to the political process of image-making.