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26.6.06

Don Quixote and Music, Part 3

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Don Quixote, new translation by Edith Grossman (released on October 21, 2003)


Don Quixote (online version, English translation)

Don Quijote (online version, Spanish original)

Ruta de Don Quijote (pilgrimage route following Don Quixote around Spain)

available at Amazon
Don Quijote de La Mancha: Romances y Músicas, Montserrat Figueras, Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Jordi Savall (released on January 10, 2006)
In honor of the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote and the release of an exceptional Cervantes recording by Jordi Savall, the Ionarts Book Club is reading the novel. Readers are invited to make comments based on their own reading.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Most of the music that Savall selects to be played under the selections from Don Quixote is not directly related to the novel. It is mostly instrumental music that was popular at the turn of the 17th century. The third section (First Misfortunes) of the first disc begins with two readings, accompanied by an Alonso Mudarra pavana and another set of variations on Guardame las Vacas, this time by Antonio de Cabezón. Then, at the opening of the fifth chapter, Don Quixote is trying to recover from one of the many beatings he receives throughout the book. He retreats into one of his books, the story of Valdovinos. When his neighbor approaches to try to help him, Don Quixote takes him for a character in the book. Savall gives us Luys Milán's Romance de Valdovinos, which is not exactly the stanzas that Don Quixote quotes but is still a perfectly relevant selection.

When the neighbor tries to help him, he switches from the tale of Valdovinos to that of Abindarráez. Savall has reconstructed yet another old, anonymous romance, combining as he often does the melody and words of the ballad with one of the instrumental adaptations of the tune, in this case by Diego Pisador. Cervantes has Quixote refer to this story but does not actually quote it, meaning that is an example of how this CD not only functions as a "soundtrack," providing the music of the text, but actually adds to it.

In the fourth section (The Library Burns), we encounter one of my favorite sections of the book, Chapter 6, in which the curate and the barber, concerned and learned friends of Don Quixote, go through his collection of romances, deciding what to allow the maid to burn. As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, one of the books they encounter is La Galatea, by one Miguel de Cervantes, which they decide to preserve as the author has great promise. Again, we hear some more of the diferencias on Guardame las Vacas (Watch my cows), by Luys de Narváez, played again on vihuela. Representing some of the bibliographic treasures they find is the anonymous Ballad of Sir Bertram, from The Twelve Peers of France and Roncesvaux, set by Juan Vasquez. An anonymous setting of Adoramus te Domine for organ accompanies a prayer attributed to the Tirant lo Blanch, the subject of another romance in the library.

Rabel, illustration in the Cantigas de Santa MariaThe recording skips over several chapters, including the battle with the windmills, set quite memorably as the first adventure in Richard Strauss's tone poem Don Quixote. Strangely, the sections of the story that Strauss set to music are not for the most part ones where Cervantes mentioned music at all. After the two adventurers get the pulp beaten out of them -- the first of several chapters in which Don Quixote and Sancho serve as punching bags, making me wonder about how to compare this book with Voltaire's Candide, also another famous example of fiction as semi-autobiography -- they are taken in and treated kindly by some goatherds. The men wait for one of their young comrades to arrive, saying that he will play the rabel -- a bowed instrument, shown in an illustration from the Cantigas de Santa Maria -- and sing for the knight. During the reading of that section of the book, Savall improvises on that very instrument. The boy's song, a ballad for Olalla, matches selections from Cervantes' poem to a tune by Gabriel, in the rustic voice of Francesc Garrigosa with Savall accompanying on the rabel.

With this, we come to the question of just what is the role of music in Don Quixote. Most of the ballads and songs are older pieces, associated in some way with the chivalric ideal found in Renaissance courtly songs. The archaic nature of much of the music serves two functions, to draw attention to Don Quixote's insanity, clinging to something of previous centuries, but also the folk music background helps to set the rustic tone of the locale. However, although Cervantes makes fun of some of the old romances, especially the ones that Don Quixote's friends remove from his library, the musical pieces are treated more respectfully. The fictional heroes of the Knight of the Mournful Countenance -- Amadis de Gaul, Don Belianis of Greece, Orlando Furioso, the Knight of the Sun -- all write dedicatory poems to Don Quixote in the absurd introduction Cervantes dreamed up for the book. With tongue firmly in cheek, he even pens a supposed dialogue, in sonnet form, between Quixote's horse, Rocinante, and Babieca, the steed of El Cid. The rabel tune -- "The Ballad that Antonio Sang," as Cervantes labels it in Chapter 11 -- has none of that sarcasm, and actually hearing this performance makes that all the more evident.

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