Chabrier’s Spanish Flag


French composer Emmanuel Chabrier’s most famous work is Spanish-inspired. But Chabrier’s Espana isn’t his only writing inspired by Spain. The composer wrote some of his most colorful letters from south of the Pyranees. On October 21st, 1882 he wrote from Seville:

Eh bien, mes enfants! What an eyeful we’re getting of Andalusian derrieres shimmying like cavorting snakes! Every night we end up at the Basilos Flamencos surrounded by toreros in lounge suits, black felt hats creased down the middle, jackets crimped at the waist and tight trousers revealing sinewy legs and well-turned thighs. And all around, the gypsy women singing their malaguenas or dancing the tango, and the manzanilla passing from hand to hand, everyone being forced to drink.

“Flashing eyes, flowers in their lovely hair, shawls knotted at the waist, feet tapping out an unending variety of rhythms, arms and hands trembling, rippling bodies in constant motion and that admirable derriere moving in every direction while the rest of the body remains motionless. And the whole time, cries of Ole! Ole!

“At the same time, two somber guitarists puffing their cigarettes, keep on strumming anything in three-four time. The cries of the women excite the dancer who, when her turn comes to an end, becomes literally intoxicated with her body. It’s truly fantastic!

“Last night a couple of painters came with us and sketched while I was taking notes on the music. All the dancers surrounded us. The singers repeated their songs for me and then retired after cordially shaking our hands! Then we all had to drink out of the same glass–so hygienic! Anyway, none of us were any the worse for wear in the morning.

“But to think that we’ll be carrying on like this for a month after passing through Malaga, Cadiz, Granada and Valencia! Oh, my poor nerves!”

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