French Language Blog

When France was “Diagnosed” with The “Folies d’Espagne” (Spanish Folia) Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Culture, Music, Vocabulary

Instead of the litany of “follies” that thrashed France from le nord (the North), especially by way of la Manche (the English Channel), from the London-inspired “Folies Bergèreto the outbreak of la vache folle (mad cow) disease (a British bovine concoction of highly “symptomatic” character), consider, for a refreshing change, this passionate form of pure esprit musical (musical spirit), which found its way to France through le sud (the South), about six centuries ago.

It is the time when France was “diagnosed”, so to speak, with what was known back then as “les folies d’Espagne“, or “the Spanish folia.”

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A scene from the critically-acclaimed 1991 French film “Tous les matins du monde” (“All the World’s Mornings”), featuring Gerard Depardieu’s late son, Guillaume, who played the role of a young Marin Marais, performing a Spanish folia (or “follia”, as it is spelled by les italiens).

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Mais que sont donc, au juste, ces “folies d’Espagne”? (But what is, precisely, this “Spanish folia”?)

An authoritative German maître à danser (dance master) of the 17th century has defined those Spanish folias as the most famous of all the sarabande melodies.

Well, fine, but now, for those who never heard of it, qu’est-ce que la sarabande? (what is the Sarabande?), et quelle est son histoire (and what is its story)?

The statue of le glorieux mousquetaire (glorious musketeer) Charles de Batz-Castelmore, better known as d’Artagnan, who died in 1673, sieging Maastricht on behalf of the French king, Louis XIV

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In “Une intrigue de courreur“, the eighth chapter of “Les Trois Mousquetaires” (“The Three Musketeers”), Alexandre Dumas mentions this rather odd dance form that seemed to take the court of France by surprise, during the time of “M. le Cardinal“, meaning the famous cardinal-duc de Richelieu:

– “Vous savez l’histoire de la sarabande?” (“You know the story of the Saradande”?), asked a bourgeois whose wife had just been kidnapped, and who came to confess a dark secret to d’Artagnan.

– “Pardieu, si je la sais!” (“Good Lord, but of course I know!”), answered d’Artagnan, who did not know anything at all, but wanted to seem au courant (aware.)

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In this video, Jordi Savall, the Spanish Catalan conductor and composer who collaborated in the making of “Tous les matins du monde“, makes the andalou (Andalusian) original aspect of the Sarabande even more perceptible à l’oreille (to the ear) as well as à l’esprit (to the spirit), in this one remarkable folia performance.

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It was only through Lully and his Italian “entourage” (read “mafia”, in the modern sense), that the Folies d’Espagne made their official entrée in the court of le Roi Soleil (the Sun King)

Read more on Lully, the founder of French Opera, in “Jean-Baptiste Lully and The Baptism of l’Opéra français—Italian “Godfather-Style”!

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Following Lully’s leading work, the folies d’Espagne knew a stunning revival, and were subsequently the object of several music adaptations, not only in France:

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Du côté Italien (on the Italian side): Vivaldi’s La Follia stands as a true chef-d’œuvre (masterpiece)

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A somptuous folia by Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s great rival, who was often falsely accused of murdering the Salzburg-born génie (genius)

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Finally, fast forward to the future: The music video above requires a special avertissement (warning), as some people can’t really seem to “handle” any Techno adaptation of classical works (of the German baroque composer Haendel, in this case)

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  1. elaine:

    this is lovely, thank you so much!!!