The beautiful sardana dance in Catalonia

A BEAUTIFUL VOYAGE INTO THE SOUNDS OF CATALONIA

15 April, 2021
Cultural life

Welcome to another musical journey in unison with you! Some time ago, we posted an article on classic and popular music in Barcelona, focused on the energetic rhythm of the Catalan Rumba.

This time we want to enjoy another side of Catalonia’s soundscapes with you. It’s time to discover the popular genre of music and dance known as sardana.

La “Santa Espina” by the famous composer Enric Morera (1865 – 1942) is our musical suggestion for you to listen while you read this blog post. Listen to the sound of the flabiol flute at the very beginning. Read, enjoy and… dance!

The sardana, in a nutshell

What is sardana? Imagine a group of people holding hands, performing a circle dance, to the sound of music performed live by a small orchestra, the cobla

Usually, an experienced dancer counts the steps and leads the circle of sardanistes, or sardana dancers.

You must know when to dance your steps

As easy as dancing in a circle may sound, when you join a sardana you must know when to dance your steps, be able to dance in 2/4 or 6/8, and with varying tempos.

As you can see in the top picture, during the dances the sardanistes wear light and flexible footwear, like the traditional Catalan rope-soled shoes called espardenyes (espadrilles).

The colla Brots de Romaní, dancing a sardana.
The colla sardanista Brots de Romaní dancing a sardana.

Colles sardanistes

Advanced dancers are organized in colles sardanistes, or sardana groups.

The colles compete among themselves on special days, wearing beautiful traditional costumes and performing rather complex patterns of choreography.

Sardana is open to all

However, the sardana is not only for experts! First and foremost, it’s open to all, during aplecs (sardana festivals) and ballades (short public dances). So… don’t be shy!

An ancient dance

Would you like to try it with us? One, two, three, the first notes of the flabiol flute are playing… let’s start!

The Sardana is an ancient dance. In what may be more myth than historical fact, the dance is rumored to have been brought over by the ancient Greeks, who more than 2500 years ago founded Empuries, not far from Dalí’s birth place Figueres.

A summertime ballada.
A Summertime ballada.

The earliest written mentions of sardana take us back to as early as the 16th century and, more often than not, regard bans on performing this dance, in those times seen as rather indecent by the local authorities!

Pep Ventura, the modernizer of the sardana

Josep Maria Ventura Casas (1817 – 1875), known as Pep Ventura, is universally considered to be the modernizer of the traditional sardana.

Today he’s rightly remembered in Catalonia as one of its the leading musical figures of all times.

In the middle of the 19th century, he transformed the traditional tunes of popular dances, which he considered somewhat limited, and brought them to a higher musical dimension.

Monument to Pep Ventura, musician and modernizeor of the sardana. Figueres, Catalonia.
Monument to Pep Ventura, musician and modernizer of the sardana. Figueres, Catalonia.

Besides modifying the structure of the traditional sardana, he included new instruments, shaping and expanding the original ensemble into a small orchestra, or cobla.

Growing popularity and great composers

By the mid 19th century, the dance was rapidly gaining in popularity in Barcelona and it began to spread across the rest of Catalonia. Today it’s still danced even in the remotest of all Catalan villages.

Where does popular music end and classical music begin? There’s no clear line to separate the two, and rightly so.

Influenced by opera arias

On the one hand, sardana music in the 19th century was certainly influenced by opera arias and underwent a process of great musical refinement. 

On the other hand, at the turn of the 20th century, the sardana was already perceived as the embodiment of Catalan music

Enric Morera and Pau Casals

Great musicians such as Enric Morera and Pau Casals composed sardanes and, with their aura of universal fame, gave this genre a very special status among what we call popular music. 

More music for your read? Enjoy “Sota el mas ventós”, performed by the Cobla Barcelona. Can you imagine dancing in the Güell Park?

The Cobla, or Sardana Orchestra

As mentioned,the sardana is typically performed today by a small orchestra, called a cobla. Its eleven musicians play twelve instruments.

Nowadays more than one hundred cobles are active throughout Catalonia, to the joy of sardanistes.The instruments

The instruments

Besides a double bass and a tamborí (little drum), the cobla has ten wind instruments.

Five of them are brass instruments, while the others are woodwind.

The woodwinds

Unlike the brass instruments, the woodwinds in a cobla are traditional Catalan instruments. These are the tible and the tenora; they belong to the oboe family, and we always find two of each in an ensemble.

Finally there’s also a short flute called the flabiol, played with just one hand.

With the other hand, the flabiol musician also plays the tamborí.

The flabiol and tamborí, at the opening

The beginning of each and every sardana is always announced by the sound of these two instruments.

The sardana fountain's relief,  Barcelona.
The Sardana fountain’s relief, Barcelona.

Igor loved the sardana

When the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky came to Barcelona in 1924 to direct his avant-garde concerts, he saw people dancing sardanes in Plaça Catalunya, in the heart of the city.

On his way to the Liceu

That day he was on his way to the Liceu Opera House for an orchestra rehearsal. He said he wished to hear more of the music, and the cultural institution Ateneu Barcelonès responded by organizing a concert with the Cobla Barcelona in its gardens.

Stravinsky was very interested and requested scores of sardana music be sent to his address in Paris. He was said to have especially loved the composer Juli Garreta’s music.

A sardana composed by Stravinsky?

The Russian musician even declared he wanted to compose a sardana himself!

Stravinsky visited Barcelona a few more times but, for what we know, he never actually wrote his sardana.  However, what Barcelonan wouldn’t forgive the Russian genius?

Monument to the sardanista. Blanes, Catalonia.
Monument to the sardanista by Francesc Ros. Blanes, Catalonia.

The Catalan sardana goes international with Miró

After years of hardships in both Barcelona and Paris, Joan Miró’s first glorious moment finally arrived in 1925. 

That year on June 12th, his gallery in Paris organized a successful midnight vernissage.

Picasso’s idea

To make it even more spectacular, more exotic, and as Catalan as the great Miró was, his great friend Pablo Picasso  had a wonderful idea.

He arranged for a cobla to play sardanes to entertain people waiting in line and eager to enter the gallery!

The sardana made it to the city of lights!

Want to dance?

When you come, you’ll have the opportunity to see and even join sardanistes dancing at an aplec! Sardana is open to all those who wish to partake. 

If you like dancing, plan your trip ahead!  Bring flexible shoes and let us know!

Sardana “És la Moreneta”, performed and danced in Montserrat, Barcelona.

End beat or cop final, a musical surprise

Congratulations! You’ve read all the post! Now you deserve a bonus track and we want to share with you a gem of musical fusion. 

Enjoy Sardanova, by Santi Arisa & Lakatans – Cobla Montgrins! We love it, hope you do too! 

See you soon!

Sardanova, by Santi Arisa & Lakatans – Cobla Montgrins

Our thanks

To the talented sardanista Sílvia Company Salip, for sharing her knowledge and providing this post’s top photo and the one featuring the colla Brots de Romaní.

To Roser Salip, for the photo of Pep Ventura’s monument in Figueres.

To art specialist Natalia Esquinas, for her assistance on monuments to the sardana in public spaces and for the photo of the monument to the sardanista, in Blanes.

4 thoughts on “A BEAUTIFUL VOYAGE INTO THE SOUNDS OF CATALONIA

  1. joseph llahi
    16 April, 2021
    Reply

    15 years ago or so, i saw a ballada de sardanes, Llançà’s main square, in the Costa Brava.
    This music can’t be fully understood without seeing it being danced. When they jump, an emotion is conveyed to the onlookers.

    I remember that day as if it were only yesterday

  2. Denise
    16 April, 2021
    Reply

    Thanks Unison Routes for this post and introducing me to sardanas. This musical and cultural lesson gives me another layer of knowledge of the Catalan life. Music truly transcends time.

  3. Augusta Tironi
    17 April, 2021
    Reply

    I vostri post sempre molto interessanti e coinvolgenti. Gli approfondimenti folkloristici e stoico-artistici danno una conoscenza completa dell’argomento trattato. Grazie e…. alla prossima

  4. Natàlia Esquinas
    28 April, 2021
    Reply

    This post is very interesting! I’ve found amazing the connections about sardanas, art and artists! In fact, I want to share with you a quote by Picasso about this dance:

    «The Sardana is a very serious thing! And difficult, too! You have to count the steps. In every group there is a leader who does it for the others. The dance is a communion of souls. It abolishes class distinctions. Rich and poor, young and old dance together: the postman with the bank manager and servants hand-in-hand with their masters.»
    Pablo Picasso, in a conversation with Brassaï.

    Than you for your posts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *