The Early Folia
Origins of the Early Folia
16th century and early 17th century sources Portugal was the birthplace
of the folia.
In these modern times some seek the origins even in African or Oriental
culture (e.g Trovesi) or at least they credit cultural influences from
these regions in the development of the folia. This is not so strange,
as in the early 15th century slaves from the westcoasts of Africa were
imported fin Portugal to work on the plantations. Portugese ships
explored the west coast of Africa en made contact with the states on
these coasts. Moorish influence (a mix of Arabian and North-African
cultures) was very strong in the Iberian peninsula.
After 1500 the colonial expansion and conquests brought also new
iAmerndian en African musical forms from the Americas to Europe. The
most famous of these are the chaconne and the sarabande. However
without other reliable sources everything said about any other origin
of the early folia than the Portugese is pure speculation.
Sources from the 16th and early 17th century give impressions of the
folia, which was danced with such loud music, that the dancers seemed
to lose their minds.
The folias that come to us from the prints and manuscripts, preserved
in palatial and churchly musical collections dating back to the late
15th century are however far removed from the original noisy maddening
dance from the streets, village squares and pastures. The hypnotic
swinging rythms of ancient Spanish folk music preserved in the 16th
century Ensaladas give us a vague glimpse of how the folias might have
affected performers and public alike
The problems of identifying 16th century compositions as early folias
are discussed in a
German treatise in which the author for uses the musical
theories of the renaissance for analysing the compositions of
in a name?
Gamba”, Pavana, “Gallairde Cara Cossa”
“Gaillarde La Gamba”, “Romaneasca-La
Folia, Folias, Pavaniglia.
Either the name folia is given to a piece by its composer like
Piccinini, Kapsberger or the name is attached in later times by
musicologists due to the characteristics of the composition. There is
even a Spanish passacaille with the Cara Cossa melody (cd Spanish Music
from the Golden Age by Extempore)
The folia bearing the name pavane is usually identical with the cara
cossa form: mostly melancholic and slow; in accordance with the general
nature of the pavane.
Cabezon also composed a Pavana Italiana, which is also identified as the Pavana d'Espagne,
and thought to be an off shoot of the folia. The Gaillarde La Cara
Cossa or La Gamba sounds generally a bit livelier.
In Italy the name Follia was also used for a similar kind of musical
scheme: the Fedele. The most famous of these is Frescobaldi. However
the Fedele is not a folia and will not be discussed further.
dance music and the folia
dance music was based on
ground basses. A regular rhythm and phrasing and simple frequently
repetitive melodic patterns determined the character of dance music.
The basslines of these dances became often the basis for
improvisations, a practice carried on in the Baroque with the basso
ostinato. Sometimes these ground basses were in turn taken from the
dance tunes. One of these tunes was the Folia originally a dance in a
The earliest identified Folias can be found in the Cancionero del
Palacio (The Songbook of the Palace, ca. 1500).
Early in the 16th century the folia tune had become a ground bass which
was already present in a number of polyphonic pieces, as a ground over
which various contrasting melodies could be built. The folia was
characterized by an elaborate chordal framework thas was repeated with
variations several times throughout the composition. The chordal
patterns were versatile enough to be used for variation
Examples of the variations sets were written by Ortiz and Cabezon, but
also similar chord progressions, with sometimes a different pattern or
with greater rhythmic and formal freedom in the piece (e.g Mudarra) are
to be found.
of the Early Folia:
mode minor key
- a certain
focus on the relative
major and minor keys, caused by the emphasis on the roots of the tonic
and dominant chord of those keys
- The folia
pattern has a bipartite nature
- In the
middle is a dividing dominant after which the pattern from the first
halve is mirrored
- 8 bar
- but no
standard melody not even a standard chord progression
foliabass is often obscured,
depending on the complexity of the variations and the instrumentation.
In a solo piece for harpsichord or a plucked string instrument this
ground bass is easier to identify, than in ensemble pieces. Also in
organ and bowed string instruments the tones tend to blend and give the
listener an hard time. It takes a lot of listening and earpricking to
identify the foliabass.
Of course the compositions for the different instruments were written
especially with the characteristics and possibilities of these
instruments in mind. Another important factor is the development of
music (theory and practice) and the instruments (improvement in
building instruments and the invention of new instruments) itself
during the renaissance and early baroque, which also influenced the
compositions for the folia.
Performance practices and artistic interpretation of today's perfomers
can sometimes aggravate the identification of an 16th century or 17th
century folia composed prior to 1672. If sometimes even performers and
musicologists confuse another ground or dance type with a folia,
imagine how a lay listener must feel.
Some of these early folia’s are exuberant, others slow solemn
melancholic. Folias are sung (villancico’s and romanzas),
or just instrumental compositions. Some composers wrote even different
kinds of folias (Encina, Cabezon, Mudarra). Salinas in 1577 presents us
with two alternative versions of the tune and so does Ortiz (1557).
To make matters even more complex: the folia was close kin to the
passamezzo and romanesca. Diego Ortiz treats in his Trattado de Glossas
(1557) all these different dances and offers the listener a nice
opportunity to compare the differences. How close these musical forms
are related is shown by Norman
Douglas Anderson with examples of thebass patterns for these
The confusion between the musical forms Follia-Fedele-Passamezzo,
Romanesca and Alta Regina often confounds modern listeners.
the foliaground became a
ornamented harmonic pattern and a vehicle for variation sets. Mendoza's
Differencias de folias of 1593 is the earliest appearance of a set of
variations on this harmonic progression.
For an extensive study in the development of the Folia especially in
guitar and lute music see Richard
Hudson ,The Folia, the saraband, the passacaglia, and the chaconne :
the historical evolution of four forms that originated in music for the
five-course Spanish guitar (compiled by Richard
Hudson).Neuhausen-Stuttgart : American Institute of Musicology :
Hanssler-Verlag, 1982. Description: 1 score (4 v.) : facsims. ; 30 cm.
Series: Musicological studies & documents ; 35 Publisher No.:
68.735/10 Hanssler-Verlag 68.735/20 Hanssler-Verlag 68.735/30
Hanssler-Verlag 68.735/40 Hanssler-Verlag Contents: v. 1. The folia --
v. 2. The saraband -- v. 3. The passacaglia -- v. 4. The chaconne.
Subjects: Music -- 16th century. Music -- 17th century. Music -- 18th
century. Folias (Music) Sarabands. Passacaglias. Chaconnes.
study Hudson treats the
development of the folia in guitar and lute music and he makes a
distinction between several different types in this evolution. I have
tried to capture these different types in the following table.