A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


La Folia - A 16th Century Louie Louie
Friday, January 26, 2007

I have heard several live performances of Francesco Geminiani's La Folia but the best I will ever hear I heard yesterday.

Richard Berry wrote the rock’n’roll song Louie Louie in 1955. It is a standard in rock and pop since hundreds of versions have been recorded by many artists. My fave is one recorded live by Johnny Thunders. The song is written in the style of a Jamaican ballad; and it is the first-person story of a Jamaican sailor returning to the island to see his girl. He brags of his “fine girl” to the Louie of the title who is, perhaps a bartender.

Ignorance is terrible, but fortunately one has until death’s door to try to make up for it. I had never heard of La Folia. I had heard of Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) in the late 50s during the Archiv record renaissance that made baroque music known. It was some 7 or 8 years ago that Ballet BC performed a beautiful number to recorded music of Francesco Geminiani’s (1687 -1762) Concerto Grosso No. 12 in D minor, ‘La Folia’ which was an arrangement of his former teacher's (Corelli), Variations in D minor, ‘La Follia’ (Op. 5, No. 12). I would not know why Corelli's Follia is written with two ls while Geminiani's is written with only one. But there is one reason (for me) why Geminiani's Folia is more fun than his teacher's. Geminiani did not ignore the virtuoso possibilities of the viola and in his variations it shares the bill with the violin and the cello.

It was my friend and baroque music enthusiast Graham Walker who clued me in to Corelli's La Follia and his pupil's even more popular variations. Graham suggested I purchase Trio Sonerie (Monica Huggett, Mitzie Meyerson, Sarah Cunningham) with Nigel North Corelli Volin Sonatas Op. 5 (which includes La Follia. It is easily one of my favourite CDs. Since then I have heard many versions named as folias and some that are not (but instantly recognizable as such) like Faronell's Division on a Ground in David Douglas, Paul O'Dette and Andrew Lawrence-Kings, Apollo's Banquet CD. And once I discovered the web site on all things Folia, I further found out that at least 150 composers have written variations over the last 330 years.

According to my Real Academia dictionary folía is a word of French origin that means mad. It is further defined as a dance typical of the Canary Islands but also an extrmely noisy Porutuguese dance that involved many people. This is partially confirmed by the Folia website and I quote:

The name "Folia" is of Iberian origin and refers to a fertility dance in three-four time originating in the late 15th century. The first time the name emerges is in a text by the Portuguese dramatist Gil Vicente entitled "Auto de Sibilla Cassandra". In music Folia meant, at least till the 1670's, a very quickpaced and tumultuous dance, in which the dancers carried men dressed as women upon their shoulders. They were literally driven mad by the noise and the stirring rhythm.

This week I had to take rehearsal photographs of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, which included Geminiani's La Folia. Once I had finished I had a spur of the moment idea. I got as close to Laura Kramer's cello (right) taking advantage that a baroque cello has no spike so I could safely lay down on my back. While the orchestra laughed (privately they must have thought the earlier morning rehearsal of La Folia had perhaps deranged me slightly!) the PBO's musical director and virtuoso violinist, Marc Destrubé (above, left) gave me the nod to remain. I was almost under Valerie Weeks's harpsichord. For too long I have ignored it's all too subtle sound. From where I was, for the first time, I really appreciated it. It seemed to be in my head while my left ear caught the vibrations of Nan Mackie's violon and my right, Kramer's cello.

When Geminiani's La Folia ended I heard sounds coming out of Kramer's cello almost as if the instrument, all on its own, was producing further variations on the variations. What delicious madness!

For those who might be in Victoria over the weekend here is your chance to listen to the PBO play Geminiani's La Folia (and many other worthy composers), and soprano Nancy Argenta, January 26, 27 and 28. Folia and Nancy Argenta


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