The Monkees and the 16th century “villancico”

Music travels! Spanish music in Latin America took on local color, the dialects and rhythms of the native languages, and often added local instruments. Music also changes–it was often not written down, so performers embellished. They created and recreated the music.

The villancico developed from medieval dance into a Spanish folk song in the Renaissance, then evolved into an art song form. The form is alternating refrains and stanzas: A-B-A.  The stanza text has two parts: the second part rhymes with the last line of the first, but is sung to the refrain’s melody, intertwining the music and the lyrics. The text was a love poem or a devotional religious poem.

Ríu Ríu Chíu” is a 16th century villancico that is still sung at Christmas. The Monkees (yes, you read that correctly) even made an a capella recording of it.

Here’s a traditional choral rendition for you to compare.

From that “simple” beginning, the form developed into an elaborate art form, with instrumental introductions, the stanza a single voice, the refrain in polyphony, and alternating instrumental interludes. Here’s a stirring rendition of “Villancico de Kalenda” performed by none other than Ars Longa de la Habana.

Now that you’ve learned a little about the villancico, we hope you’ll enjoy the concert even more! We’ll see you Saturday night!

-Ann Valdes