Re-imagining Cardenio

Serenatas in Spain

January 21, 2011
Reja window grille

Reja window grille

I have been looking at Gustave Dore's illustrations for Don Quixote.

I have always been fascinated by Dore's engravings. My Auntie Mary and Uncle Bob in Slaithwaite had a huge old Victorian tome of Dante's Inferno with illustrations by Dore. Whenever we went over to Huddersfield for Christmas or Easter, I would ask to see it, and sit absorbed for hours staring at Dore's terrifying illustrations of the circles of Hell and their tortured inhabitants.

Dore's illustrations for Don Quixote hold a similar fascination for me now, and the scene where the mad Don tilts at the windmills and he and his horse Rozinate are swept high into the air is surely a definitive depiction of that episode.

Dore travelled throughout Spain in the 1860's with the Baron Jean-Charles Davillier, who wrote a book about their travels, which Dore illustrated. He sketches bull fights in Seville, gypsies dancing Flamenco in the grottoes of Sacro-Monte. Here is the mournful magnificence of the Escorial, the great Alcazar of Toledo, the horseshoe arches of the Mezquite mosque in Cordoba, and shifty looking tourists in Granada, chipping out azulejos tiles in the Alhambra. He draws everything from a shepherd in Estremadura, to a procession of penitents in their white pointed hoods.

As I read Davillier's account of their journey through Andalucia, several interesting descriptions leap out, which might be very useful in trying to deepen our understanding of the story of Cardenio. For example, Davillier describes the serenata of Cordoba, and Dore illuminates the scene:

'If Cordova is silent and dreary during the daytime, it seems to awake partially from its repose to listen to the serenades at night. This serenading appeared to us nothing more than a sort of amusing pleasantry... not so with the Andalucians; to them the guitar is a noble instrument, and its jerking notes are listened to with melodramatic seriousness. A Spanish poet touchingly enquires: ''What would an Englishman, Dane or Swede do to convince a lady of his adoration? Would he willingly deprive himself of a night's rest? But with us behold the difference! A majo, guitar in hand, his mantle tossed negligently over his shoulder, sings and sighs his love patiently beneath a balcony, regardless of weather; he waits until daybreak, dreading the frown of his lady-love should he quit his post a moment too soon.'''

Apparently Andalucians have another expression for characterising ardent lovers with their heads bent to the bars of the grille of their beloved's window, 'mascar hierro' to chew iron. Daviller goes on to include a number of the classic serenatas, or coplas de ventas (window couplets) which are sung on these occasions:

'Cuerpo gueno! Alma divina!
Que de fatigas me cuestas!
Despierta, si estas dormida,
Y alivia por Dios, mi pena!'

('Rare beauty! Divine one! What trouble is mine! Wake, if thou sleepest, and for God's sake my sorrows allay!')

'La paloma esta en la cama
Arropadita y caliente
Y el polomo esta en la esquina
Dandose diente con diente.'

('The dove is in bed, snugly wrapped up, while the pigeon waits in the street, cold and gnashing his teeth.')

I'll send these verses to Paul Englishby our composer. They may be useful in developing the kind of music that Fernando brings with him to serenade Dorotea in Act One of Cardenio.

by Greg Doran  |  1 comment

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Feb 23, 12:44am
Hilette Davillier Hill

I find this article very interesting because my name is Davillier and I was born and raised in the United States however I knew my great grandfather was from Spain and his name was Alexander Davillier and he married a plantation owner daughter named, Anges. It was to my understanding that A. Davillier was sent to La. to work off a debt in Spain. My grandfather was Emile Davillier and he was born in 1879. I don't know if Jean Charles or Joseph Henri Davillier are great uncles however I do know my Uncle Loke real name was Joseph Henri Davillier, from Slidell, La

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