The origin of castanets

Although the names of the people who invented castanets are not known, it can be said that they are around 3000 years old. This is because the Phoenicians made and used the first wooden castanets that were later known throughout the Mediterranean Sea through trade.

Diversity at the origin

Information about castanets can be found in Roman mythology. Minerva, who was the goddess of wisdom, used this instrument to make the birds of Lake Stymphalus leave. The Egyptians, to whom its invention is attributed, and the Persians spread the instrument throughout the Mediterranean Sea, thanks to the trade of the time.

Later, in 1798 the cellist Luigi Boccherini, a classical composer born in Italy, became interested in the sound of castanets and wrote a song for the infante Luis de Borbón y Farnese in which this instrument is the protagonist.

Also, another composer who made music in which castanets are played is the German Richard Wagner. This happened in 1845 when he created the Tannhauser opera, specifically the Overture and Venusberg.

However, Spain is the country that has valued this percussion instrument the most, adding it to different cultural manifestations such as the fandango, sevillanas, flamenco and others.

In the 20th century, one of the people who promoted castanets in Spain was the renowned composer Joaquín Rodrigo, who composed Dos Danzas Españolas for Lucero Tena. Interestingly, this dancer, although she was Mexican, was one of the most outstanding performers of the moment, especially in the classical and academic spheres. She was a teacher at the Superior Conservatory of Music in Madrid and in 1966 she created the album Lecciones de castañuelas.

dance and percussion

According to historians, in the year 450 BC, the women of Syria accompanied the dances with the ringing of castanets. This may be the origin of the use of the instrument together with the art of dancing.

For its part, in the 19th century Spain was the center of dancing with castanets, since the Bolera Dance School was created there, where the best dancers were trained. These were presented in Spanish theaters and in Europe in general, especially in Paris, France.

One of the things that stood out most regarding the Bolera Dance School were the castanets and the technique of the dancers focused on the movement of the arms. Of course, the way of dancing at Escuela Bolera is also related to flamenco. Both expressions of Spanish culture complement each other, forming part of the folklore of that country.

Fusion between guitar and castanets

The use of classical or flamenco guitar together with castanets is something that has caught the attention not only of the Spanish people, but also of other countries in Europe, Asia and America, where they also play and dance flamenco.

In addition, the person playing the castanets makes many peals that become a striking rhythm and accompany the guitar chords or their strums. Likewise, it should be noted that, although many people dance while they play, others do it at the same time that the strings of the guitar and the flamenco box sound.

In addition to this, it is important to know that the Spanish composer Santiago de Murcia made excellent fandango works in which he highlighted the sound of the classical guitar together with the castanets. This happened in the 18th century, when the evolution of music was still going through the baroque period.

Respecting its origin

The original use of castanets has been respected by the Spaniards, since they use them in the dance, with peals that cheer and help to keep the rhythm of flamenco, fandango, sevillanas, among other cultural manifestations.

In general, all types of Spanish dances or musical genres that are related to this percussion instrument respect the way castanets are used, since they are used in the hands, adjusting them on the thumbs. Also, it should be noted that the castanets are used in pairs, one of them emits a more serious sound than the other.

On the other hand, the way of ringing castanets is similar in all these manifestations, since they are made with the index, middle, ring and little fingers.

In another order of ideas, although the way of making castanets has been evolving, their shape has remained, always having a small design similar to clams.

The castanets today

In the 21st century we can still enjoy music and dance with castanets. Even listening to a flamenco song without them is as if it lacked life. This is because they help keep the tempo and rhythm. In addition, it should be noted that our ancestors have been responsible for transmitting the touch of this important instrument through several generations.

On the other hand, today the manufacture of these instruments has grown a lot. Important brands such as LP, Stagg or Meinl have produced and distributed both cheap and high-priced castanets internationally, so that users can purchase the ones they want. In addition to this, in Spain there are various artisans with years of experience in the creation of this type of instrument, for example, the Vela family, through its company Castañuelas del Sur.

Likewise, it should be noted that Mar Bezana, Teresa Laiz, José de Udaeta, Emma Maleras and other soloists have inspired many people with the professional way they play castanets. For example, Teresa Laiz has contributed and continues to work on the spread of castanets around the world. Currently, she is the director and founder of the International Castanets Festival, abbreviated FIC. Even in 2015 she published the book Method of Castanets, Vol. 1. Thanks to it, various people have learned to play this instrument.

Teresa and other concert performers also promote courses, workshops, exhibitions, concerts, among other activities related to castanets, through their social networks, so that the value of this instrument is not lost, but rather continues to grow and cross borders. The virtuosity that these artists demonstrate in their concerts speaks of the level of demand that castanets have to play them professionally.

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