Aragon

The Music of Aragon

The region of Aragon, located in the northeast of Spain, has many historical traditions especially related to folklore. Thejota, a style of musical and dance that developed during the 18th century, is commonly associated with this region. While the jota isn’t studied as often as flamenco, it has become a staple of Spanish folklore.

The origins of the jota are uncertain. The definition listed in the Oxford English Dictionary states that the jota is a lively dance in triple time from northern Spain that is accompanied by guitar and castanets. Some Spanish musicologists argue that it is an evolution of a Greek or Celtic dance, while others state that it is originally Arabic. Others, like Spanish composer Felip Pedrell, reject both theories. Pedrell believed that the Aragonese jota was created in the 18th century and differed from the jota of the Iberian Peninsula.

The first official appearance of the jota Aragonesa was in 1820 when it was performed for King Fernando VII and his wife during one of their official visits to Zaragoza. The music grew popularity over the century and was included in plays, zarzuelas, and other arts. Since 1827 the jota has been used as a form of entertainment during intermission of plays in theaters.

The jota generally has a melodic phrase of eight measures. In the first four measures the melody is generally in the tonic and the following four measures are in the dominant seventh. The melody has more freedom than the harmony. Originally, the jota was a dance that included singing. It was accompanied by wind instruments and percussion called dulzaina, tamboril, and gaita before it became more common to include string instruments like the bandurria, guitars, and castanets. 

The Aragonese jota has multiple elements: the copla, the dance, the singing, and the accompaniment.


Copla

The copla is the poem that is sung in the jota. There are eight verses with rhyme in some verses. The topics for these verses vary; some are about love; others are religious and are generally dedicated to the Virgin of El Pilar, a symbol in Aragon, and some are about society.


Song and Dance

The singing can be a solo, duo, or chorus. One of the essential characteristics that is important for singing a traditional jota is good pronunciation and the use of the chest voice.

The dance is typically full of jumps. The dancers have their arms open and play castanets while they dance. The women perform the same role as the men, which is uncommon in other Spanish folk dances. Depending on the place, some jotas are faster or slower and the movements change accordingly.


Accompaniment

Originally the jota was accompanied by wind instruments and percussion, but as the jota became more popular in the theatre it became standard to play the music while sitting. Guitars and bandurria were more comfortable to hold and eventually replaced the original instruments. The most common instruments for the jota are now the bandurria, the Spanish guitar, and castanets.

A bandurria is a plucked string instrument that is related to the Spanish laud and is commonly used in Spanish folklore. It has 12 strings and musicians play it with a plectrum. The sound is more melodic and higher pitched than the Spanish guitar.

The Spanish guitar is a hugely popular instrument. It is used in most parts of Spain but it is generally related to flamenco.

Castañuelas, or castanets, are a percussion instrument. They are made of wood and have a concave form. The two parts are joined by a rope to create one instrument. Dancers commonly use a pair of castañuelas, holding one in each hand as they dance.