The origin of the castanets

Although the names of the people who invented the 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 later became known throughout the Mediterranean Sea through trade.


Diversity at 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 infant Luis de Borbón y Farnesio 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 most valued this percussion instrument, adding it to different cultural manifestations such as 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. Curiously, this dancer, although she was Mexican, was one of the most outstanding performers of the moment, especially in the classical and academic fields. She was a teacher at the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid and in 1966 created the album Lecciones de castañuelas.


Dance and percussion

According to historians, in 450 BC Syrian women accompanied dances with the chimes 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 de Baile School was created there, where the best dancers were trained. These were presented in Spanish and European theaters in general, especially in Paris, France.

One of the things that stood out the most with respect to the Bolera de Baile School were the castanets and the technique of the dancers centered on the movement of the arms. Of course, the way of dancing at the Bolera School 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 the classical or flamenco guitar with castanets is something that has attracted 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 who plays 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 playing, others do so at the same time that the strings of the guitar and the flamenco cajon sound.

In addition to this, it is important to know that the Spanish composer Santiago de Murcia made excellent works of fandango in which the sound of the classical guitar stood out along 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 Spanish, as they use them in dance, with chimes that cheer up and help bring 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 of using castanets, as they are used in the hands, adjusting them in the thumbs. Likewise, it should be noted that castanets are used in pairs, one of which emits a lower sound than the other.

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

In another vein, although the way of making castanets has evolved, the shape of these has remained, always having a small design similar to clams.




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 in charge of 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 creating this type of instrument, for example, the Vela family, through their company Castañuelas del Sur.

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

Teresa and other soloists 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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