From its earliest appearance in the mid-1600s, the lyric theater form of zarzuela captivated Spanish audiences with its witty writing and lively musical scores. Clinton D. Young’s Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 persuasively links zarzuela’s celebration of Spanish history and culture to the development of concepts of nationalism and national identity at the dawn of the twentieth century.
As a weak Spanish government focused its energy on preventing a recurrence of mid-nineteenth-century political upheavals, the project of articulating a national identity occurred at the popular level, particularly in cultural venues such as the theater. Zarzuela suited this aim well, depicting the lives of everyday citizens amid the rapidly changing norms brought about by industrialization and urbanization. It also integrated regional differences into a unified vision of Spanish national identity: a zarzuela performance set in Madrid could incorporate forms of music and folk dancing native to areas of the country as far distant as Andalucía and Catalonia. A true “music of the people” (música popular), zarzuela offered its audiences an image of what a more modern Spain might look like.
Zarzuela alone could not create a unified concept of Spanish identity, particularly with competition from new forms of mass culture and the rise of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in the 1920s. Yet, as this riveting study shows, it made an indelible contribution to popular culture and nationalism. Young’s history brings to life the stories, songs, and evolving contexts of a uniquely Spanish art form.
Clinton D. Young is associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
Praise for Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880-1930
“In this meticulously researched volume, Young (history, Univ. of Arkansas, Monticello) unites music and history in a detailed, challenging study. . . . [An] engrossing study.”—CHOICE
“Having had such a long wait for an English book – or indeed, a Spanish one – to analyse romantic zarzuela from the historical perspective, we should applaud the American historian Clinton Young for doing such a delightful as well as thorough job of it. . . .A well-researched and handsomely written book. It admirably fulfils its double aim, providing a clear and generally reliable historical context for romantic zarzuela, while showing how the genre interacted with nationalism in many, varied ways. As a bonus, the author’s bright erudition provides illuminating accounts of plenty of the individual works which make this genre so special. Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain is a book to which I shall return many times, for pleasure and instruction.” —Zarzula.net
“Very authoritative . . . . This monograph provides an updated and very readable introduction to a highly influential cultural trend, which unfortunately has been largely ignored in mainstream interpretations of the period.”—Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies