“A Night in Madrid” reveals fantastic music, dance and food

The Lawrence Baroque Ensemble put on their annual Evening of Baroque Dance in the Warch Campus Center’s Esch Hurvis room on Saturday, May 17. They chose to continue on in the Mediterranean following last year’s Italy theme. This year they moved west to Spain, with the music, dance and food centered on the theme of A Night in Madrid.

Dancer, musician, academic and teacher Dorothy Olsson provided dance instruction in the Spanish baroque style. Olsson taught three dances that Spanish men used to learn in special dance schools. The dancers in these schools often competed fiercely, so much so that some men carried knives with them to the schools. Some men would challenge others to “dance duels” if they felt their honor threatened.

The dances themselves ranged from a courtly pavane line dance, a dance that mimicked how higher-class Spaniards viewed the dancing of peasants, and a fast-paced contra dance that brought together couples in a square. All of the dances required somewhat complex footwork, challenging participants but providing a lot of fun.

After the teaching of the dances, the Baroque Ensemble performed a famous musical work from the Baroque era of Spanish music, Luigi Boccherini’s “Procession of the Military Night Watch in Madrid Op. 30 No. 6.” This work is part of a series of string quartets by Boccherini that portray picaresque images from Spain. Boccherini was born in Italy, but spent the majority of his life living in Spain, becoming a major composer of Spanish Baroque music.

He said of this piece that it would not make sense outside of Spain because it’s so much comprised of images and emotions from Spain. To quote him: “This piece is useless, even ridiculous outside of Spain, because the audience cannot hope to understand its significance, nor can the players play it correctly.”

However, in a certain sense, “Procession of the Military Night Watch in Madrid” has become immediately evocative of Spain for many listeners regardless of whether they have ever spent time in the country. In particular, the middle section in which the violins and violas emulate the strumming of guitars through pizzicato and bowed arpeggiated figures while the cello plays a lyrical melody conjures up bright, beautiful and romantic visions of southern Spain.

The opening mimics the ringing of church bells in Madrid before transitioning into an energetic dance accompanied by pizzicato in the celli and bass that mimics the strumming of a guitar. The dance section ends with a tender duet between the cello and the first violin, interspersed with animated sections meant to embody the hectic city life of Madrid. After the middle section (the most widely recognized), the closing scene evokes the procession of the military. The upper strings play a march-like dance over the low strings, which are meant to imitate military drums.

I will contradict Boccherini to say that I believe it’s possible to play “Procession of the Military Night Watch in Madrid Op. 30 No.6” outside of Spain, and that the players of the Lawrence Baroque Ensemble did so. It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in which all learned a lot while having a lot of fun.