Many classical/flamenco guitar enthusiasts who enjoy Spanish repertoire, or those who are in love with Lorca’s art, the concept “Duende” might be a crucial.
Federico García Lorca gave the famous lecture called “Theory and Play of the Duende” in Buenos Aires in Argentina in 1933. The Duende is usually associated with the flamenco culture, but Lorca defines it as a universal artistic concept.
Theory and Play of the Duende
Here are three fragments of the conference.
“The old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: —Olé! That has Duende!”
"Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on listening to Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife, said this splendid sentence: —All what has dark sounds has Duende”
"Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art”
Manuel Torre, (Manuel Soto Loreto) is a legendary Gypsy flamenco singer. Although he was an illiterate, he possessed a deep knowledge of all his art.
Here, Lorca reveals that the Duende is identical to the dark notes or the force of Paganini’s music.
“—Dark sounds. The countryman of Spain said, agreeing with Goethe who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the Duende:—A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained”—Dark sounds. The countryman of Spain said, agreeing with Goethe who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the Duende: —A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained”
“Angel and Muse come from outside us: the Angel brings a light, and the Muse gives a form (Hesiod learned from her). Metal leaf or folds of the tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove. However, the Duende has to be aroused from the furthest corners of the blood”
Obviously, Lorca was deeply influenced by Greek culture, as well as many other artists. I find particularlyinteresting that he reinterpreted the symbolism and gave new roles to Angel and Muse here.
According to Lorca, Angel symbolises the grace and the inspiration (of Garcilaso), Muse represents the intelligence (of Góngora), and the Duende comes from inside. Marie Laffranque, a Lorca specialist, says the Duende is the pain itself, the wounding, and no resigned conscience of pain, evil, and misfortune.
“The Duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he doesn’t see the possibility of death…
Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the Duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, it lies on the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work”
Revealing the profound reality through the poems, he always refused any aesthetics of Realism that opposes “interpretation”. Lorca thought that referring to the reality was clearly not enough for a poem, there had to be a metaphor to symbolise and reinterpret it. The Duende, because of its mortal character, makes the art united and easier to communicate, thus, this will become transcendental.
“The magic power of a poem consists in it always been filled with Duende, in its baptising all who gaze at it with dark water, since with Duende it is easier to love, to understand, and be certain of being loved, and being understood, and this struggle for expression and the communication of that expression in poetry, sometimes acquires a fatal character”
As all the quotes above demonstrate that the Duende has nothing to do with social status, nationality, nor education, neither it is possible to acquire by studying or training. It is something very human which we might have in our blood, and it hardly appears. Lorca tells us that the true art will only happen when the three elements are united: wisdom, inspiration, and that something: the Duende! That’s why I think his art and concept are truly universal.
To finish this article, I’d like to present a small fragment of the prologue from “Impressions and Landscapes” (1918) that gives a clear idea of his aesthetic.
“Poetry exists in all things, in the ugly, in the beauty, in the repugnant. The difficult thing is knowing how to discover it, how to awake the deep wells of the soul. The admirable thing of a spirit is to receive an emotion and interpret it in various ways, all of them are different and contrary"
Cover Photo: Courtesy of Fundación Federico García Lorca