This music has been going round in my head all week! It’s hardly surprising. It’s memorable – so memorable it’s been around for about 350 years. Slightly different versions of La Folia existed way before that, too. It’s one of Western Europe’s earliest remembered musical ideas.
It probably got used in the 17th century much like the 12 bar blues is used today. It still retains its potency: if you strum the chords on a guitar as I’ve been doing it can become a bit of a compulsive, what-you-do-when-you-pick-up-a-guitar thing. For the benefit of any guitar-playing readers, the chords are as follows:
Three beats in a bar
Dm A Dm C F C Dm A
Dm A Dm C F C Dm/A Dm
That penultimate A chord happens on the second beat. You can also stick a capo on fret 5 and play Am, E, Am, G, C, etc., instead.
Anyone interested in palindromes will notice that the chords read the same forwards as they do backwards. Composers who play games like that are often accused of making their music too intellectual – something one would hardly claim of La Folia.
It’s really got me thinking about how the “classical tradition” up to and including Bach had a great deal in common with jazz. It’s what one would expect, really. For example, a lot of baroque keyboard music was improvised and both jazz and the baroque shared a fondness for similar rhythms and “walking” basslines. The term “classical music” only came into use sometime around the nineteenth century , so if you stuck a baroque composer such as Bach in a time machine and whisked him forward to the present day he’d probably take it for granted that jazz was a continuation of the musical tradition he was part of. He might even prefer it to some of the “classical tradition” that some classical musicians have tried to set apart from jazz. It’s an interesting line of thought – though not a particularly original one. I suspect jazz musicians have looked up to Bach for almost as long as jazz has been around.