Cante Jondo

by Paul Dresman



Out the window, above a brook, April blossoms. Orange trees, lemon trees, irises purpling dawn and dusk. Granite boulders, my sentimentalities, a red wheelbarrow full of blue leaves. Cypresses on the ridge, snowy peaks on the Sierra Nevada in the distance–what can I convey about perspective? This isn’t California.



Living in the Pineda family house (the same family as early nineteenth-century Mariana) high up under the Alhambra, the music composer Manuel de Falla once hosted a tertulia (a gathering) of Picasso, Lorca, and Segovia at this very table. In the next room, the now-stringless zither. It was the time of Cante Jondo, the festival about gypsy music, modern music, and poetry, about the Spanish guitar and the art of art–here in Granada, 1922: Cante Jondo. Deep Song.



Deep song: the haunting howl of a profoundly hurt Roma.
Deep song: musically trilling invisible birds in shady Alpujarra sycamores above a stream tumbling down the mountain.
Deep song: lament of the sailor at the rail, a departing ship, his crying drowned by the ship-rocking engines. Lament of the speechless mother, his note in her hand. Morocco, Fez.
Deep song: the sudden gusting wind across the slopes of fir, pine, and cedar, the roar of surf on far beaches. All the Republican exiles sailing to Mexico.
Deep Song: all the fractured plans to save humanity.
Deep song: graffiti on a whitewashed wall in Granada:
Isabel: elegies volar conmigo
(Isabel, choose to fly with me)



Manuel de Falla battled arthritis later in his life. Did he remove the strings himself? Did he resist the temptation to try and finger the strings to hear the music? Did the unplucked strings remind him of his infirmity? Or was it the murder of the poet in Granada, Federico, who had given him the zither in the first place?



Stringed instruments may have begun in nature when a human first heard sinews of a tortoise shell hung in a tree to catch the breeze and strum nature’s own given melodies. Thus, the ancient Greek aeolian harp.
Orpheus played with his fingers, but the poet and the singer play their words with their breath, a circle of breathing and singing words on the tongue–come up through the chimney, the throat, from the heart–or “form the heart’ because the entire being responds to inspiration al- together.



“The wind strums the stringless zither in my heart.’
It is, above all, quiet in the empty house of the composer, where nobody dwells but the relics of a life gone by and long concluded.
Strumming invisible strings, the wind plays in the eaves, across the leaves, through the narrow, twisting lanes of Granada.




A stringless zither is like a white horse on a moonless night.

Or a mountain covered in snow, hidden by clouds.

Or a ghost who sings a song lost in time.