One evening, a full moon shone brightly over the bay at Cullera. It was in the spring of 1989 and on a platform outside the restaurant the local brass band sat waiting. In a few days Antonio Ruiz ‘Soro II’ would be promoted to full matador and tonight, after a gala dinner,  they were to perform a pasodoble written in his honor. Among the musicians, ready to play his part, sat his brother Vicente Ruiz ‘El Soro’, the popular Valencian matador and, surprisingly, a gifted trumpet player. Some years later I was invited to a music festival in the village of Buñol, not far from where maestro Manuel Penella wrote his very taurine opera ‘El Gato Montés’. At a concert in the local theater the magnificent philharmonic orchestra ‘La Artística de Buñol’ performed the pasodoble Vicente Barrera. However the highlight of the evening was the world premiere of ‘¡Oreja! ¡Escucha!’ a piece of taurine music by the Dutch composer Jan Bus and dedicated to me. 

All these musical events took place in the Spanish province of Valencia which has a long and outstanding tradition and it is universally acknowledged that the best Spanish musicians (especially those on woodwinds) come from around these parts. Joaquín Rodrigo, the composer of the well known ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’, was born in the village of Sagunto, only 18 miles to the north of the capital.

There are about 400 pasodobles that can be heard in plaza de toros all over the taurine world. Best known are: ’Pan y Toros’ (written in 1864 as part of a zarzuela, a spanish operetta), ‘España Cañí’ (1922), ‘Capote de Grana y Oro’ (written in 1951 especially for the velvet voice of Juanita Reina), ‘Francisco Alegre’, ‘El Relicario’ and my favorite, the hauntingly beautiful ‘Nerva’.

Many matadores – even the most humble – have their ‘own’ pasodoble which are usually played while they perform. There’s ‘Eres Tú Manzanares’ and ‘Pablo Lozano’ praising the recently deceased ‘Muleta de Castilla’. ‘Marcial Eres El Más Grande’ is dedicated to the inventor of the ‘Mariposa’, the butterfly pass and ‘El Cordobes’ is in honor of the one and only Manuel Benítez. Enrique Ponce has been musically recognized many times as has Julián López ‘El Juli’, ‘Morante de la Puebla’, Andrés Roca Rey and more recently, Román.

But it’s not only pasodobles that pay a musical homage to the taurine world. From the very beginning, Spanish popular music and the corrida have been closely connected. It resulted in many songs about fierce toros, handsome, courageous toreros and glorious or tragic afternoons. Here are a few examples:

In 1920 a bull called ‘Bailaor’ took the life of the legendary matador José Gómez Ortega ‘Joselito’. Both bull and bullfighter immediately became part of national musical folklore:

This song by Rafael Farina reflects on that dark day: “That spring, in infinite pain, / Spain lamented the death of Joselito, / in the plaza of Talavera.”

Twenty seven years later, Manuel Rodríguez ‘Manolete’, probably the most popular of all, was killed in Linares. Poems mourning the bullfighter appeared on every street corner and songs about him were sung on stages in music halls around the country. The following lines are from a ballad by ‘La Niña de Antequera’: “Do not weep women of Córdoba, / but take comfort. / For Manolo lives and is in heaven. / Manolete will be immortal.”

It isn’t just the death of a famous torero which brings out the Spanish soul in song. Romance certainly can do that too. Here is one by ‘Imperio de Triana’ about a girl who is so much in love with a bullfighter, she’ll do anything to win his heart: “In a corner of Granada / filled with sunlight and flowers, / lived a beautiful gypsy girl who / dedicated her beauty / to the best of all toreros.” Dressed in her fineries she visits the bullring and of course it doesn’t take long before she gets her man.

But perhaps the highest accolade comes from Spain’s best known flamenco singer ‘Camarón de la Isla’ in his song ‘Arte y Majestad’ about the extraordinary matador Curro Romero: “In a village near Sevilla, / Curro Romero was born. / He’s from Camas this torero. / When he opens his cape he shows art and majesty. / Curro Romero, / you are the essence of all toreros!”

The funniest song I know about a bullfighter is in English and was recorded in 1937. Performed by ‘Ukelele Man’ George Formby, it is called The Lancashire toreador and here are a few lines from it: “Don Pedro, the great bull-fighting hero, / the Lancashire Toreador / They cheer me and / when the bull gets near me / To show how far a brave man can go / with the bull I danced the Tango.”

The world of bullfighting is full of musical treasures. Not only inside, but also outside the arena. So sit back, listen and enjoy.

Crónica de Pieter Hildering

Fotografias de Mateo de Tauroimagenplus