The castanets are a typical percussion instrument of flamenco and spanish music, which presents a distinctive sound from any other instrument and that together with the classical or flamenco spanish guitar are part of the folklore and culture of this country.
The castanets are more than three thousand years old, their invention is coined to the Phoenicians who made the first castanets or sticks, using common wood and thanks to trade they expanded throughout the Mediterranean zone, accentuating in countries such as present-day Croatia or Italy. However, it was Spain who welcomed the castanets in their culture, giving them the place and importance they have today, especially in flamenco music.
But long before being used in flamenco, castanets already had their place in classical music. Santiago de Murcia, one of the most important Spanish guitarists and composers of the Baroque, composed satirical entreacts called “jácaras” where castanets played a fundamental role. The variation was the compositional technique of this author, where a theme was repeated throughout the work presenting various changes. Thus, he managed to create interesting fandangos in 1730 where the classical guitar stood out and of course, the castanets.
Boccherini, composer and cellist of Italian origin, composed in 1798 a work for the infante Luis Borbón y Farnesio where the castanets had a leading role. On the other hand Richard Wagner, German composer, produced around 1845 an opera called Tannhauser, where you can hear the sound of castanets on Venusberg.
Entering the twentieth century, the composer and teacher Joaquín Rodrigo composed his work called Dos Danzas Españolas for Lucero Tena. The pieces were fundamentally created for castanets and orchestras, which premiered at the Pérez Galdós theater in 1966. Now, how did the castanets go from being just a musical instrument to being the instrument that accompanies a flamenco dancer?
In the mid-19th century, the Escuela Bolera de Baile was created, where the best dancers were prepared to be presented in Spanish theaters and tour part of Europe, especially Paris (France). The biggest attraction of this school was undoubtedly the use of castanets as an accompaniment to the dance centered on the movement of the arms. This technique is not unique to the Escuela Bolera, but also belongs to flamenco in general and is part of the similarities that both scenic expressions share.
In this way, castanets, although they are a milestone in flamenco, are also often used in other Spanish folk expressions. In fact, castanets are also part of the expression of folklore in Portugal and other Latin American countries. Finally, castanets are a key accompaniment in the dance and rhythmic structure of various musical compositions, being one of the most interesting and ancient percussion instruments that have survived over time to become the symbol of a whole culture and mainly of the Flamenco art in Spain.