This article was translated by John R. Bopp

For generations, we Basques have been raised with the idea that our culture, and its manifestations, were basic, unrefined, and unworthy of that “capital C” that only “superior” cultures deserve.  At most we were the owners of rough folkloric manifestations that served to entertain the peasants in town squares.

A representation of a Basque “romería” by Aurelio Arteta.  The music you hear here, like the music that was heard in the halls of Versailles, was Basque.
A representation of a Basque “romería” by Aurelio Arteta.  The music you hear here, like the music that was heard in the halls of Versailles, was Basque.

We’ve heard it so many times for so many years that we believe most Basques accepted it as an absolute truth, irrefutable proof.  But the truth always ends up coming through.  One fine day, we discovered a French composer named Maurice Ravel, who was actually Basque; another day, we found out that one of the great Spanish Renaissance composers, Juan de Anchieta, was also Basque; furthermore, we found that one of the legends of popular music in Spanish, Atahualpa Yupanqui, was of Basque descent…

We’re learning that we’re no different from the so-called “great cultures,” because there is no such thing; there are only “cultures”.  Each of them, each culture, is equally important, and the “greatness” of many is often due to how they’ve been able to impose themselves on those they subjugated or annihilated.  Yes, Basque culture isn’t “great”, but then again, we don’t really want it to be.

Cover of sheet music to Marin Marais’ “Le Basque”
Cover of sheet music to Marin Marais’ “Le Basque”

All this came up today because we found the sheet music to a Baroque composition by Parisian composer Marin Marais, called “Le Basque“.  It didn’t take long for us to discover that in the halls of Versailles during the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, that is, in the heart of the “refined music” of at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries, the melodies and dances of the court were closely linked to the traditional melodies and dances of the Basques.

I’m sure there are readers who already knew this.  We didn’t.  That’s why we were left dumbfounded.  We can’t imagine the composers and nobility of that France that “set trends” would notice the melodies of a “primitive” and “unrefined” people like the Basques.  But that’s where the mistake is: thinking that this traditional Basque culture is “primitive” and can only give rise to “unrefined” manifestations.  That brings us back to the beginning of this article.  As a concept, we must stop thinking that there are “Cultures” and “cultures”.  Specifically, we must stop letting others make us believe that Basque culture is nothing more than an accessory.

We found out about this whole story thanks to the work of the Diatessaron Ensemble and the work of dancer Peio Otano and his Historical Dance Workshop, called “Herregelak”.  They found this connection and prepared a music and dance show with the same title as Marais’ work: “Le Basque”.

When one reads these things, one begins to understand the reasons that brought Voltaire to speak about the Basques in his work.  He defined them in La Princesse de Babylone, the Basques or Vascones, as a “people that inhabit and dance at the feet of the Pyrenees”.  Moreover, still in chapter 11 of this same book, he defines them as “sober and brave, tireless and fun” (page 120-121 in this .pdf version).

We can’t help but gather this information up and share it with our readers.  It’s true that we’re breaking our rule about writing about topics that the international media publishes, but we feel that our readers wouldn’t forgive us this exception.  

We’ll leave you with three videos of the show, the note from the Gara newspaper saved on the Dantzan website, and the .pdf of the project’s presentation.  Also, we’ll leave you with the Spotify link to enjoy the album by the Diatessaron Ensemble.

Le Basque – Ensemble Diatessaron y Erregelak from Elena Murguia on Vimeo.

Le Basque from Elena Murguia on Vimeo.

Ensemble Diatessaron – Instrumental from Elena Murguia on Vimeo.


Dantzan – 230/5/2006 – Euskadi

«Le Basque», danzas de Euskal Herria en Versalles

“Le Basque” se estrenó el año pasado en Musikaste, pero no ha sido sino hasta ahora cuando ha iniciado su recorrido por diversos escenarios. Recientemente pudo verse en Ablitas y Antsoain, dentro del festival Escena, y próximamente se representará en el renovado Leidor de Tolosa, en el marco de la Quincena Musical y el 750 aniversario de la fundación de la villa papelera. Paralelamente, los componentes del Enssemble Diatessaron, que dirige Elena Martínez de Murguía, ultiman la grabación de un disco con la música del espectáculo.

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