La Folia is, without any doubt, the single most fashionable melody of all times (at least, in Western music). Emerging from Spain or Portugal around the end of the 16th century, La Folia captured the imagination of all sorts of composers (including Bach, Marais, Vivaldi, etc. – all the way to Vangelis more recently) for a very intense 250 years! I wonder which melody could be a (distant) second to that. Some Beatles’ song, 230 years from now?

There is even a Folia website dedicated to tracing all instances of the melody across centuries of music, with many variants, two major stages of use of the theme, and all sorts of interesting trivia around the subject. The list of composers who wrote variations on the La Folia theme is long, long, long!

Why is the melody so catchy? What accounts for the response across cultures, across eras, across musical languages? What would be the jazz equivalent (but still a long way behind) of La Folia? Is there a similar phenomenon across other musical traditions, outside the Western “cathedral”? [Of course, across popular music, one sees mini-Folia phenomena, such as Yesterday, Guantanamera, María Cristina, etc.  But all of these really seem very recent and local, by comparison.]

The fragment above is a piece of Vivaldi’s variations on La Folia, as played by Daniel Hope and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Enjoy.

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