(from Sp. jácaro, jaque: ‘ruffian’ and jacarandosa: ‘lively’).
A Spanish and Hispano-American dance and musical pattern used in stage productions, church villancicos and instrumental variation pieces in the 17th and 18th centuries. It belongs to the class of dances known as bailes, is rowdy and rambunctious in character and, as is customary with bailes (as opposed to danzas), is accompanied by castanets. According to Cotarelo y Mori, jácara originally designated ‘a gathering of ruffians and rogues, their life and customs, or … the picaresque woman; but it had to do more with the noisy and high-spirited than with the criminal’. J. Corominas (Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castella, Madrid, 1954–7) defined jácara as a lively song or brief entr’acte in which the knavish life is normally depicted, and described its development into a popular genre used to entertain theatre audiences between acts or at the end of presentations. Jácaras were often placed immediately after the first act of a comedia. They are recognizable from certain musical features and by the likable low-life characters or graciososwho sing them; the names Escarramán, Zurdo, Zurdillo, Talaverón and Clarín are associated with the genre. Particularly vivid examples involving blind characters, drunken horseplay or reprieves from imminent death (where a jácaras is performed in celebration) are found in Sebastián de Villaviciosa’s El hambriento, the anonymous El pardo, León Marchante’s Borracho y Talaverón and Pulga y chispa, and in La rubilla by Francisco de Avellaneda. Numerous further instances show up in the works of Calderón de la Barca, Cervantes, José de Cañizares, Francisco Gómez de Quevedo, Juan Vélez de Guevara and many others.
The church became as enamoured as the theatre with the jácaras – indeed, no other subgroup of villancico is more numerous. They are nearly always in a minor key (D minor being the most common) and in bouncy 6/8 metre with occasional hemiola, and are just as catchy and spirited as their counterparts in the theatre. Structurally, sacred jácaras settings usually consist of an estribillo (refrain) performed by the entire ensemble and a series of brief coplas (couplets or stanzas), usually set for a smaller group of soloists. Gutiérrez de Padilla’s performance instructions for A la xácara xacarilla indicate that the estribillo should be sung after every third coplas. Several Jácaras texts commonly recur and would have been familiar to audiences of the time; two of the most common opening lines are ‘Oigan, escuchen, atienden a la jacarilla’ (‘Listen, hear me out, pay attention to the jácara’) and ‘Vaya, vaya a la jacarilla’ (‘Rejoice, rejoice in the jácara’).
Although the melodic and harmonic material of the jácaras was not rigorously standardized, some elements recur in many instrumental settings. Indeed, several popular melodic motifs appear in almost every surviving example for Baroque guitar or keyboard; two of the commonest are shown in ex.1. Two standard harmonic progressions, shown with their variants in ex.2, serve as the underpinning for many jácaras. Both consist of four-bar units with pronounced hemiola in the last two bars. It became almost a cliché to present these two phrases in the prescribed order at the beginning of instrumental settings, as is seen in the opening phrases of the jácaras by Santiago de Murcia, Ruiz de Ribayaz, Sanz, Gueráu and Martín y Coll, and those in E-Mn 811, all of which show strong filial relationships. Although the preferred key is D minor, with G minor appearing as the second preference, scrutiny of performance parts reveals that many G minor settings were actually performed a 4th lower. Santiago de Murcia, Sanz, Ruiz de Ribayaz, Torres y Martínez Bravo and Roel del Río all described this practice, labelling it the ‘Spanish style’ and stating that musicians in Spain transposed down a 4th whenever they saw a G (treble) clef. The assertion is corroborated by performance instructions for De sus galas aprendan divinan madre (in GCA-Gc) and in the performance parts of Oigan, escuchen, atienden in the Biblioteca Nacional de Bolivia, La Paz (MS 59/273).
Among the many melodic and harmonic patterns (folías, villanos, vacas, canarios, marizápalos etc.) that served as the basis for improvisation in guitar and keyboard anthologies, the jácaras was of supreme importance, taking second place only to the pasacalles in popularity and number.