Nobody in the Tercio knew who that Legionnaire was, so audacious and reckless. These are the first verses of the “Bridegroom of Death”, a popular tune that, for decades, has represented one of the elite corps of the Spanish army the Legion. However, what has gone unnoticed throughout history is that this music, sung by Spanish legionaries for almost 100 years in all kinds of bloody battles, was originally a theme that was born to be performed in singing cafes and cabarets and which, later, was adapted to the military environment. This historical data on military music is just one of many that, from next March 31, will be made known to all Madrilenians who enroll in the “XIX Cycle of history and aesthetics of martial music” -a course month-long organized by the Institute of Military History and Culture.
It was then the year 1920, a hard time for Spain, as the Rif War took with it a large number of fledgling soldiers (novices, so to speak) sent from the Peninsula. Such was the drain of troops that the king, based on the idea of a military man named Jose Millan-Astray, was forced to create the so-called “Third of Foreigners”, a unit whose battlefield would be exclusively the north of Morocco and that he would receive specific training to adapt to the harsh conditions of the territory. The objectives of this unit, now almost a hundred years old, were clear: to shoot Moroccans in North Africa with courage and courage and, in turn, to become a strike force that always fought on the front line – the place of higher risk in any battle. However, what was not known at the time is that, with the creation of this operative group, the germ of what, in the not too distant future, would be the Spanish Legion, had just been planted.
A cabaret song
Once the Legion was established (around 1920 approximately), José Millán-Astray was elected as its commander, who tried to give the unit a special veneer. Specifically, the Spanish officer wanted to turn the legionaries into brave soldiers who lacked fear of death. He wanted, therefore, to create a combatant who to die for Spain would cause rejoicing and honor. The new thinking head of the Legion was in those lines when, inadvertently, one day he stumbled upon an emotional song in a singing café whose lyrics captivated him. It was “The Boyfriend of Death,” a piece of music that extolled and downplayed the very act of leaving this world.
The” Boyfriend of Death “was a charleston (a fashionable dance of the 20s) that used to be sung by Lola Montes. But it turns out that this artist, who performed this song in cafes and cabarets in Madrid and Africa, was heard one day by Millán Astray in Melilla. The Legion leader found it a beautiful song with wonderful lyrics. He was so impressed that he asked for a transcription to be made to change the rhythm and adapt the music to the military environment and, finally, he used it for the Legion, “explains Antonio Mena Calvo, Infantry Commander (RT), Corresponding Academician of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Historical Sciences of Toledo and Honorary Professor of History and Aesthetics of Music Marcia of the Institute of Military History and Culture.
The lyrics, as Mena points out, were perfect for Millan-Astray, as it summarized the philosophy that he tried to transmit to his legionaries “Each of the legion’s hymns represents something different. This refers to the transcendent fact of death. It refers to the fact that the legionary must praise death, not be afraid of it. In short, it conveys that death is nothing more than an act of service. This is a tradition in the European army, wherein the uniforms references to death are usually made so that the soldier does not grieve before it and feels that, in the case of death, he does so for the homeland and some ideals. That is, it does not do it in a wasteful and meaningless way
In turn, the Infantry Commander emphasizes that what happened with “The boyfriend of death” is not something strange, but is a regular throughout the history of Spanish and international military music “Much of the works The most representative and most emblematic soldiers of Spanish military music are not originally military, but come from zarzuelas, magazines, popular songs or the world of entertainment. An example is “The Volunteers”, which comes from a zarzuela. In the rest of the world, it has also happened with songs such as the “Gaudeamus Igitur” -which was a tavern song sung by university students- or the “Marseillaise”, which was originally the war song of the Army of the Rhine, which ended becoming a revolutionary anthem.
Years later, and contrary to what it might seem, the “Bridegroom of Death” did not get stuck once Millan-Astray adapted it for his newly created Legion, but continued to transform into a processional march. Specifically, what is currently one of the most representative songs of this body, was from a military march to a procession song widely used in Holy Week. The boyfriend of death” has been metamorphosing. It was first born as a light song that was performed in singing cafes, places where there were small orchestras to listen to music while having a drink. Then it became a military march at a legionary pace -160 steps per minute. Then he leaped and became a slow processional march for the Cristo de Mena. Eventually, it became the Legion’s anthem of the fallen. It is curious that something that was born as a ditty has ended up becoming what it has become , completes Meaning.
A military man who gives a lot of the note
At almost eighty years of age, retired commander Antonio Mena Calvo talks about military music with a glint in his eyes similar to that of teenagers when they are passionate about a subject. And, despite having started his career in the musical world when he barely had a dozen summers behind him, the time has not reduced his passion for what, since always, has been his true vocation. On the contrary, experience has helped him accumulate knowledge and has made him one of the greatest experts in his field.
At present, the world of notes means that Mena does not have a minute of respite, since she organizes everything from military music concerts to seminars on the same subject, all of which is dotted with continuous articles (more than two hundred to date) that he publishes in several thematic magazines. However, if there is something that excites this retired officer, it is being able to share his knowledge with the rest of the world, something that led him to create the history and aesthetics of martial music courses, no less than 22 years ago, “which will be taught in its XIX edition in just.
Military, music expert What is Antonio Mena’s job?
Well, I am many things. Until recently, and for twenty years, I have been the President of the Music Section of the Association of Friends of the Military Museums, the director of «La Retreat de Madrid» for fifteen years, Vice President of the Association of Spanish Military (AME ) and, besides, I have practiced the profession of a social graduate. After my military life, once retired, I have dedicated myself to what I like the most: music, the only thing for which I have always had a vocation. At the moment I organize concerts on military music, conferences, I teach the course of “Course of History and Aesthetics of Martial Music” -of which I am founder- and I write in seven magazine show was your vocation for music born?
I usually explain this with an anecdote. When I was little I lived in Toledo, on the main street, and at that time – in the years of the war – troops marched by there every day. As I was a baby, my mother would leave me alone when she went out to watch the soldiers march, and it turns out that, on several occasions, she found me trying to get out of the crib to go to the window to listen to the bugles and drums. That is, it comes to me since I was little. Later I was lucky that my father took me many times, since I was a child, to concerts of military music. Also, my father – who was a director of military music – taught many instruments at home when I was 10 years old, and in the end, I became fond of it and started singing in a choir. I joined the army at 16 because it was one of the few exits that I could have with my level of studies. Then I was climbing and until today.
What is the origin of military music?
The ordinance touches, that is, the set of conventional acoustic signals that serve to transmit command orders to the troop during combat and regulate the daily acts of the soldier’s life from the moment he gets up until he goes to bed. They were used, for example, to say that the enemy was coming, that they had to advance, etc. From the first moment that men interact and confront each other, these touches and, therefore, military music are born. The first instruments that were used were the horns of animals, the seashells. Anything that served to give a warning. On the contrary, the modern concept that we have of military music did not come into being until the XV century, when armies were organized. Music, in short, is something of capital importance for the military sphere, because it facilitates actions during battle and helped, for example, the Roman Empire in its conquests. How did you come up with creating a course related to martial music?
Well, since I have been in love with military music all my life, after moving around a lot I managed to create the Music Section of the Association of Friends of the Military Museums and from that moment I began to give lectures and organize thematic concerts and monographs – for example military music in the War of Independence or that of the Tercios de Flanders-. With these acts, we saw that there was a generalized belief that this type of music is only made with drum beats, and that is something wrong because all the great composers – Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn have made military music. So we thought we had to teach people what military music is, and the only way to teach people is with classes, no more, no less. That is why I organized in 1991 the first introductory seminar to military music, which we gave at the headquarters of the Army Museum. Then they liked it and they suggested we get it out through the Military Historical Service. From that moment on everything was easy and we were reissuing and perfecting it year after year we started teaching it with cassette tapes and now we do it with a computer and the constant support of images. At present, attendees listen to more than 200 compositions and we give a CD with a dossier with hundreds of pages of support and information and all the works that we hear during the course.
What is specifically covered in the cycle?
The course begins with music in ancient times, dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic, and a few strokes of music in Assyria and Sumeria. Then we get into the music in Greece and Rome (where they already had their military music bands), and now we move on to Europe, which ranges from “Los Cantares de Gesta” to monodic weapons songs through romances. After that, we turned to the music that was played in jousts and tournaments (what is called heraldic music). From there we travel to the Renaissance and the SXV –time when military music as such was born, since when armies began to be created- and from there to modern music. At the same time, we study the instruments used in this type of music, their history, their characteristics, and their structure and, how could it be otherwise, the different genres – the ordinance, the religious military music throughout the history (closely linked to the army). Anyway, a very long list. We also went through the Civil War and World War II.
What would you say to someone to join the course?
I would tell you to take the course for many reasons. The first is that a door will be opened to an increasingly unknown world – that of military music – because there are not many parades or events in which music of this type can be heard (television, for example, he only plays military music at eight in the morning on Saturdays). Then I would advise it because it helps you to know the different genres of military music, which are many. After all, almost all existing genres have an equivalent in the military world.