The epithet ‘Folia’ has several meanings in music.
- Western classical music features both an “early Folia,” which can take different shapes, and the better-known “later Folia” (also known as “Follia” with double l in Italy, “Folies d’Espagne” in France, and “Faronel’s Ground” in England).
- “Early Folia“: Recent research suggests that the origin of the folia framework lies in the application of a specific compositional and improvisational method to simple melodies in minor mode. Thus, the essence of the “early Folia” was not a specific theme or a fixed sequence of chords but rather a compositional-improvisational process which could generate these sequences of chords.
- The “later Folia” is a standard chord progression (i-V-i-VII / III-VII-[i or VI]-V / i-V-i-VII / III-VII-[i or VI7]-V[4-3sus]-i) and usually features a standard or “stock” melody line, a slow sarabande in triple meter, as its initial theme. This theme generally appears at the start and end of a given “Folia” composition, serving as “bookends” for a set of variations within which both the melodic line and even the meter may vary. In turn, written variations on the “later Folia” may give way to sections consisting of partial or pure improvisation similar to those frequently encountered in the twelve-bar blues that rose to prominence in the twentieth century.
- Several sources report that Jean-Baptiste Lully was the first composer to formalize the standard chord progression and melodic line.
- Other sources note that the chord progression eventually associated with the “later Folia” appeared in musical sources almost a century before the first documented use of the “Folia” name. The progression emerged between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century in vocal repertory found in both Italian (“Canzoniere di Montecassino”, “Canzoniere di Perugia” and in the frottola repertoire) and Spanish sources (mainly in the “Cancionero Musical de Palacio” and, some years later, in the ensaladas repertoire). Even though the folía framework appeared almost at the same time in different countries with numerous variants that share similar structural features, it is not possible to establish in which country the framework originated.
There exists a folk tune with the name “Folía” in the Canary Islands.
Over the course of three centuries, more than 150 composers have used it in their works. The first publications of this theme date from the middle of the 17th century, but it is probably much older. Plays of the renaissance theatre in Portugal, including works by Gil Vicente, mention the folia as a dance performed by shepherds or peasants. The Portuguese origin is recorded in the 1577 treatise De musica libri septem by Francisco de Salinas.
Jean-Baptiste Lully, along with Philidor l’aîné in 1672, Arcangelo Corelli in 1700, Marin Marais in 1701, Alessandro Scarlatti in 1710, Antonio Vivaldi in his Opus 1 No. 12 of 1705, Francesco Geminiani in his Concerto Grosso No. 12 (which was, in fact, part of a collection of direct transcriptions of Corelli’s violin sonatas), George Frideric Handel in the Sarabande of his Keyboard Suite in D minor HWV 437 of 1727, and Johann Sebastian Bach in his Peasants’ Cantata of 1742 are considered to highlight this ‘later’ folia repeating theme in a brilliant way. Antonio Salieri‘s 26 variations, produced late in his career, are among his finest works.
In the 19th century, Franz Liszt included a version of the Folia in his Rhapsodie Espagnole, and Ludwig van Beethoven quoted it briefly in the second movement of his ♯Use_of_La_Folia">Fifth Symphony.
La Folia once again regained composers’ interest during the 1930s with Sergei Rachmaninov in his Variations on a theme by Corelli in 1931 and Manuel María Ponce and his Variations on “Spanish Folia” and Fugue for guitar.