Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Man Who Wrote The Festival Of The Standard

Behind every good Mallorcan fiesta there is a good man or woman, usually a saint. Rare is the fiesta that can call upon royalty, and when it does, the royal choice is limited. Having decided to dump 12 September as Mallorca Day (and shift it to 31 December), one of the royals has fallen by the wayside. Jaume II, whose coronation was the pretext for the former Mallorca Day, has stood aside to let his father reign supreme in fiesta or celebration terms.

Jaume I, Good King James of Aragon, where would we be without him? Had he not engaged in some thirteenth century Aragonese empire building, the course of Mallorcan history would have been different, though one suspects not greatly. If there was going to be a conqueror of the island, then he was always likely to have come from the general Catalan region. There had, after all, been the odd effort prior to Jaume.

Jaume I is obviously the man behind the Festival of the Standard, but in its current form the festival owes as much to someone who wasn't royalty. He wasn't a saint either. He was in fact, and variously, a lawyer, a painter, a draughtsman, a journalist, a teacher of mathematics, a musician, a master builder of fortifications, an urban planner, an astronomer and a mapmaker. He was clearly quite a clever chap. Oh, and he also wrote poetry, and it is this to which the festival owes a great debt.

He was Pere d'Alcàntara Penya i Nicolau. Born in Palma in 1823, he has been described as the finest Mallorcan dramatist of the Renaixença, the Catalan Renaissance of the mid-nineteenth century. Did I not mention that he was also a dramatist? When he was not involved with the theatre, designing a plan for the development of Palma, sorting out the odd railway project, undertaking the building of barracks, hospitals and churches, Pere found time for poetry.

In Barcelona in May 1859 at the height of the Romanticism era of European art, music and intellectualism, the Renaissance was epitomised by the re-establishment of the Jocs florals. Literally meaning floral games, they were in fact poetry contests and had been in long-ago mediaeval times.

Three years later, a work by Pere featured at the games. His poem was not in conventional Catalan; it was in Mallorquí. Its title was Sa Colcada (cavalcade), which he had penned the year before. Pere was to be unaware what impact this poem would eventually have. He died in 1906.

Romanticism represented something of a rejection of modernity. It alluded to times past, especially to mediaeval times. It honoured heroism, emotions and folk art and traditions. In Sa Colcada these various elements came into play and collided. The cavalcade was how things once were with the Festival of the Standard before it went into its years of decline that were attributed to the Bourbon takeover of Mallorca in the early eighteenth century and the Nueva Planta decree of Felipe V.

The poem starts by saying that no one knows the story any more of "our great King James". Very few people can still remember the cavalcade as it used to be. What a day it used to be, the day of the festival. Knights on horseback in procession. All the monks and priests, the regiments. Ladies with gold ribbons. Floats with ladies and gentlemen. There was music from the xeremier pipers, the sound of harpsichords. There was dancing, and everyone was friends on that day, whether they were masters or servants, employers or the employed.

Thirty years after the poem had been presented and received an award at the Jocs florals, it was included in a collection of Mallorcan poetry. It was at this point that it began to become popular. In 1935, it was recited during the Festival of the Standard, but it wasn't to be until 1965 that it was recited again - events had got in the way.

It has been recited every year since then, and the importance that it has assumed has to do with the fact that it is the clearest link to the festival's past if only through its words. The cavalcades of former times have long ceased. The celebration of Jaume I persists, but it is not in the way that it once was. In order to understand how it was, there is Pere's poem. Not a bad achievement for a lawyer, a painter, a draughtsman ... .

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