La Folia – – Description and All Fifteen Movements


Fifteen Variations on “La Folia”

La Folia (literally “madness”) was a Portuguese dance from the renaissance, and it has been used by many composers in the ensuing centuries.

This extravaganza involves various forces each exploring different facets of “folia” ranging from the baroque original style, expanded upon by a guitar quartet, on to a slightly zany exploration of the octatonic mode, then a 5 time string quartet followed by the sad (Ophelia) and the madcap (improvisation and Pathelin), a brass quintet version called “Modal Madness” in which the horn player gets quite emotional and ending with a variation that pays homage to the Brazilian bossa nova, thus bringing us back to the Portuguese original in modern garb.

Youtube La Folia playlist

1st movement: “Let’s sing la Folia”

This is for voices and guitars. It introduces the theme as a repeated verse on voice 1 and then adds a couple of vocalize additions above and below it. The cuckoo style interpolations by voice 3 presages the madness of the third movement. . . . !

Let’s sing La Folia Score

2nd movement: Guitar Quartet

La Folia guitar quartet – Score and parts

This re-introduces the theme and then adds various neo-renaissance divisions, ending up with the main theme a quaver apart between parts to give the effect of dreaming empty headedness (or possibly even madness itself?). The guitarists are also asked occasionally to tap their guitars, hence that knocking sound!

3rd movement: mad multimodal variation

This a-cappella version uses three altos and one bass, a cappella, i.e. me singing on multitrack. It explores a couple of alternative modes for the theme: Octatonic and Dorian and it also explores the theme of madness a little. Beware!

Score of multi-modal vocal quartet version

4th movement: String quartet

La Folia string quartet score and parts

This string quartet version starts in the major (Ionian) mode in a fast 5 time and explores some slightly Brittenesque ideas. After a short interlude which grasps helplessly for the home key the time changes to 7/8 and the mode returns to a sort of minor (aeolian) and the feeling of madness becomes almost “acceptable”. The major theme in 5 time returns and we get a foretaste of the movements to come!

The score and parts are available at musicaneo

5th movement: Ophelia’s distraction

This version of la Folia (or Faronell’s ground, as we English used to call it) is based on the scene in which Ophelia makes her last appearance in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, mourning the death of her father Polonius. I was having difficulty wiping away the tears as I set these amazingly powerful words.

The closer I got into the meanings of the words and the references to the events in the play the more I empathised with dear sweet innocent Ophelia (pity my voice isn’t quite feminine enough – ah well!) . . . (BTW I also play Laertes in this scene!).

6th movement: Improvised version of La Folia

Influenced in part by the madcap antics of Michael Bentine and the Goons, this improvisation involves a guitar, a tapping finger, two temple bells and four eunuch flutes (mirlitons) at various pitches (including my bottom note!)

[Eunuch flutes are an ancient and probably inauthentic equivalent of the kazoo – mine is made of olive wood and the “membrane” is from an old plastic shopping bag, as advised by the maker!]

7th movement : The Mad Scene from the Farce of Pierre Pathelin

The scene that I have chosen from this farce from 15th century France is the one in which Pierre Pathelin pretends to be on his deathbed hallucinating, in order to persuade the draper that he cannot have seen him at the market and he cannot have given him that cloth for which he is demanding payment.

This “modernised” version that I have created shows Pathelin stealing jeans rather than cloth, and hallucinating in various languages rather than merely various French dialects, mainly to give it a more global appeal. But it follows the original quite strictly in most other respects. Honest! 😉

(Crosses fingers behind back!)

(er well… come to think of it, it’s probably worth looking at the Pathelin page to get all the multilingual jokes, anyway!)

For the text of my “modernised” version please click here: Pathelin modernised version

For the original text of the whole play, please click here: Philip Stewart’s transcription

The instrumentation supporting the spoken voices comprises guitar and two eunuch flutes.

8th movement

Modal Madness for brass quintet (with optional acting)

Modal Madness for brass quintet Score and parts

A journey taking the tune of la Folia through various modes including octatonic, dorian, neapolitan minor and an invented, almost atonal, mode for the emotional horn player.   The music here is based on the first movement and expanded somewhat.

This was originally intended for the players to join in with words (spoken and sung) at various points in the piece, but a plainer version, without words,  is also available

9th movement: Bossa Nova

Bossa Nova (la Folia) – flute, oboe, violin, cello, jazz band – Score and parts

This uses: flute, oboe, violin, cello and jazz band

In view of the Portuguese origin of the tune, it seems appropriate to end with a Brazilian dance style!

Note: a new version of this variation, called “Breezy Streets”. has been created for “Spark”

(recorder, melodica, violin, cello and piano)

10th movement: Bossa Folia (La Folia Bossa Nova) for 8 cellos


11th movement: Bossa Folia (La Folia Bossa Nova) for string orchestra


12th movement: Bossa Folia (La Folia Bossa Nova) for clarinet octet or clarinet choir


13th movement: Bossa Folia (La Folia Bossa Nova) for flute octet or flute choir


14th movement: La Folia in Swing Style


15th movement: La Folia in Bossa Nova Style