History Behind The Spanish Bow

While The Spanish Bow’s main characters are fictionalized, composited, or completely imagined, many minor characters are drawn more directly from real life. I had great fun weaving factual incidents and historical persons into the story.

Queen Ena and King Alfonso

Queen Victoria Ena (granddaughter of the British Queen Victoria) survived many attacks on her life and character—from the assassination attempt made by an anarchist on her wedding day, to later criticisms from the Spanish public, who found her cool and uncharismatic. Married to King Alfonso XIII, an immature monarch with a roving eye, she struggled to produce heirs for a royal family whose power was already waning. In Feliu’s music, she finds brief moments of escape from her official duties, which brought the real queen more tragedy than joy. The Spanish royal family went into exile in 1931, after the Spanish Republic was proclaimed. Ena’s son, Don Juan, never ruled. Her grandson, Juan Carlos, is the current King of Spain.

Picasso and Guernica
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to paint his masterpiece, Guernica, for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World’s Fair, in Paris. He was inspired to create a testimony to the violence unleashed on the northern Spanish Basque town of that name just two weeks earlier. The mural is currently on display at the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid. Feliu meets Picasso while he is painting Guernica. The two Catalan exiles face similar challenges: how to reconcile art and politics, especially in the middle of a civil war, when allegiances and responsibilities are constantly shifting. (For a factual account of the painting, see Russell Martin’s Picasso’s War.) To see Guernica and other works by Spanish artists, visit the Museo Nacional Reina Sofía’s website.

Franco and Hitler
Francisco Franco was born in December 1892 coincidentally, the same month the cellist Feliu Delargo was born. Both boys were born small and weak, both revered their strong-willed mothers, and both developed conflicted ideas about the future of Spain. But I’ll leave these and other parallels to the reader. Franco rose to power leading the right-wing Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War and was Caudillo of Spain until his death in 1975—one of the most long-lived dictators, who saw Europe transformed by two world wars. My main characters try their best to avoid him, but how can one achieve prominence in Spain without crossing paths with the Caudillo?

was a tremendous fan of classical music (Wagner in particular), and understood well how music and the arts both influence and reflect politics. I’m sure he owned every record Feliu Delargo produced, and respected the cellist’s stoic style. Hitler and Franco met only once—in Hendaye, Spain, in 1940. And Feliu and Hitler? Perhaps better forgotten…

Varian Fry
Feliu and Al-Cerraz head to Marseilles after the Nazis invade Paris; they must have known something I didn’t, since I’d never heard of Varian Fry until I realized that Feliu and Al-Cerraz must have needed help from a person just like him. The real Fry, an “American Schindler,” raised money for refugees and traveled to Marseilles in 1940 to smuggle artists out of Vichy France. In a short period of time, he saved over two thousand lives. Fry died in obscurity and wasn’t recognized for his efforts until the 1990s.

Manuel de Falla and Edward Elgar
Cellist Feliu Delargo and pianist Justo Al-Cerraz turn to these real-life composers —one Spanish, one English—at junctures in the novel, searching for inspiration or mentorship. Falla is well known for his “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.” A museum dedicated to him stands near the foot of the Alhambra, in Granada.
Edward Elgar composed the Cello Concerto in E Minor just after World War I – its opening measures are suffused with modern sorrow—though he is equally well known for his “Pomp and Circumstance” marches. I was disappointed to hear that the U.K. is phasing out the 20-pound note featuring Elgar (in exchange for one featuring the economist Adam Smith), though Elgar continues to be admired by the British as one of their best composers.

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht
Weill, the Jewish-German theater composer, and Brecht, his songwriting partner, collaborated on the successful Threepenny Opera, as well as the lesser-known school opera, Der Jasager (“The Yes-sayer”). This obscure “teaching play,” based on a Japanese story, entices the violinist Aviva into staying in Germany, where she tours with Der Jasager’s performing troupe. Well known for their provocative, explicitly political works, Weill and Brecht both fled Nazi Germany in 1933. (To learn more about Kurt Weill and see his discography, visit the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.)

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