La Copla Española: Concha Piquer

La Copla has evolved as a uniquely Spanish artistic expression, through song, of popular sentiment: sentiment narrated in lyrics that tell stories set to the music of guitars, palillos, pianos or trumpets.

The genre derives from popular verse, from the rhapsodies and songs of medieval minstrels, or those singing in later times in the corrales, finally finding expression in the voices of the great divos and divas of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Copla was born of this fusion between the picaresque Tonadilla and Cuplé, with the added influence, through Flamenco, of an Andalusian and Gypsy spirit, that harks back to its Moorish roots and is a vibrant reflection of diversity of the cultural melting pot that Andalusia has always been: from the olive groves of Jaen to the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Cadiz, Huelva and Málaga, the potters workshops on the banks of the Guadalquivir in Seville or the mines of Sierra Morena, the rich taste of Andalusia pervades the genre.


Antonio Quintero, Rafael de León and Manuel Quiroga were a trio of composers, poets and musicians, who are remembered for their joint authorship of many of the most popular coplas. Quintero and León wrote the lyrics and Quiroga the music. Between 1940 and 1965 this prolific trio wrote thousands of songs, which were recorded by the leading singers of the genre and achieved lasting popularity. These are just a few of the best known:

A la lima y al limón
Ojos verdes
La Lirio
Francisco Alegre
A tu vera
La niña de fuego
Ay pena, penita, pena
Y sin embargo te quiero
No me quieras tanto
Romance de valentía
La Zarzamora
Romance de la Reina Mercedes
Yo soy ésa.
Limosna de amores
Capote de grana y oro
La Salvaora
Amante de abril y mayo
María de la O
Maruja Limón
La Loba
Carmen de España

At that time in the country’s history, a time of rationing and shortages, Copla was played above all on the radio. The songs of Quintero, León and Quiroga and the other writers of the time were never off the airwaves. The genre was the first to benefit from this relatively new technology and even today you will hear people reminiscing about how they remember their mothers or grandmothers singing along to these songs whilst cooking or doing other housework. They are part of the fabric of those times.

There were other composers of note and it would be remiss not to mention Salvador Valverde, José Antonio Ochaíta, Juan Solano and Ramón Perelló.

Copla was immensely popular for a couple of decades but as the country’s airwaves opened up to newer sounds and rhythms, primarily from English speaking countries, it suffered a dip in popularity. It became something of a forgotten or even sidelined genre in the seventies and eighties, but as one of the performers in a Tribute to Manuel Quiroga at Madrid’s Palacio de Los Deportes in 1988 said: there are many, many artists “who would not be where we are today if we had not been carried here by (your) songs”.


We cannot begin our stroll through the delights of this genre in any other company than that of Concha Piquer.

Concepción Piquer López was born in Valencia on 8th December 1908 and died in Madrid on 12th December 1990. She was a singer and actress and one of the most important figures in the history of Copla. Her interpretations of many of the key songs in the genre, such as Ojos Verdes, Tatuaje, Y Sin Embargo Te Quiero, En Tierra Extraña and many others set the standard. She didn’t just sing the songs, she owned them bringing a unique creativity and expressiveness that have never really been equalled.

She was the fifth child born to a poor family in Valencia. Her elder siblings had all died in their infancy before she was born. When she was eleven she made her stage début at the Teatro Segueras in Valencia and was studying singing with the Maestro Laguna.

She came to the attention of Manuel Penella, who was preparing the presentation of his Opera El Gato Montés in New York. on 13th September 1922, she sang his composition El Florero in the interval at the première. She went on to spend five years in the United States, singing on Broadway and in many other theatres around the country.

El Florero

In 1923 she made a short “talkie”, one of the many tests that Lee De Forest was making as he experimented with and perfected his Phonofilm sound synch system. The song En Tierra Extraña dates from this period. It tells the story of group of Spanish artists celebrating Christmas Eve in New York. Prohibition was in force and the only way to get a bottle of “Vino Español” was from the local pharmacy on prescription. They were feeling pretty homesick and making the bottle last as long as they could when Antonio Álvarez’ pasodoble “Suspiros de España” came on the radio. They all felt just that little bit further from home.

En Tierra Extraña

She returned to Spain, where she performed at the Teatro Romea in Madrid and in the Coliseum in Barcelona. She filmed El negro que tenía el alma blanca in Paris. She went on to make a number of films: La Bodega (Benito Perojo)in 1930, Yo Canto Para Ti (Fernando Roldán) in 1935, La Dolores (Florián Rey) in 1940, Filigrana (Luis Marquina) in 1949 and Me Casé Con Una Estrella (Luis César Amadori) in 1951.

Ojos Verdes

The poet Rafael de León met Concha Piquer while she was performing at the Teatro Lope de Vega in Seville. He was just starting out and this was a defining moment for both of them as Concha Piquer went on to perform many the songs he later composed with Quintero and Quiroga in her shows all over the world.


Romance de la Otra

In 1933 she married the bullfighter Antonio Márquez. They had one daughter, Conchita Márquez Piquer.

La Niña de la Estación – 1922

Her last performance was in January 1958 at the Teatro Victoria in Isla Cristina (Huelva) where she sang Mañana Sale. She decided to retire because she had been having problems with her voice and had had to undergo treatment that included her not being able to speak for three years.

Mañana Sale

She was never to perform in public again although contractual obligations with Columbia meant she carried on recording albums until 1963. the most successful song from this final period was Cinco Farolas.

Cinco Farolas

Concha Piquer’s discography is so extensive that we really should talk more about other extraordinary songs such as El Romance De La Reina Mercedes, Romance De Valentía, Y Sin Embargo Te Quiero, La Parrala, No Me Quieras Tanto, Antonio Vargas Heredia, Yo Soy Ésa, or Cárcel De Oro but we will see them later in the series in the voices of other singers who have also performed them.

A street was named after her in Valencia and her house is now a museum.

4 Responses to La Copla Española: Concha Piquer

  1. Thank you. Ojos Verdes was lovely.

  2. waldron says:

    Concha Piquer es el más grande de los cantantes españoles, su voz es única

  3. waldron says:

    Concha Piquer is the largest of the Spanish singers, her voice is unique

  4. waldron says:

    I love this woman

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