Today, Valencia is known for three things: the Paella (a delicious Valencian rice dish), for oranges and for the beauty of its mascletas. That may be an oversimplification of this beautiful city, but these three things certainly add to the fame and charm of Valencia. This article is a brief explanation of the mascletà and it’s symphonic characteristics and similarities. For those who haven’t experienced the power of its emotional frequency, it might be somewhat difficult to understand. I hope this article will help clear up that misunderstanding.
The traditional mascletà is “a symphony of explosions that comes from a coordinated firing of fireworks.” The name mascletà is derived from the old “masclets” which look like little iron cannons when loaded with gunpowder and e-matched in a symmetrical series all along the ground. In Valencia its most common use is in macletades, which are charges wrapped in multicolored paper weighing between 2 and 3 pounds. These powder-filled mascletades are fastened to the ground using e-match and arranged in stages: sections fired continuously, producing loud, thunderous explosive sounds. These masclets are most commonly fired during the daytime (usually around noon) or specifically at the end of a religious celebration that requires powerful signification.
From the 1940s to the present, mascletas have evolved from simply being loud firecrackers filling the air with explosive sound, to emotionally laden (and expertly controlled) sonic percussions designed to have a cadence, rhythm, and an apotheosis and climax. The mascletada are distinguished particularly by their explosive rate— the force their explosions increase from less to more—from simply being loud low frequency sounds, to an inundation of powerfully engulfing sound waves. These shots are produced manually, but synchronized and mechanized in order to create the turbulent harmony that makes the fireworks evoke such emotion. Air elements such as exploding rockets, mortar shots with aerial shells, etc., have been introduced as part of the mascletà over time. Also, other sound effects like sirens and whistles have been added as “new instruments” to this uniquely percussive symphony.
I have only been an aficionado of the mascletà since the mid 1970s, but after researching the subject, I believe that the mascletà we know today originated somewhere in the early 1960s. Unlike common fireworks, mascletà appear to stimulate the body through rhythmic, somewhat percussive musical sounds. In fact, the classic structure of the mascletà can be thought of as almost symphonic in its structure.
The four movements of a mascletà symphony
As with music, the sound of this unique symphony requires somewhat of a prelude prior to the explosive noise that will follow. First, there is the introduction. Then the first movement begins to explode—all occurring after the initial ignition of the Valencian fireworks. There is an aerial announcement (explosive instead of vocal or instrumental) that seems to announce that something important is about to occur. And the mascletà begins building in carefully developed stages—from its initially sparse number of charges to its eventual stentorian brawn.
The aerial effects (although there have been times that these are accompanied by small ground effects like groups of firecrackers, whistles or colored smoke) usually end with a distinctive explosion of some kind to indicate that that particular section is over.
The second movement is the central part of the mascletà. As the ground aspect is developed with its controlled explosions (coupled by deliberate delays within groups), additional mechanized and sequenced explosions create further time delays. In this section, though, the so-called Rastros de Truenos (translation: “thunder trail”) has a very important task: it is the filler for the pulsating rhythm of the production. These smaller explosions essentially never stop so that the mascletà symphony won’t have any silent moments within. During its progression, the various concussions have to gradually increase in number and in intensity so that the feeling of an impending crescendo is both heard and felt. A good mascletà occurs during this stage only if the master pyrotechnician (maestro Pirotecnico) has created a series of frighteningly intense explosions. This is what the art of mascletà is all about.
Normally, depending on budget and location, the ground section of the mascletà is accompanied by aerial effects. The key word here is accompaniment, however; the aerial effects should never hide the spirit and power of the ground explosions. Otherwise, it would be considered a mascletà aerea (aerial mascletà) instead. Without a doubt, the third movement is the part of the mascletà that most spectators like and come to see. It is sometimes referred to as: “The Ground Earthquake.” This is the critical moment; this is what the pirotecnico study hard to learn and perfect. It is essential that the controlled explosions during this section go from very intense ground blasts to a development of more powerful “thunders” in just a few seconds to simulate the feel of an actual earthquake. It is a carefully planned (secretly meticulous) event intertwined with e-match and its extensive branches of colorfully wrapped explosives that increase in quantity and quality. This is the final phase; the part that makes the spectators vibrate and their emotions jump. This is what gets experienced viewers excited, and first time viewers frightened. Some describe this part of the mascletà as crazy. And that is really what it is. But it is also equally exciting
The fourth and final movement of this makeshift symphony is called Bombardeo Aereo (air bombing). As these words suggest, the final explosions of varying intensity are fired from rockets. The aim is to close the mascletà with a final aerial thunder—a production that is tight, dry and seamless. This effect is the finale; the climax; the crescendo that concludes the mascletà.
As I have said, a good mascletà shoots from “less to more”; ascending its intensity without interruption, and just as suddenly as its intensity heightens, it must abruptly end. This is what Valencian mascletà are most famous for; it is an art form rarely matched anywhere else in the world.
Although it has been developed over generations, don’t think its development has suddenly stopped. The mascletà continues to evolve, and with numerous new devices and shooting systems, new technology, new digital control systems, computers and wireless systems—the mascletà will progress and be perpetually perfected.
In conclusion, I would like to dedicate this article to all Pirotecnicos Valencianos. Due to their artistic ability and wisdom, the Mascleta is known worldwide as a Valencian art form.
I would especially like to commend the pirotecnicos from the town of Godella, where as a small boy I learned to love the art of pyrotechnics with the help of my grandfather and my father.