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Rhythm

Bertsularis mainly use five forms of rhythm in their improvisations.
  • Zortziko handia
  • Zortziko ttikia
  • Hamarreko handia
  • Hamarreko ttikia
  • Bederatzi puntukoa

There are other less classical forms of rhythm. They are not very common.

Zortziko handia and Zortziko txikia

The two main types or rhythms used by bertsularis are Zortziko handia (pronounce "sore-cheako hand-ee-ya") or  Zortziko txikia (pronounce "sore-cheako cheak-ee-ya").  Stanzas have 4 verses.

Zortziko handia

Zortziko handia refers to a verse with 18 syllables with compulsory caesura: the first after the fifth syllable, the second after the tenth syllable. The last eight syllables can be "grouped" differently.

Manex  gaztea lerden ederra  eskuan  mizpir  makila
John, a young, slender and handsome man, with a medlar stick in his hand

Ma-nex  gaz-te-a  /  ler-den  e-de-rra  /  es-ku-an  miz-pir  ma-ki-la
1     2      3    4    5 /   6      7      8  9  10    /   1   2    3        4    5       6   7   8

Manex gaztea, lerden ederra, eskuan mizpir makila,
Zuberoako mendi mendian dabil kasko goren bila...
Leize zilorat lerratu eta, gelditu da seko hila!
Horra zergatik, pena dolorez, mintzalu zaigun ezkila.

John, a young, slender and handsome man, with a medlar stick in his hand,
Was walking in the mountains in Soule searching for the highest summits …
He slipped and fell into an abyss, and died on the spot!
That is why the bell is ringing out with sorrow and sadness.

Zortziko txikia

In the other form of bertsu, known as Zortziko txikia, the verse contains 13 syllables. There is only one caesura, always after the seventh syllable.

Zer-ga-tik a-ri zai-gun / ni-ga-rrez ez-ki-la
1     2   3    4  5   6    7     /   1  2      3     4   5   6

Zergatik ari zaigun, nigarrez ezkila?
Manex gazte lerdena, eskuan makila
Mendiz mendi dabil, kasko goren bila
Zilorat eroririk, gelditu da hila!

Why is the bell crying?
John, a young slender man, with a stick in his hand,
Was walking in the mountains, searching for the highest summits
He fell into a hole and was killed!

Hamarreko handia and Hamarreko txikia

Hamarreko handia or Hamarreko txikia are two other quite common rhythms. In the first case, the verse has 18 syllables, in the second it has 13 syllables.

The Hamarreko can be distinguished from the Zortziko by the length of the stanza: five verses instead of just four.

Here are two examples:

Verse by Xabier Amuriza ("Aita izena")

Aita nuen nik umoretsua, inoiz, geza ta gazia,
Harek agertu zidan bidea, baitzen bertsoz ikasia;
Oi ene aita, nire egunak ere aurrera doaz ia,
Baina zugandik hartua baitut bertsutarako grazia,
Nik egingo dut arbola haundi zuk emandako hazia!

My father had humour, sometimes he was serious and severe.
He taught me the art of improvisation, because he was a connoisseur!
Oh father, I now in turn see time passing by ...
And since you gave me the grace of being an improviser,
I will turn your seeds into a tall tree!


Verse by Mattin (Martin Trecu)

Bestakari izan naiz Arbonan bazkaltzen,
Ate leihoak hetsirik, trankil joana nintzen...
Kantu zahar ta bertsu, orotarik bazen ;
Ordu hartan ez nuen, ez segur pentsatzen,
Norbait ari zaitzala etxe arroatzen !

With the doors and windows of my house closed,
I was having lunch at the festival in Arbonne...
Traditional songs and verses …  there was a bit of everything ...
At that particular moment, I would never have thought
That a burglar was breaking into my house!

The so-called nine point verse: Bederatzi puntukoa

Below is a 9-point verse, one of eight composed by Xalbador on the occasion of his memorable "Mattin nigarrez ikusi dut" ("I saw Mattin in tears") :

Xalbador

Euskal haurrak etxetik urrun joaitea
da mendeak dakarren ezin-bestea ;
jakinik baduela zorion-partea,
hura ezin bilatuz dabila gaztea ;
gure gizartea, herria, etxea,
semetaz hustea, Zer gauza tristea !
Urrikal zakizkigu, Jainko maitea
!

Basque children leaving for far away lands
is part and parcel of modern life ;
Young people are unable to find
the happiness they are entitled to.
How sad to see our society, our land and
our homes abandoned by our children!
Dear God, please take pity!

Directory of Basque versified improvisers

Bertsolaria

Improvisers,  improvisation contest leaders, judges, contest organisers, improvisation competitions and championships, courses and improvisation resources, in the directory of The Basque Cultural Institute.