La Folía (Spanish), or Follies (English), also known as folies d'Espagne (French), La Follia (Italian), and Folia (Portuguese), is one of the oldest remembered European musical themes, or primary material, generally melodic, of a composition, on record. The theme exists in two versions, referred to as early and late folias, the earlier being faster.
Over the course of three centuries, more than 150 composers have used it in their works. The first publications of this theme date from the middle of the 16th century, but it is probably much older. Plays of the renaissance theatre in Portugal, including works by Gil Vicente, mention the folia as a dance performed by shepherds or peasants. The possible Portuguese origin was attributed by the 1577 treatise De musica libri septem by Francisco de Salinas.
Jean-Baptiste Lully, along with Philidor l'aîné in 1672, Arcangelo Corelli in 1700, Marin Marais in 1701, Alessandro Scarlatti in 1710, Antonio Vivaldi in his Opus 1 No. 12 of 1705, Francesco Geminiani in his Concerto Grosso No. 12 (which was, in fact, part of a collection of direct transcriptions of Corelli's violin sonatas), Georg Friedrich Haendel in the Sarabande of his Keyboard Suite in D minor HWV 437 of 1727, and Johann Sebastian Bach in his Peasants' Cantata of 1742 are considered to highlight this "later" folia repeating theme in a brilliant way. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach composed a set of 12 variations for keyboard on the tune (H.263). Antonio Salieri's 26 Variations on La Folia, for orchestra, written towards the end of his career, is one of his finest works. Henry Purcell, in: The Fairy-Queen, first played in 1692, included a tune with resemblances to the Francesco Geminiani/Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso n 12; the 12 Corelli concerts were published in 1714, although a 1681 reference exists from Georg Muffat about having heard the compositions of this "Italian Violin Orpheus" "with extreme pleasure and full of admiration".