The kundiman is a Philippine traditional song form which expresses feelings of romantic love or intense longing and devotion. The name is probably derived from the phrase “kung hindi man” (“if it should not be so”), which was used in the early examples of this type of song.
The kundiman is believed to have originated from the awit, a type of song which in turn originated from the courtship and wedding song form kumintang from Batangas. The kundiman adapts the rhythmic patterns and melodic intonation common to these types of songs.
The kundiman emerged during the 1800s. Originally it focused solely on a despondent lover’s yearning for his beloved, being an extemporaneous expression of love and devotion sung to the accompaniment of a guitar. Highly passionate, the songs often had a sexual undertone.
During the height of the Philippine revolutionary movement against the Spanish colonizers, the motherland was often the actual object of devotion represented by the woman named in the song, as in “Jocelynang Baliwag,” which was originally a love song dedicated to Josefa "Pepita" Tiongson y Lara of Baliwag. This development came about due to the Spaniards’ prohibition against Filipinos singing patriotic songs.
The form was eventually influenced by Western dance music, like the danza, the waltz, and the fandango. The lyrics grew increasingly more poetic in form. Poets like Deogracias Rosario and Jesus Balmori used 12 syllable verses in writing kundiman lyrics. In the early 20th century, the musical form became more academic, with formally trained musicians like Francisco Santiago and Nicanor Abelardo uplifting its status to an art form. Santiago standardized the form, giving it 3 parts.
During this period, the kundiman was also used for the love songs in zarzuelas. Later, it was also used for love themes in movies.
The heyday of the kundiman was from the 1800s to the 1930s. For modern songwriters, the term is loosely used to refer to any romantic ballad which is similar in sentiment to the traditional kundiman.
The minor key is most commonly used for this type of song. The kundiman is in triple time, but has a tendency for unusual rhythmic patterns. This combination of flowing melody and adaptable rhythm allow for greater expressiveness. Sequences of consecutive eighth notes are commonly found in the kundiman. This is seen in Nicanor Abelardo's "Nasaan Ka Irog," Resurreccion Bunyi's "Huling Awit," and Angel Peña's "Iyo Kailan Pa Man," among other songs.
Some well-known examples of kundiman
- "Jocelynang Baliwag" (c. 1896)
- “Anak Dalita” (Child of Woe) by Francisco Santiago (1917)
- "Bayan Ko" (My Country) with music by Constancio de Guzman and lyrics by Jose Corazon de Jesus (1928)
- "Sariling Bayan" (Our Own Country) by V. Tolentino (c. 1930)
- ”Mutya ng Pasig” by Nicanor Abelardo
- “Bituing Marikit” (Beautiful Star), with music by Nicanor Abelardo and lyrics by Servando de los Angeles (1926)
- “Iyo Kailan Pa Man” (Yours for Always), with music by Angel Peña and lyrics by Levi Celerio
- Besa, Della G. ”Our Signature Love Song.” In Kasaysayan, The Story of the Filipino People Vol. 10: A Timeline of Philippine History. Hong Kong: Asia Publishing Company Limited, 1998.
- De Leon, Felipe M. Jr. “More than a Love Song (Adapted from “But What Really Is Kundiman?”).” In Filipinas Heritage Library, June 27, 2008. In Filipinas Heritage 
- Santos, Ramon. “Constructing a National Identity Through Music.” In Bulawan 2, NCCA Journal of Philippine Arts and Culture.