Devising a program of 17th century music from a specific country or court presents certain challenges peculiar to that country or court. In many cases the surviving musical sources reflect just a part of a region’s whole musical fabric. In Germany, the Thirty Years War strained the musical resources of many courts and disrupted music publishing. In England, the rise of Puritanism eventually pushed much professional music-making into private meeting rooms and aristocratic manors for a couple of decades, affecting both musical composition and the dissemination of prints and manuscripts. In France and especially Italy, the wealth of musical sources presents a different sort of challenge. The lack of surviving musical collections of both song and chamber music is quite acute in Spain, where the conservative culture of church and state did not allow music publishing to flourish, and many of the inventories of musical material were destroyed by natural disasters. Some types of improvised instrumental and vocal music were seldom put down in notation, reflecting an “unwritten tradition” that can frustrate modern attempts to bring popular music of the past to life. Important repertories of Spanish music from the time of Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Calderón do exist, of course, and more is being brought to light by musicologists and performers. But due to the lack of surviving instrumental music in particular, modern performers hoping to reflect the variety of musical textures and resources in 17th-century Spain must adapt music from guitar and harp books for ensembles of strings and winds. Tonight’s program features many of the leading composers of Spanish music, as well as arrangements of some of the popular tunes and grounds that were a vibrant thread in the musical tapestry of Golden Age Spain.
With the expulsion of Jews in Spain and Portugal in the late 1400s, Sephardic music became disbursed with its people, making it one of the most challenging and exciting repertoires for performers and scholars alike. The tunes, passed down from generation to generation, generally consist of a single melody line and are mostly anonymous. We have arranged them for tonight’s performance.
Many collections of Spanish solo song have come down to us. José Marín was a court musician and guitarist whose songs, like “Ojos pues me desdeñais”, usually feature guitar accompaniment. He was also a priest, thief, and alleged murderer who was tortured, defrocked and sentenced to ten years in the galleys, though the sentence was commuted after a brief period of imprisonment.
Juan Hidalgo was a harpist at the Spanish royal chapel before becoming the court’s most important composer. Hidalgo was also the leading composer of theater music in the mid-17th century. “Crédito es de mi decoro” is from his opera Pico y Canente, in which the nymph Canente is consumed by a cloud of tears. Sebastián Durón was first employed by the Spanish court in 1691 as organist of the royal chapel, and by 1702 he had become its maestro de capilla. He wrote prolifically for theatrical performances in Madrid, including the zarzuela Salir el Amor del mundo, from which comes “Eso no cobarde”.
Guatemalan composer Rafael Castellanos played both the violin and the harp and eventually was appointed chapel master at the cathedral of Santiago de Guatemala. “Oygan una xacarilla” is an example of the villancico form, featuring coplas (verses) alternating with a returning estribillo (refrain).
Much of the surviving Spanish instrumental music comes down to us in books and treatises devoted to the guitar and harp, although manuscripts of music for keyboard and violin also exist. One of the principal popular forms is folias (literally “madness”), which is first mentioned as a Portuguese dance in the 16th century. By the 17th century it had standardized into the familiar chord progression and related melody that became recognized and imitated throughout Europe. Andrea Falconieri, maestro di cappella at the royal court in Naples, part of the Spanish Empire, published his folias for two treble instruments and bass in his Primo libro de canzone (1650). Henry du Bailly’s song “Yo soy la Locura” is labeled folia; it was performed in a ballet at the French court. Santiago de Murcia, who described himself as “Master of Guitar to the Spanish Queen Maria Luisa Gabriela de Savoy”, provides many settings of popular tunes and dances in his surviving books, including “Los Imposibles”, variations composed over a standard Renaissance chord progression; the “Fandango”, destined to become the most popular Spanish dance of the 18th century; and the “Folias gallegas”, another type of folias imitating the Galician bagpipe.
The Spanish word for bagpipe is “gaita”, and its characteristic “melody over a drone” is imitated in many pieces called gaitas, like the arrangement presented tonight. We reach back into the 16th century for variations over the passamezzo ground by the Spaniard Diego Ortiz, and also include an Italian-influenced battle piece from Falconieri’s collection, his “Batalla”.
The chacona may have originated in the New World at the end of the 16th century, and soon gained popularity and notoriety for its lascivious dance movements and obscene lyrics. The chacona epitomizes the conundrum of Spanish popular music from this time: many chacona texts survive, obviously intended to be sung (a character in a short story by Cervantes sings one to accompany a dance); but the music to which they are to be sung is hard to pin down. The only Spanish chacona text that survives with music is a 4-part arrangement, “Un sarao de la Chacona”, by the Catalan composer Juan Arañes, maestro di capella at the Spanish embassy in Rome, published in his Libro Segundo de tonos y villancicos (Rome, 1624). The chacona’s characteristic refrain “Vida bona” (“the good life!”) wonderfully expresses the irreverent exuberance and vitality of an unwritten tradition that crossed both social classes and national boundaries. Enjoy!
Grant Herreid and Julie Andrijeski