Dead: 1570 in Ribadavia
Despite his talent as a composer, Santa Maria's reputation rests entirely on the influential treatise he wrote on instrumental technique, his Arte de taner fantasia. This work includes six chapters on keyboard technique, the first-ever thorough treatment of the subject in print. A number of theorists after him gluttonously plagiarized his work and enjoyed acclaim for stolen ideas.
Santa Maria was born in Madrid, around 1510. Nothing at all is known of his childhood years. On March 11, 1536, he joined the Dominican order of monks at St. Maria de Atoch. Apparently a first-rate performer, he went on to work throughout his life as an organist in numerous monasteries in Castilla. He began working on his important treatise as early as 1541, but its journey toward publication was slow and arduous To gain legitimacy, it first had to pass through the unhurried editing and approval of the royal organists Antonio and Juan de Cabezon. The book was licensed for publication in 1557, but the printing was delayed due to a paper shortage that lasted several years. By 1563, the shortage had ended and the book was licensed a second time. The Arte de taner fantasia was finally published in Valladolid, in 1565. Ostensibly, the book aims to teach the player how to better perform fantasias, which was a matter of mastering improvisation in the imitative style. To this end, Santa Maria divides Arte into two large sections, the first dealing with fundamentals of music and keyboard technique; the second discussing structure, harmony, and counterpoint. Among the distinctive features of Arte is the explanation, in the latter section, of a technique of chordal improvisation that foreshadows the technique of thoroughbass that became so important in the Baroque movement. In the first section, Santa Maria's pioneering discussion of keyboard technique deals with every important detail; from physical aspects, such as hand positions and touch, to stylistic elements, such as ornaments and rhythmic styles, his approach to fingering assumes the use of all five fingers, which was a progressive position at the time. A work of great historical importance, the Arte de taner fantasia is also an extraordinary intellectual accomplishment, highly regarded for its clarity, organization, and extraordinary originality.
-Donato Mancini (All Music Guide)