Mille Regretz: La Cancion del Emperador
========= from the cover ==========
The idea and the title which inspired the development of this Program were born out of the memory of the moving abdication speech that Charles V made on 25th October, 1556, in the great hall of Brussels castle. Speaking from just a few notes scribbled on a piece of paper, the Holy Roman Emperor recalled the most important moments of his life up to that point, from the speech that he had made in that same hall on the occasion of his coming of age, to the succession of his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand, to the Grown of Spain and that of his paternal grandfather, Maximilian I, to the Holy Roman Empire, reflecting on the different concerns, struggles, battles and journeys that had engaged him, and concluding with the painful recognition that he had been unable to confer upon his house and his estates the peace that he had tirelessly sought: to achieve throughout his long reign. His final Words were the most moving: he had never willingly trampled on the rights of any man and, if he had done so, he begged forgiveness. The Emperor's abdication is thrown more sharply into relief when we realise that Charles V was at the zenith of a new empire that he had created beyond the confines of Europe, and that his political horizons stretched from the Americas to the Far East.
To recall in the space of 75 minutes of music the essential experiences in the life of Charles V and, at the same time, draw closer to a period of such profound significance for our own modern history, are objectives that we can achieve only through a selection of the most significant music that was loved and listened to by the protagonists of the age. In the words of Elias Canetti, ""Music is the true living history of humankind, and we put our faith in it because what it says relates to our feelings". And so it will be the courtly music, the spiritual music and also the popular music that will enlighten us as to the lights and shadows of an age marked by Humanism and the Renaissance, by discovery and war. Music from Burgundy, Germany, Spain and Italy, since let us not forget that Charles V.. King of Spain and last Western Emperor, was born in Burgundy, brought up in the Low Countries, succeeded to the German Crown, was Emperor of the Romans and had constant dealings with Italians, and was fluent in Spanish, French, Flemish and German.
Of all these musical expressions, none could capture and express as aptly as Josquin's song Mille regretz, the so-called "Song of the Emperor", the singularly melancholy character and the profound sense of sadness which, during the last years of his life and despite the Emperor's absolute faith and trust in God, had invaded the spirits of the first and last great Emperor of Europe.
San Francisco, January, 2000
Translated by Jacqueline Minett
When Maximilian of Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria, was bom in 1459 Europe was going through a process of geo-political reconfiguration and of intense transformation in its system of government. Larger states were emerging, often as the result of a clever strategy of marriage alliances between some of the ruling royal families, and in all European monarchies the old feudal system was giving way to the modern absolutist State, with its centralized administration at all levels of national life. New unified cultural identities began to develop as a consequence of the gradual emergence of a new concept of nation applied to vast territories which until then had expressed themselves culturally mostly at the regional level. And the strengthened authority of the sovereign and of his government also reinforced the role of his court as the most important centre of cultural and artistic life in the country.
Thus, from at least the mid 15th century on, kings and princes sought to attract to their service the most brilliant musicians available, establishing private chapels in which the most elaborate polyphonic music was performed as part of the daily liturgical celebrations, and those same musicians would often sing and play at all court festivities for the entertainment of their noble patrons and their guests. As the Flemish music theorist Johannes Tinctoris wrote around 1474, "since the singers of princes, if their masters are endowed with the liberality which makes men illustrious, are rewarded with honour, glory, and wealth, many are kindled with a most fervent zeal for this study". The quality of the sacred and secular music performed at a given court became indeed the very symbol of its cultural and artistic refinement, as well as of its sovereign's ability to afford hiring the best composers and performers. Polyphonic music was now seen as a hallmark of sophistication within the world of Renaissance courts in Western Europe.
The Duchy of Burgundy, with its territories stretching from the Netherlands to Northern Italy and thus controlling the main trade circuits as well as the richest financial centres in the continent, was soon the wealthiest state of the time, and from the beginning of the 15th century its capital, Dijon, became a true Mecca for the most prestigious artists and intellectuals in Europe, who knew that their talent would find due reward at the Burgundian court. In 1477 the last reigning Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, was defeated and killed in battle against Louis XI of France, who quickly proceeded to annex the Duchy itself to the territory of the French crown. But the young Austrian Archduke Maximilian had in the meantime married Charles' only child and heiress, Mary of Burgundy, and thus was able to claim the remaining possessions of the former Burgundian state outside of France, especially the Netherlands, and therefore to inherit much of the wealth and of the musical establishment previously at the service of the Dijon court.
The reunion of these vast and rich territories to those of his own native Austria gave Maximilian an enormous power and income, allowing him to soon become German King (1486) and ultimately Holy Roman Emperor (1493). Considering that this was the period of the great German and Flemish polyphonic schools of the Renaissance, with masters such as Heinrich Isaac, Josquin des Pres or Jacob Obrecht, amongst so many others, it is easy to understand how in the early decades of the 16lh century the Hapsburg court could rightly boast of hearing the best sacred and secular music in its churches and palaces.
Significant changes were simultaneously taking place in the Iberian Peninsula, where in 1469 the heir to the throne of Aragon, Ferdinand, married the heiress to the throne of Castille, Isabella, soon uniting the two crowns into a single state. In 1492 the fall of the last Moorish kingdom in the Peninsula, Granada, established the definitive map if modern Spain, and the arrival of Columbus to the Americas launched the conquest of the largest colonial empire ever known to an European Country. The Catholic Kings, as Ferdinand and Isabella were known, were now also at the head of one of the mightiest and wealthiest states in Europe, and their court also became an influential centre of all the arts, where distinguished composers of sacred polyphony such as Pedro de Escobar, Francisco de Penalosa or Juan de Anchieta, and an extraordinary playwright and secular polyphonist, Juan del Enzina, were in full activity.
Spain and the Empire had, of course, an enemy in common, France, and Maximilian had an ambitious dream of a dynastic union with the Spanish royal family that might not only lead to the defeat of the French but even allow the heraldic motto of the Hapsburgs ("A.E.I.O.U." - "Austria est imperare in orbe universo", or "It is for Austria to rule over the whole universe") to become true in due time. Thus, in 1496 Maximilian's son, Philip the Handsome, married Joan, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and when on February 24, 1500, Joan gave birth to a son, Charles, the young prince was undoubtedly fated to become by far the most powerful European monarch of his lifetime.
Raised in the Netherlands by his paternal aunt, Margaret of Austria, due to the early death of his father (1506) and to the mental illness of his mother, the young prince received a refined education, according to the highest Renaissance standards. His private Chapel attracted the best Franco-Flemish singers and instrument players and was known to perform the works of the greatest polyphonists of this period, namely those of the famous Josquin des Pres and of Josquin's disciples. In fact, this "Flemish Chapel', the direct heir to the former Ducal Chapel of Burgundy, was later to accompany Charles to Spain and to follow him until his death on all his journeys throughout his domains, under such distinguished chapelmasters as Nicolas Gombert and Thomas Crecquillon. Ultimately it would remain in Madrid as a permanent institution at the service of the Spanish Kings until the mid-17th century, parallel to the activity of the Spanish Royal Chapel, properly speaking.
In 1516 the death of his grandfather; Ferdinand, left him the crown of Spain, as Charles I. But when he arrived to his new kingdom in 1517 he could barely speak Castilian and was totally unfamiliar with the local culture and traditions. His initial tendency to draw from the circle of his Flemish courtiers most of his appointments to key administrative positions, his highly centralized administration and his systematic disregard for the traditional rights and prerogatives of the Spanish cities and regions led to an open large-scale rebellion (the so-called revolt of the "comuneros") which could only be defeated in 1521 through a policy of violent repression. Charles, however, was to learn from this experience and to gradually adopt in his rule a wise balance between the new theories of the absolutist state and the respect for traditional liberties and regional identities, a balance that was to help him immensely in the administration of his vast empire.
The Emperor Maximilian died in 1519, and after an intricate political process which involved, amongst other things, the outright buying of a majority of votes in the imperial electoral college thanks to a substantial loan granted by the Fugger bankers, his grandson was crowned German King and Holy Roman Emperor, as Charles V. This enormous concentration of power in the hands of the Hapsburgs, the fulfilment of Maximilian's dream, was, of course, seen as an extremely dangerous threat by the French King, Francis 1. who already in 1515 had tried to undermine it by expanding into Italy. In that year Francis had defeated Duke Massimiliano Sforza at the battle of Marignano and gained control over the Duchy of Milan-his victory, incidentally, being extravagantly praised in a famous war-song by Clement Janequin, La Guerre, in which the noises of the fight are imitated by the various polyphonic parts and which served as a direct inspiration for countless battle-pieces by European composers throughout the following century. Charles, on the other hand, now claimed the territory of Burgundy that had been annexed by France after the defeat of his great-grandfather Charles the Bold and which was now essential for French national security and even, as a welcome addition to the crown's land, for the support of Francis' centralized power within his own kingdom.
War between the two sovereigns started in 1521, and although Francis suffered initially a severe defeat at Pavia in 1525, being even captured in the battlefield and later forced to accept the heavy terms of the treaty of Madrid of the following year, the conflict soon broke out again and went on for years without a clear victor. When the Peace of Nice was finally signed in 1538 France had managed to maintain her full territorial integrity and to stop Charles' project of absolute political supremacy in Europe (we should point out that the signing of the peace treaty also gave origin to a musical composition by a major polyphonist, in this case the motet Jubilate Deo omnis terra by Cristobal de Morales). Involved simultaneously in this ruinous war and in halting the military progress of the Turks in Eastern Europe, as well as in dealing with the internal political turmoil in which his Empire had meanwhile been thrown by the outbreak of the Reformation, the Emperor was suddenly faced with what was probably the most tragic event of his long rule: in May 1527 a mutinous imperial army claiming unpaid back wages invaded Rome and violently looted and ravaged it, threatening the very life of the Pope. The sack of the Holy City by the army of none other but the Holy Roman Emperor himself came as a terrible shock to the Christian world and helped bring about in the various fields of European art and culture a general feeling of insecurity, Jack of confidence, desperate mysticism and overall crisis of social and moral values, a feeling reflected in the dramatic content of many scores of sacred music of the mid-161'1 century.
Charles clearly underestimated the significance and the strength of the Reformation. After rejecting the theses of Martin Luther with the Edict of Worms (1521) he trusted his political authority and military might to impose the traditional principles of the Catholic faith, and did not expect to face instead a strong military resistance of the German Protestant princes. In 1530, following the publication of the Confession of Augsburg which contained a systematic presentation of the new creed's basic principles, these Lutheran princes formed the Schmalkaldic League to fight the Emperor. Charles was able to defeat the Protestant, army headed by Maurice of Saxony at the battle of Muhlberg (1547), but it was nevertheless quite evident by then that the religious schism could no longer be suppressed by force, and he had no other choice but to ultimately ratify in 1555 the Peace of Augsburg, according to which Catholic and Protestant states were granted equal rights within the Empire.
In the mid-1550s he began to turn over the government of large areas of his domains to his son Philip (Naples and Sicily in 1554, the Netherlands in 1555), just as he had done in the 1520s to his brother Ferdinand, King of Hungary and Bohemia. Finally, in 1556 he abdicated, leaving the throne of Spain, together with the non-Spanish territories that the young prince already governed, to Philip, and the imperial crown to Ferdinand. He retired in 1557 to the monastery of San Jeronimo of Yuste, in Spain, where he kept well informed of current matters of state but gradually prepared himself for his death according to his deep religious beliefs. He died there on September 21, 1558.
The personality of Charles V offers a fascinating mosaic of archaic and progressive traits. A mediaeval sovereign, bound by a time-honoured code of chivalry and sense of personal duty, he was at the same time a modern statesman, well aware of the pragmatic demands placed upon the new absolutist state by social and economic development, and ready to conduct his foreign police, when political convenience required it, in the most Machiavellian, unprincipled manner. A man of profound faith, instinctively intolerant of religious dissent, he had to learn the art of compromise with other creeds in the interest of peace, just as he learned that such an immense empire as his own could not be ruled without a minimum of respect for each individual culture within it. A Spaniard at heart, after the rediscovery of his native country at the age of sixteen, he was and remained first of all a citizen of Europe, one amongst the first statesmen in modern times to have a unifying project for the continent that went beyond mere personal ambition. A devout Catholic, his was nevertheless simultaneously a Renaissance mind, curious about the new worlds with which the Europeans were then beginning to establish contact, and deeply interested in the arts and letters of his time.
He loved music and received in his childhood a thorough musical training, so that all through his life he surrounded himself with talented musicians who often dedicated their works to their sovereign. Luys de Narvaez identifies Josquin's famous chanson Mille regretz as "the Emperor's song", and besides the first-rate members of the Flemish Chapel who followed him all over Europe he is known to have admired and protected several Spanish musicians, both composers such as Morales, who wrote music for the celebrations of the Emperor's wedding to Isabella of Portugal in May 1526, in Seville, and instrumentalists such as the organist Antonio de Cabezon and the above-mentioned vihuelist Narvaez, amongst others. One of his biographers points out that while in his final retreat in Yuste Charles was fond of singing along with the choir and even, on occasion, of examining critically in great depth the newly printed polyphonic choirbooks he received.
Music thus seems and ideal vehicle to follow, as the present recording proposes to do, the life itinerary of Charles V, Spanish King and German Emperor, and a Renaissance sovereign under whom more of Europe was unified into the same political unit than ever before since the peak of the Roman Empire.
-Rui Vieira Nery
University of Evora