Jordi Savall, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hesperion XXI
Isabel I, Reina De Castilla - [1451-1504]
Recording Date and Place : realizadas del 3 al 9 Marzo 2004 en la Colegiata del Castell de Cardona(Catalunya)
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
All Music Guide
This is the third volume in the series "Musicas Reales" (Royal music), which takes us to the heart of the Spanish royal courts through the centuries. Following the double CD devoted to Alfonso V "the Magnanimous" (1396-1458) and the superb "life in musical scenes" of Charles V (1500-1558), Jordi Savall now presents a programme devoted to Isabella I, Queen of Castile, also known as Isabella the Catholic.
At the time of Isabella's birth in 1451, the Iberian Peninsula was divided into three separate kingdoms: Aragon, Castile and Portugal. Daughter of John II of Castile, in 1469 Isabella married Prince Ferdinand, the heir to the Crown of Aragon. When her brother died in 1474, Isabella became queen of Castile. In 1497, her husband acceded to the crown of Aragon as Ferdinand II, and from that moment on, the two monarchs became the architects of the unification of Spain, introducing profound reforms of the institution of the monarchy and laying the foundations of what was to become the great and mighty Spanish empire of the 16th century. However, the "Catholic Monarchs", as they were called, were also the architects of the Inquisition and were responsible for the expulsion of the unconverted Jews and Moslems. Another major event of the reign of Isabella the Catholic, one which was to determine the course of history for centuries to come, was Christopher Columbus's discovery of the Americas in 1492. Isabella died in 1504, in Medina del Campo; she was succeeded by her daughter Joanna until 1516, the year of Charles V's accession to the throne.
Most of the pieces on this album were composed directly in relation to some historic event in the life of the queen; the remainder derive from local sources and illustrate various aspects of musical culture on the Iberian Peninsula. As we know today, songs and music in general were used during the period as a means of communication, as instruments in the dissemination of a political vision. The Courts of the two sovereigns -each had retained their own private royal chapels- were cosmopolitan cultural centres, engaging the services of the finest musicians and performing the best repertories available. Musically speaking, Europe at the beginning of the Renaissance period was dominated by the Franco-Flemish sacred polyphony of composers such as Dufay and Ockeghem, a trend which was closely followed on the Iberian Peninsula, as can be seen from the works of Juan Cornago and Pedro de Escobar. At the same time, non-religious Iberian polyphony was represented chiefly by two distinct genres, whose roots stretched back into medieval tradition but were also nourished by Franco-Flemish models: the villancico (carol) and the romance (ballad), notably conserved in the Palacio, Colombina and Montecassino Cancioneros, or songbooks. The programme also includes pieces of instrumental and dance music current in Spain during the period.
A BRIEF HISTORICAL REMINDER...
At the time of Isabella's birth in 1451, the Iberian Peninsula was divided into three separate kingdoms: Aragon, Castile and Portugal. The balance of power was maintained thanks to a complex interplay of wars, short-term political alliances and marriages between the three royal houses. All three kingdoms were engaged in internal struggles between the authority of the crown and the privileges of the great nobles. As trade increased, the growth of cities meant that far-reaching reforms and the establishment of centralised government, with a single centralised tax system, became a priority. That, in turn, put an end to the autonomy of the powerful aristocratic landowners.
Daughter of John II of Castile and his second wife, Isabella of Portugal, the young Isabella had a brother, Henry IV, who came to the throne of Castile when King John died in 1554. The ineffectual Henry had a daughter Joanna, known as "la Beltraneja" because she was commonly believed to be the child not of Henry but of his favourite, Beltran de la Cueva. The question of the royal succession therefore remained unsettled; finally, in 1468, Isabella was designated Princess of Asturias and heir to the Castilian throne. Isabella was now faced with the difficult choice of a suitable husband in terms of the existing political ground rules, a choice which would have vital implications for the geo-political future of the Peninsula. Contrary to the wishes of her brother, Isabella chose the young Prince Ferdinand, King of Sicily and heir to the Crown of Aragon. Her decision met with the hostility of both the French and the Portuguese, who did not take kindly to the threat of a powerful alliance between Castile and Aragon.
When Henry IV died in 1474, despite opposition from the supporters of Joanna la Beltraneja, Isabella was proclaimed Queen of Castile. When Ferdinand came the throne of Aragon following the death of his father in 1479, the two kingdoms took a giant step towards a new "Spanish" political and military unity. Although each of the two kingdoms retained sovereignty under its own monarch, the royal couple governed in partnership, thus exerting a unifying force and reinforcing the image of centralised power. Isabella fostered administrative reform in Castile, beginning with the measures adopted by the Cortes, or Parliament, of Toledo in 1480; she instituted a permanent military force for the protection of citizens and their property (known as the Santa Hermandad, or Holy Brotherhood), she cut back the privileges of the nobles and introduced a unified legal system.
Religion played a key role in the politics of the two sovereigns. Even before Pope Alexander VI bestowed on them the official title of "the Catholic Monarchs" in 1496, they embodied the ideals of a political power that was devoted to furthering the interests of the Catholic faith. The legitimacy of their mission was grounded in their consecrated role in carrying out the will of God for Spanish Christians. The establishment of the Inquisition in 1478 was part of that divine mission; it was designed to replace the autonomy of the local bishoprics with a unified and tightly regulated court of law controlled by the State. The conquest in 1492 of Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in the Peninsula, the expulsion of the unconverted Jews and the unconverted Moslems, in 1492 and 1502, respectively, were the other elements of their constant policy of defence of the "true faith". Also in 1492, Christopher Columbus's discovery of the Americas, apart from the economic interests involved, created an image of the Catholic Monarchs committed to converting a whole new continent to Christianity.
Isabella's political projects came perilously close to failure, however. The grief over the death of her only male heir, Prince John, in 1497, fuelled fears of a new war of succession. Moreover, her daughter Joanna, the wife of the Hapsburg, Philip the Fair of Burgundy, and mother of the future Charles V, was already showing signs of the mental illness which would cause her to go down in history as Joanna the Mad. Heart-broken, Isabella died in 1504, but her historic vision of the Iberian Peninsula was to survive to the present day.