Montserrat Figueras (soprano), Elisabetta Tiso (soprano), Maite Arruabarrena (soprano), Carlos Mena (counter-tenor), Lambert Climent (tenor), Francesc Garrigosa (tenor), Jordi Ricart (baritone), Daniele Carnovich (bass);
La Capella Reial de Catalunya:
Jean-Pierre Canihac (cornet), Daniel Lassalle (sackbut), Stefan Legee (sackbut), Alfredo Bernardini (shawm), Josep Borras (dulcian), Jordi Savall (viol), Sophie Watillon (viol), Sergi Casademunt (viol), Eunice Brandao (viol), Lorenz Duftschmid (violone), Andrew Lawrence-King (double harp), Rolf Lislevand (guitar, vihuela), Pedro Estevan (percussion)
This is vintage Hesperion XX. The singing and playing are superb (as always), and the repertory -melodious and dancey by turn - of the Canconer del Duc de Calabria is right up their alley. Amazingly, this is the first commercial recording (that I know 01) dedicated to this songbook from the Valencian court of the Duke of Calabria - surprising because of the accessibility and quality of the music. Several items from the book have become well known (notably the ubiquitous Riu, riu, chin, which, thankfully, is not included here), but up till now it has been difficult to gain an appreciation of the collection as a whole. Published in Venice in 1556, it records an earlier repertory, dating from the first decade of the sixteenth century through the 1530s and, possibly, 1540s. The Valencian court was one of the major cultural centres of the Iberian peninsula at this period, and the court culture was heavily influenced by the latest humanistic trends from Italy.
In musical terms, the repertory of the Ca.uconer reflects this mix of imported and indigenous elements; most of the songs conform to the fixed-form villancico of the later fifteenth century, but within the essential refrain-and-verse structure much of the writing reveals a more madrigalian idiom. Indeed, popular-style refrains are often succeeded by madrigalian verses, and Hesperion XX reinforce this through the scoring adopted; popular songs and refrains attract full-blown 'orchestrations' (the tutti ensemble of vials, winds, plucked instruments and percussion so characteristic of the Hesperion ensemble), or at least varied combinations of instruments, while the more imitative Sections blend voices, viols and harp or vihuela. On this recording, the harp takes precedence over the vihuela, which may not quite reflect the status of the latter instrument at the Vatencian court in the first half of the sixteenth century, but gives plenty of exposure to the brilliantly imaginative playing of Andrew Lawrence-King on the harp.
The songs are well chosen and nicety varied in poetic content and interpretation; it is particularly good to have the relatively few Catalan items from the songbook, which when sung by Jordi Savall's excellent team of native singers, are lent a distinctly dark flavour - whether in the winsome Soeta sojo ad, the lively irony of Quefarem depobre Joan! or the captivating lyricism of Vella, de vossom amorbs - thanks to the covered vowel sounds of the language. Other irresistible items include Morales's Si n'os hubera ,nirado - attributed to Guerrero and probably the most beautiful song (in both text and music) of the whole collection - and the anonymous Ay luna que reuzes, treated here in a manner very similar to Hesperion's renditions of Catalan folk-songs.
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Music at the Court of the Duke of Calabria in Valencia (1526-1554)
Travellers visiting Valencia in the late fifteenth century were full of praise for how well furbished and how commercially dynamic the city had become. In 1484, Nikolaus von Poplaw asserted that "Valencia is much finer and more sumptuously bedecked that any other city of the King of Aragon in all his estates". The period from 1441 to 1498 in Valencia witnessed the appearance of the Torres de Quart towers, the new Llotja (Silk Exchange), the Palau de la Generalitat (the governmental palace) and the University, along with extensions to the Cathedral, restoration work on the Palau del Real and the building of the elegant, luxurious residences of the nobles and the newly rich merchants.
By the close of the fifteenth century, Valencia was becoming the most urban centre in the Kingdom of Aragon, and one of the most attractive of Mediterranean cities. Among its citizens, numbering three times the population of Barcelona in 1483, there was a strong presence of minstrels, artists and merchants from other lands in the former Confederation of Catalonia and Aragon, from Castile and indeed from Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Germany.
Valencia's prosperity had been emerging since the previous century from the wealth of its own financial and mercantile resources, and needless to say it was enhanced by the political, social and economic crisis besetting Castile and Catalonia. During the last third of the fifteenth century, Barcelona looked on helplessly as its entrepreneurs and professional artists emigrated to Naples or Valencia with a view to restoring their fortunes and pursuing their trades in more propitious surroundings. Some of the most highly reputed musicians of Catalonia moved down to this city on the river Turia, drawn by its wealth, the prominence it was acquiring in the sphere of the Kingdom of Aragon, its artistic dynamism and its role as a bridge and centre for musical exchange with Italy.
The presence of singers from the Kingdom of Aragon in the main musical centres of Italy from the mid-fifteenth century on was split between the twin poles of the Neapolitan court of Alfonso V the Magnanimous and Ferdinand I on the one hand, and on the other the papal chapel choir, through the arrival of two members of the Borgia family of Valencia in the Catholic Church's temporal capital: Calixtus III (1456-1458) and Alexander VI (1492-1503). Similarly the powerful court of Hercules I d'Este at Ferrara - who was married to Eleanor of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand I of Naples - took in one Petrus de Valentia and one Bartholomew de Valentia between 1473 and 1504. Reciprocal influences between the various genres of the Hispanic and the Italian musical repertoire became particularly apparent during the early Renaissance.
Music in manuscript form travelled between those two peninsulas, carried along the sea routes that were used by the merchants of Genoa and Lombardy established in Valencia to ply the waters of the Mediterranean. In 1506, Miquel Sans shipped from Rome to the church of Sant Joan in Valencia the sizeable sum of twenty-eight volumes of organ pieces which he had collected, when he was in Rome in the service of the Cardinal of Valencia while studying music, from all the new and distinguished works he had been able to find all over Italy by masters of the highest repute.
Valencia's status as a musical capital was further enhanced by the settling there of the court of the Duke of Calabria, from 1526 to 1554. The Duke, Ferdinand of Aragon (1488-1550), was the first-born son of the King of Naples, Frederick II. The latter, having been dispossessed of his kingdom through a secret pact between the crowns of Castile and France - with the approval of the second of the Borgia popes - left Naples in 1501 with his second wife, Isabel dels Baus, and four of their five children, availing himself of the exile offered to him by Lluis XII.
The misfortunes of the first-born son were just beginning. The thirteen-year old Ferdinand stayed in Tarent and was taken prisoner there when the city fell, in March 1502, to the Castilians led by Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba. He was taken away to Castile, and there Ferdinand II the Catholic kept him and, following an abortive attempt to free him, imprisoned him in Jativa castle, where he remained for eleven years, from 1512 to 1523. Meanwhile, his father died in Tours in 1504, the same year as Isabel of Castile; and his mother, the infellicissima reyna Ysabella (the hapless Queen Isabelle), was persuaded by Alfonso d'Este to seek refuge at the resplendent court of Ferrara, where she was to die in 1533.
Four years after Charles I took the throne, in 1523, he freed the Duke from his captivity, in exchange for an oath of loyalty - Ferdinand of Aragon having already proved his loyalty by not becoming involved in the uprising of the guild brotherhoods of Jativa - and a promise not to lay claim to his rights on Naples. That same year, Charles I appointed Germana de Foix Vicegerant-General and Vicereine of Valencia. Germana was the widowed queen of the Catholic King, and in 1519 she had married the Marquis of Brandenburg-Ansbach for reasons of state - to ensure the naming of Charles V as emperorelect of Germany.
When Germana de Foix took over the Palau del Real, the revolt of the 'Brotherhood' guilds had just been put down. That revolutionary movement, known as les Germanies (the brotherhoods, in the period 1519-1523) had begun in Valencia and made its mark on all the lands of the Crown of Aragon. The uprising of the tradesmen and subsequently the peasantry was sparked off by the abuses of the privileged classes and the survival of feudal customs in the rural world. Hence the task and mission of the viceroys was to ensure that the royal provisions for the aftermath of that dramatic social phenomenon were rigorously and firmly implemented.
The bourgeoisie of Valencia was falling into decline, and with it Valencia's status as an economic and cultural capital: the merchants were seeking out new sites for establishing their businesses, some in the Low Countries, and the scholars at the University, the most prominent humanistic centre in the Kingdom of Aragon, were obliged to flee - as was the case with the humanist and philosopher Joan Lluis Vives - to escape the long arm of the Inquisition. In the context of post-Brotherhood Valencia, the viceroys' court came to act in counterpoint to the tensions of the repression, it being the only alternative to the city's cultural impoverishment and the last manifestation of its courtly life.
Queen Germana was widowed for a second time in 1525. The Emperor's diplomacy industry once more took a hand in the destiny of the future Vicegerents of Valencia: the Duke of Calabria, Ferdinand of Aragon, became the third husband of Germana de Foix, the latter being, paradoxically, the widow of his jailor. The two of them were appointed Viceroys and Vicegerents-General of the Kingdom of Valencia by Charles I and, after their wedding in Seville, they arrived in Valencia on November 28th, 1526.
Queen Germana died ten years later, and in 1540 the Duke married the Marquise of Sanet, lady Mencia de Mendoza, the widow of Henry, Count of Nassau-Breda, who had died two years previously. Lady Menci'a was a keen patroness of the Arts, and sympathized with the followers of Erasmus; indeed, with the Count of Nassau, she had played host to Joan Lluis Vives for long periods at Breda.
Ferdinand of Aragon was a man of the Renaissance and, as a result of his humanist outlook, the Viceroys' court of the Palau del Real became the leading noble artistic centre in Hispanic countries for nearly twenty-five years, with its gaze fixed on the model and the memory of the paternal court at Naples. In 1527 he had made arrangements for part of the former royal library of Naples to be brought over from Ferrara, where his mother Queen Isabella was residing; that library stock, which the Duke had added to with further acquisitions, had reached a figure of close on eight hundred volumes by 1550, the year of his death.
The Duke threw open the doors of the Palace to artistic pursuits, especially music and letters, to staged festivities (in the Italian manner, like the May festivals) and to farces and theatrical performances featuring the bourgeoisie of Valencia itself and penned by the regular playwrights of the Palace: Joan Ferrandis d'Heredia, Joan Baptista Anyes, Joan Timoneda and Lluis del Mila.
The chapel choir of the Duke already had over forty singers and instrumentalists during the time of Queen Germana from 1526 to 1536, and it is quite likely that it was directed from 1529 to 1533 by Pedro de Pastrana, formerly a singer in the service of Ferdinand II the Catholic and chaplain to the Emperor. In 1529 the Duke, who had acquired the Cistercian monastery of Saint Bernat of Valencia, obtained the edict making his choirmaster Pedro de Pastrana abbot of the monastery, and Pastrana was to remain in his service until 1533, when he left for Rome. From then on his name was to appear in the lists of the Emperor's officials until 1547, when he was appointed choirmaster to Prince Philip. Pastrana's economic interests regarding his title as abbot conflicted with the wish of the Viceroys to hand the monastery over to the order of St. Jerome, as advocated by St. Miquel dels Reis. Part of the opposition exerted by Pastrana from the royal court was overcome in 1546, and only then were the friars of St. Jerome able to enter the monastery. That event was celebrated with help of grandes instruments y musica, directed by Joan de Cepa, the Duke's choirmaster.
It is highly likely that between the periods of office of Pedro de Pastrana (c. 1529-2533) and Joan de Cepa (Cepa or Sepa - c. 1544-1554), Mateu Fletxa the Elder of Tarragona was put in charge of the Duke's chapel choir, or at very least that he had close links with the musical life of the city of Valencia. There is a lacuna in the biographical chronology of Fletxa precisely between the years 1533, when his name appears in records from the cathedral of Siguenza (he perhaps having lived there since 1525, when he left his post in the diocese of Lerida) and 1544, when he was appointed choirmaster to the Infantas of Castile. In our view his stay in Valencia can be placed in that interim period.
The idioms and compositional sequences of Fletxa's Ensalades ("salads", i.e. free-form madrigals), together with the presence of at least three of his works in the repertoire of the Canconer del due de Calabria (The Duke of Calabria's Songbook), would seem to lend support to this view. The links between the genre of the Ensalada and the Duke's court must have come by way of his viol player Lluis del Mila. Around 1521 the latter had to flee Valencia, for reasons that are none too clear, and he was taken in by King John III of Portugal. Mila, who dedicated the edition of his El Maestro (Valencia, 1536) to the Portuguese King, was to import a varied sample of the musical repertoire cultivated at the Lisbon court into the court in Valencia. It is easy to believe that the Ensaladas by Gil Vicente (c. 1465-1536) had a place therein, since Fletxa drew his inspiration chiefly from that model.
It is also worth pointing out, in favour of Fletxa having worked in Valencia, that the madrigal "La Biuda" (The Widow) bore witness to the musical stances of the two most representative forces in the civil and the religious life of the city: the court of the Duke of Calabria and the Cathedral chapter. Fletxa probably wrote that Ensalada shortly before leaving Valencia to join the Infantas in Arevalo castle in Avila. His praise of the quality of the music at Valencia cathedral can be seen as an implicit allusion to Pere Vila, the organist from Vic (c. 1465-1538), who was at the keyboards of the Cathedral organ in 1534. Though it is reasonable to make the assumption, just how far links went between Vila and the Duke's court cannot be firmly established, and nor can his presence as a composer in the Canconer del due de Calabria.
We have a roll from 1546 giving the names of the forty-one members of the Duke of Calabria's chapel choir. Joan de Cepa, the choirmaster, must have been employed there from the time Fletxa left in 1544. At the command of Cepa were highly reputed musicians, such as the composer Bartomeu Carceres - to whom three songs in the Canconer del due de Calabria are traditionally attributed - or the xirimia (shawm) players Luys de Medrano and Juan Peraza, who in 1553 were playing in the minstrels' band of Seville cathedral under Francisco Guerrero. According to the Andalusian artist and humanist Francisco Pacheco in his Libro de description de verdaderos Retratos, de Illustres y Memorables varones -"Book describing true Portraits of Illustrious and Memorable Gentlemen" - Seville, 1599), both Peraza and his wife (who were the parents of the celebrated organists Francisco and Geronimo de Peraza) were virtuoso instrumentalists.
The death of Ferdinand of Aragon in 1550 led to great mobility among the singers: between 1550 and 1551, eight of them left and twelve others joined; it was then that the choir reached forty-six members, the highest number in its twenty-eight-year history. After the death of the Duke, some of his one-time singers and minstrels set off to take up posts in the service of major centres of music, such as the cathedrals of Seville and Toledo or the choir of prince Philip, which was directed by Pedro de Pastrana.
As for Joan de Cepa, he was to remain in the service of lady Mencia, even though during the course of those last four years from 1550 to 1554 he did try to find a new post - in Badajoz cathedral in 1552, Toledo cathedral in 1553, and then finally in Malaga cathedral, where he obtained a post in the Christmas of 1554, taking over from Cristobal de Morales after the short stay of Francisco Guerrero.
Ferdinand of Aragon received musical homage in the form of the five-voice Mass Ferdinandus Dux Calabriae (published by G. Scotto in Venice, 1540) dedicated to him by Jacquet de Mantua, the choirmaster at the court of Ferrara, who had close links with the Duke's family. That same composer had written the motet Ploremus omnes on the occasion of the death of Ferdinand of Aragon's younger brother in 1520. Jacquet's Mass was published by the Venetian printer Gerolamo Scotto in 1540 thanks to the patronage of influential circles close to the Duke's family, who fostered, through the subtle ploy of their musical commission, their hopes of being able to return to Naples with him.
The musical publication that the Duke of Calabria was never to see in published form, however, was the anthology of Songs by various Authors in Two and Three and Four and Five Parts, Now Newly Corrected. And Moreover: Eight sets of Plain Song, and Eight Sets of Organ Pieces for the Use of those beginning to Sing /%/ Venice / Apud Hieronymum Scotum /MDLVI. That florilegium, together with the Canconet Musical de Gandia and part of the Canconer Musical de Barcelona, make up the musical legacy of the Valencian court of Ferdinand of Aragon.
That anthology - formerly known as the Canconer d'Uppsala on account of its having been found in the University Library of that Swedish city in 1909 - came to be regarded as a unique collection in its genre, since it brought together a selection of fifty-four songs, four of which belong to the Christmas cycle, the Duke's favourite festivities. They all exude the flavour of the lyric tradition as presented through a multi-lingual mosaic that is the image and expression of the literary and musical aesthetics of that Valencian court of the Renaissance.
Despite the almost total anonymity of the anthology (the published edition only records the paternity of one work - by N. Gombert, the Emperor's choirmaster), some of the songs have been identified and attributed to Pere Joan Aldomar, Mateu Fletxa the Elder, Cristobal de Morales and Bartomeu Carceres. This collection, containing the musical repertoire most favoured by the Duke, certainly brings together works by authors who were connected in some way with the Valencian court from 1526 to 1554, and it is therefore logical to conclude that the anthology should also include songs by, in addition to the composers already mentioned, Pedro de Pastrana, Joan de Cepa, Pere Vila, Pere Alberch, Gaspar Sagrista, and Matias Chacon - it also being conceivable that Mateu Fletxa the Younger, who came to the Carme Monastery in Valencia in 1552 shortly before setting off for Italy, might have taken part in the final preparations for and edition of the Canconer.
Of the twelve religious carols connected with the Christmas cycle of this collection, eight are on subjects relating to the Virgin Mary. In one of them (Yo me soy la morenica - "I'm the dark little one"), the black Virgin herself signs, with formal allusions to the Moreneta, the Mother of God of Montserrat, the famous verse from Solomon, Nigra sum sed formosa. Subtly linked with that subject are two songs in which the symbol reaches back to the Andalusian-Moorish tradition: Con que la lavare (With what will I wash her?) and Ay luna que reluzes (Oh shining moon). The subject of that latter song had become a recurrent motif in the Hispanic poetic and musical repertoire of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the text was reworked in spiritual guise in the Romancero general (a collection of Spanish ballads - 1604) and in the works of Alonso de Ledesma (1605) and Brother Jose de Valdivieso (1612). Pedro de Ruimonte also included it in his Parnaso espanol de Madrigales y Villancicos a quatro, cinco y seys (Spanish Treasure Trove of Madrigals and Songs in four, five and six parts - Antwerp, 1614).
The Castilian repertoire of the Canconer comprised forty-eight songs, and it has proved possible to identify the composers of some of them. The song Ah, Pelayo que desmayo (Oh, Pelayo, I am swooning) is one of the oldest pieces in the collection, its poetic theme having been widespread throughout Portuguese and Hispanic lands as far back as the mid-fifteenth century, and it originated, though with variations, from that same work by the Barcelona composer Pere Joan Aldomar - choirmaster at Barcelona Cathedral (1506) and singer in the service of Ferdinand II the Catholic (1508) - which was preserved in the Cancionero Musical de Palacio (Palace Song Book). That song was also reworked in spiritual guise by Joan Timoneda, one of the poets who frequented the Palau del Real.
The popularity probably enjoyed by some compositions by Morales y Vasquez at the court of Ferdinand of Aragon explains their presence in the Canconer. However, the carol Si n'os huviera mirado (If I hadn't looked at you), which is the very same as the one attributed to Morales in the Canconer Musical de Barcelona, is the only piece in the Canconer that can be attributed to him. Morales' musical setting of that text by the Catalan poet Joan Bosca (1493-1542) was to inspire the one written by Juan Vasquez for his Recopilacion de Sonetos y Villancicos a quatro y a cinco (Compendium of four- and five-part Sonnets and Songs Seville, 1560).
Vasquez included in his Compendium some texts that had also appeared four years previously in the edition of the Canconer: Ojos garcos a la nina (The girl's blue eyes), Dizen a mi que los amores he (They tell me I'm in love) and Con que la lavare (With what will I wash her?). Of those three songs the second is the only one in which we can detect with certainty the hand of the composer from Extremadura in the Duke's Canconer, on account of its thematic similarity. In the third song, Con que la lavare, though the presentation is similar, the difference in its polyphonic development casts doubt on its attribution. This song became one of the most popular themes among Hispanic performers on the vihuela (a forerunner of the guitar). Arising from Luys de Narbaez's 1538 gloss on Los seys libros del Delphin de musica de cifras para taner vihuela (The six books of the Dauphin, containing tablature settings for playing on the vihuela - Valladolid, 1538) were other collections by Enriquez de Valderrabano (his Libro de musica de vihuela, intitulado Silva de Sirenas - Book of Vihuela Music, called the Mermaid's Garland - Valladolid, 1547), by Diego Pisador (his Libro de musica de vihuela, agora nuevmente compuesto - Book of Vihuela Music, now Newly Composed - Salamanca, 1552), and by Miguel de Fuenllana (his Libro de musica de vihuela, intitulado Orphenica Lyra - Book of Vihuela Music, called Orphenica Lyra - Seville, 1554).
It was in fact the adaptations by the vihuela players that enabled the hand of Mateu Fletxa the Elder in the Canconer to be corroborated. The carol Teresica hermana (My little sister Teresa) appears in the collections by E. de Valderrabano and M. de Fuenllana, the latter being the one revealing Fletxa as the composer. Fuenllana arranged in tablature form the humorous carol Que farem del pobre Joan (What shall we do with poor old John?), along with three Ensaladas by Fletxa. Two years previously, Pisador also cited the song, mentioning that it was "in the popular style". The satirical, popular character of that piece helped it to become well known, and the poet Timoneda reworked it in spiritual form in his Christmas carol Alegrauvos, pare Adam (Rejoice, father Adam).
The scant presence in the Canconer of only four songs in Catalan, with the words of their variations, reflects socio-linguistic conditions at the court of Ferdinand of Aragon, where the Catalan language was relegated to domestic use or earthy comedies. Highly relevant in this context is the remark recorded by Mila in El Cortesano (Valencia, 1561), made by Queen Germana to the wife of the poet Ferrandis d'Heredia: "I always wanted you to speak in Valencian, which is amusing to hear when you speak it".
The song by Carceres, Soleta so yo aci (I am all alone here) falls in the same mordant, piquant context. It appears in two manuscript sources -with a refrain by Cepa intercalated and a spiritualized version as well -that were drawn up at that same Duke's court. Bella de vos som amoros (Beautiful woman, in love with you we are) is an anonymous song drawn from the song that Timoneda included in the Cancionero llamado Flor de Enamorados (Songbook called Garland of the Lovestruck -1562). The success of that song led Mila to include it, in a burlesque version, in the fifth part of El Cortesano, and the poet Pere Serafi to arrange a gloss on it in Dos libres... de poesia vulgar en lengua cathalana (Two books ... of Popular Poetry in Catalan - 1565). Also worth mentioning is that the Valencian poet Onofre Almudevar provided a spiritual version of it in the Coplas en alabanca de la Virgen nuestra Senora (Verses in Praise of the Virgin Our Lady - 1609).
Queen Germana and Ferdinand of Aragon had agreed to donate their possessions, and to commend the custody of their earthly remains, to the Sant Miquel dels Reis Monastery of the order of St. Jerome. The inventory of the endowment contained a collection of musical instruments - three organs, one of which was "from the royal house of Naples", two lutes, two viola da braccio, "a chest of five bowed vihuelas, two large and three medium-sized" - and twenty-six volumes of music manuscripts, of which sixteen were of liturgical polyphony. Among these are mentioned collections with Masses by Josquin des Prez and Francisco de Penalosa, two books of Masses "produced in Barcelona", and five books that were described as very old, probably originating from the Neapolitan court of Alfonso the Magnanimous.
The exceptional prominence of the music chapel of Ferdinand of Aragon was recalled, fifty years after its breaking up, by the historian of the order of St. Jerome Brother Jose de Siguenza, in his Historia de la Orden de San Jeronimo (1609), with the words: "[the Duke} brought together the best chapel of musicians and natural voices, as well as all manner of instruments, to be found in Spain, and none better has been found here since, in number, skill and voices".
- Josep Maria Gregori (translation: Bernard Molloy)