In 1492 Granada was won back from the Moors and the discovery of America marked the beginning of Spain's Golden Age; freeing itself from European models, Spain developed its own musical repertoire, based on popular music. The romance, a ballad, and the villancico, a song with stanzas linked by a refrain, became the major forms of Spanish Renaissance secular composition. The composer Juan del Enzina, an ecclesiastic who wrote only secular pieces, and enjoyed the favour of three successive popoes, excelled in both genres, showing equal talent in lamenting the end of the Mohammedan kings (with drums in the background) and making fun of des pondent lovers (with sawying rhythms).
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The last quarter of the fifteenth century presents a noticeable change of direction in the evolution of Spanish music. The consequence of a stabilization in the political situation and of the economic development that was to result from this, the period that was beginning was in fact very favourable to the spread of a spefically national art.
The personal union of the two kingdoms of Castille and Aragon in 1474, the capture of Granada in 1492 and the discovery of America in the same year were the events which, in a very short time, were to seal the fate of Spain and to elevate it to the rank of the dominant world powers. While hitherto Spanish Monarchs had gone to foreign countries - particularly France and Italy - to find singers and instrumentalists for their courts, Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon were to engage only Spanish musicians for their respective chapels. And when the Queen died in 1504, the King was to select the best musicians and singers from his late wife's establishment to form the royal chapel of Spain whose peak was to be reached some fifty years later during the reign of Philip II.
This increasing consciousness of an art with purely Spanish features should not conceal the richness of distant and immediate precedents. The survival of ancient culture which had previously impregnated the Peninsula was a vital part of Hispanic folklore, and this folklore imbued the whole musical thinking of art music to such an extent that it created a whole progression from the simplest, popular repertoire to the most strictly developed. More than seven centuries of Reconquest had produced an artistic expression based on the reciprocal influences of the three cultures that had fashioned Spain - the Christian, the Arab and the Judaic. But beyond this, Spanish music was rooted in the Oriental and Latin world, while Visigothic and Mozarabic manuscripts show traces of the most ancient secular Latin poetry that have reached us.
Spanish musicians of the fifteenth century knew and appreciated the Franco-Flemish art from the courts of France and Burgundy. However they took little from it - or only on rare occasions. To judge from the vast musical production of the period, we see with succeeding generations a greater tendency towards a simplification of writing to the benefit of a supremacy of expression. At the time of the Catholic Monarchs Spain responded to the highly developed science of the French Ars Nova or of the Italian trecento, which it had hitherto handled with skill, with music of a freshness and spontaneity that were unequalled in the period, or with an epic tragedy which brought the subject to the plane of emotion, as opposed to the rather abstract rhetoric of the northern courts. At the end of the fifteenth century, the secular songs and dances that were often intended to entertain the powerful people of the period, seem sometimes to be only simple harmonizations of popular tunes. But their power of evocation is so striking that people had to ban the singing of certain romances because of the sorrow and tears that they provoked.
These secular songs were collected together in various Cancioneros or songbooks. notably the Cancionero Musical de Barcelona, Cancionero Musical de la Colombina, Cancionero Musical de Elvas and Cancionero Musical de Segovia. But the most famous of all is the Cancionero Musical del Palacio, scored and published by Higinio Angles in the Monumentos de la Musica Espanola (Barcelona, 1947 and 1951) but already, at the end of the nineteenth century, transcribed and edited in modern notation by Don Francisco Asenjo Barbieri (Madrid, 1890). Beside some pieces in Italian style (frottole and estrambotes) we find mostly songs of typically Spanish character, written by composers belonging to several generations, including Francisco de Penalosa, Pedro de Escobar, Juan Ponce, Garcia Munoz and Francisco de la Torre. The Cancionero Musical del Palacio contains about sixty compositions signed by Juan del Enzina.
It is interesting to note that, as succeeding generations passed, the style of the songs became increasingly simple in the employment of technical devices. Simple chords accompanying a popular Spanish melody can produce profoundly moving effects. To those accustomed to the complex Franco-Flemish art, and to its projection upon Italian music, the Spanish style may appear simplistic. Our judgment should not however be too hasty: for as in Spanish painting the music of the Peninsula is a treasure house of undeniable originality and inexhaustible richness. Despite close links it remains somewhat apart from the Flemish-Italian axis which predominated at the period, reflecting the power of its specific nature and of the different objectives which characterize it. Spanish music from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries sounds more modern to our ears than the learned and highly constructed art of the north. In place of intellectual speculation it offers the projection of expression, a constant which characterises Mediterranean countries but which, curiously, Italy did not fully develop until a century later.
The songs of the Cancionero Musical del Palacio represent essentially two types: the villancico and the romance. The villancico is an ancient form, practised in Spain since the fourteenth century, although the term itself did not appear until around the end of the fifteenth. It is similar to the monophonic French virelai and to the Italian ballata. During the period of the trouveres people in Andalusia sang and danced a form of similar structure - the zejel - which alternated verses given to the soloist with a refrain sung by the chorus, rather in the manner of responsorial chant with its contrasts between the cantor's solos and the congregation's chorus. In the villancico the initial refrain or estri-billo gives way to the coplas, one or more strophes of different melody and rhyme, while the final (vuelta) is a return to the melody and rhyme of the refrain. The villancico has the character of a village song: lively and abounding in ironic or picaresque joie de vivre.
The romance, originated in fourteenth century Castille, from where is spread throughout the whole of Spain. With its epic recitational character, it is similar to the French chanson de geste. The text determines the musical form which is marked by solemnity, with a grave majesty and a purposely processional style. The war against the Infidel, the celebration of the tragic hero and older epic themes form the basic of a repertoire which belongs to the tradition to the noble threnody and the vehement lament.
Of all the writers of villancicos and romances, JUAN DEL ENZINA is no doubt the one whose genius is expressed with the most personal originality, some of his poems even having an autobiographical character. He was born in Salamanca, on the 12th July, 1468, the son of a certain Juan de Fermoselle, a cobbler. We do not know the origin of this family name, which is certainly not Spanish. The brothers of our poet and musician used the family name in its original or Hispanicized form (Hermosilla), while he himself seemed to have changed it around 1490 to Enzina, which is thought to have come from his mother. The Fermoselle parents lived modestly but sought to give their children an excellent education, as we see from the important jobs which several of them attained. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Salamanca, Juan del Enzina entered the service of the Duke of Alba, Don Fadrique Alvarez de Toledo, nephew of the King of Aragon, Ferdinand V, in 1492. He remained there for many years, the last testimony to his presence in the court dating from 1498. No doubt disappointed not to have obtained the post of choirmaster in the cathedral of Salamanca, which he had applied for, Enzina after 1500 began a series of travels which took him to Rome, where he won the favour of the successive popes Alexander VI, Julius II and Leo X. We do not know exactly when he took minor orders, but in the course of a journey to the Holy Land in the Spring of 1519 he was ordained to the priesthood. From 1523 he lived in Leon where Leo X had appointed him Prior in the cathedral. It was there that he spent his last years and died at the end of 1529.
Juan del Enzina was a great traveller. His fame in his time seems to have been great. The benefices which resulted from the patronage of three successive popes must have aroused as much enmity as respect. He no doubt showed a very strong character and this may have affected those who were opposed to him. It hardly seems possible to talk about his love life or to know whether the allusions in his poetry were relevant to experience or to mere amorous convention. But we should underline that the appearance of the Cancionero at Salamanca in 1496 represents the first publication in Spain - and one of the first in fact in Europe - to be devoted to a single author during his lifetime. Such a publication testifies to the author's self-confidence (and to that of his printer) but it was justified by the five successive reprints which were to appear later between 1501 and 1516, in Spanish towns as far away from Salamanca as Saragosa and Seville.
The place that Juan del Enzina occupies in the history of Hispanic culture is considerable. He has been called Patriarca del teatro espanol, which does not however take into account his lyrical vein. In many ways Juan del Enzina's composition is rather strange. Here was an ecclesiastic, very involved no doubt, who has left exclusively secular work. It is true that he took care to specify that his lyric verse was written before his twenty fifth year. As a poet he made his mark with the theatrical eclogues whose conclusions were presented in the form of the villancico. As a musician he aspired to a post as choirmaster but he never wrote any masses or motets, which would surely have been a persuasive means of achieving such a post. He only wrote songs, exclusively setting his own verse. His life seems to have been cut into two parts, the sedentary and creative part at the court of Alba, the itinerant and religious part after 1500; it is as if it was affected by the death of Don Juan to whom he was undoubtedly close. But was this closeness real attachment or courtly flattery. We believe it was the former, for there is a tone in his verse which seems very clear marking a break in the life of this greatly gifted artist.
We should stop for a moment to consider this Don Juan. First because his death is one of the two major themes upon which this recording is based. Second because its impact would not be understood if we were to forget that the Prince, apparently gifted and artistic, represented the hopes of a dynasty which had only just been established and of a country which had just risen to the rank of a modern state. Don Juan was the only son of the Catholic Monarchs; that he died without any children raised the spectre of a dynastic crisis. Those who recognized themselves selves as part of this growing nation could only be disturbed at the thought of a break in its only recently acquired political stability. From the viewpoint of history we can understand their fears. It was the death of Don Juan which led to the installation of the Hapsburgs on the throne of the young Spain. The heir to the Catholics Monarchs was their grandson, Charles I, a Germanic Prince born in Ghent, whose mother tongue was French. This was the future Emperor Charles V. The future would show that for all this he was not a bad Spaniard. But who in 1497 could have known this, three years before his birth ?
This grief which assumed a noble dignity before the irreparable catastrophe contrasts with the joy on the announcement of the capture of Granada, the last Moorish bastion in the Iberian Peninsular. This was the final stage of the Reconquista, the slow and despairing advance of the Christians in overcoming the Arab invasion, which had lasted since the year 711, that is to say for seven hundred and eighty one years. Modern Spain was born from this acceleration in history and was conscious of it. It was during the short stay of Enzina at the court of Alba that the two major events which were to determine his future took place. Today, with the benefit of hindsight, we would say that there were three major events: for on 12 October, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered America; the Conquistadores followed the Reconquista. But contemporaries were ignorant of this. Similarly they were unaware of the cultural break represented by the Inquisition, which was the natural corollary of the successful Reconquista, which was to impose Catholicism as a state religion.
What first strikes us on hearing the villancicos and romances of Juan del Enzina, apart from their specifically Spanish character, is the harmony which exists between the poem and its musical translation. Each inflection of the musical text gives rise to a melodic and rhythmic invention which shows a great mastery of the means to achieve expression: whether this be of despair, as in the Don Juan cycle, of humour - sometimes salacious (Cucit; Sihabrd en este bal-dre's), sometimes picaresque (Hoy comamos y bevamos), sometimes comic (Fata la parte), or ironically moralizing (El que rige y el regido), of courtly and platonic love (Amor confortuna; Ay, triste, que vengo; Mas vale trocar), the tone adopted is of such remarkable appropriateness that it is irresistible. It is this immediacy of perception which gives these pieces, which are just five hundred years old, their most modern and effective aspect for man today, offering the key to the perenial nature of this repertoire.
- Michel Bernstein (translated by Frank Dobbins)