Skip to page content

About this Piece

The music on this program comes mostly from the period known as El Siglo de Oro, Spain’s “Golden Century,” a period of thriving arts and letters so expansive that it’s hard to find agreement about when it began or ended. At the end of the 15th century, the Spaniards drove the Moors out of Iberia and began colonizing America. Early in the 16th century, the thrones of Spain (technically a confederation of nominally independent kingdoms) and the Holy Roman Empire were combined by marriage into a vast holding that included not only much of modern Germany and Austria, but parts of what is now France and the Low Countries, opening a cultural pipeline from Spain to Flanders and Burgundy.

The Golden Century — the era of painters El Greco (1514–1614) and Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) and writers Miguel Cervantes (1547–1616), Lope de Vega (1562–1635), and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681)— is typically said to begin in the mid- 1500s and end in the mid-1600s, though another opinion is that it ended only with Calderón’s death. The composers most often mentioned as exemplifying the Golden Century — Tomás Luís de Victoria, Cristóbal de Morales, Alonso Lobo, and Francisco Guerrero — are not represented on this program, which digs a bit deeper in search of voices that are perhaps more national and less international.

Most cultures form from the meeting and clashing of peoples, and Spain is decidedly no exception. Catholic Visigoths coexisted with Muslim Moors for centuries, with the Moors controlling parts of Iberia until the Christians took Granada, the last Moorish stronghold, in 1492, completing what Spaniards know to this day as the Reconquista. Moorish culture left an indelible stamp on Spanish architecture and music, and the Moorish presence is a huge part of Spanish folklore.

The moresca dance may have originated in medieval Spain as a stylized representation of battles between Moors and Christians, but it soon spread into the rest of Europe. So, in a way, did the composer of the moresca that opens the program: Pedro Guerrero spent the middle part of his life (in the middle of the 16th century) in Italy, where his considerable reputation survived both his return to Spain and his death.

Seville native Francisco Correa de Arauxo (1584-1654) was an ordained priest and church organist who had a bumpy career that involved civil litigation and time in prison. The Correa work in the second part of the program is a set of glosas on a Marian hymn, “Todo el mundo en general.” Renaissance Spain had two terms for instrumental elaboration of a theme: diferencias is roughly akin to “variations,” while glosas connotes “ornamentation.” The difference between them can be subtle, and is more interesting to the player than the listener.

Two anonymous pieces on the program are archetypical Spanish dance forms.The jácaras was a dance and song that became prominent in Spanish theater. Its distinguishing feature was its subject matter: the doings of people in the lower, and often criminal, classes. The canarios was a kind of jig associated with the Canary Islands, which lie off the southern coast of Morocco and were incorporated into the Spanish empire after the kingdom of Castile spent the entire 15th century conquering them.

Of the three works on the program containing the title or description folía or folías (“folly” or “madness”), only Diferencias sobre las Folías by Antonio Martín y Coll (c.1680–1734) is based on the melody/chord progression that Lully dubbed “Les Folies d’Espagne” and is now familiar from Corelli, Rachmaninoff, and a host of Baroque composers who couldn’t resist its siren call. Martín y Coll’s version is one of the few pieces in his four volumes of keyboard music that can be attributed to him with any confidence. Nearly all the others are unattributed, although the composers of most of them can be identified. The other two folía works are based on different patterns, and may date from before the folía evolved into its familiar form. The mid-17th-century Obra in the First Mode by Pedro de San Lorenzo may need its title explained. “Obra” could mean “a work” (as in opus), but was sometimes used in the same sense as tiento, a polyphonic work consisting of worked- out imitative counterpoint with sections of freer passagework: a less formal form than the fantasia or its later offspring, the fugue. (The tiento was what Italians called a ricercar.) Pedro de San Lorenzo’s Obra is a carefully worked-out tiento. Nothing is known about the composer other than that he was probably a monk. Mateo Romero’s A La Dulce Risa del Alva is a song found only in the manuscript known as the Cancionero de la Sablonara, named for royal copyist Claudio de la Sablonara, who compiled it in about 1625 and later took it to Munich. Romero (c. 1575–1647) was born Mathieu Rosmarin in Flanders, but came to Madrid to sing in the Flemish Chapel when he was about 20. He became Maestro di Capilla of that chapel in about 1598, and must have cut a commanding musical and administrative figure: he was usually called Maestro Capitán rather than by his name.

The romance Desde las torres del alma is another piece that survives only in the Cancionero de la Sablonara. The composer, Juan Blas de Castro (1561–1631), was a guitarist and theorbist in the courts of Felipe III and IV, and a personal friend of Lope de Vega. On his death, Felipe IV paid Castro’s estate 600 reales to defray funeral expenses and to acquire all his compositions, but because they were destroyed in a fire at the Palacio Real in 1730, his music is now known only from two manuscripts copied by others.

The anonymous Seguidillas in Eco from Sablonara’s Cancionero, De tu Vista Celoso, features a clever bit of wordplay, in which a key word is echoed without its first sound, creating a different word that takes over the sentence in a sort of free association. The chacona was a rhythmic song/ dance that probably originated in Spanish America in the 1500s. There are no surviving examples from that century, but we know from comments by writers, including Lope de Vega and Cervantes, that it was associated with the lower class, and the guardians of public decency took a dim view of its suggestive dance movements and its irreverence toward authority and religion.

The anonymous lyrics in the version by Juan Arañes, published in his Second Book of Tonos and Villancicos in 1624 in Rome, where he was Maestro di Capilla of the Spanish embassy, highlights the chacona’s subversive effects on morals and the class system. (The Eurocentric English translation supplied by Hespèrion XXI uses the word “toff,” which is an unflattering British term for “upper-class person;” a rough American equivalent might be “rich boy.”) The chacona, like the folía and other dances, would morph into different forms over the centuries.

The elegiac and anonymous Ya es tiempo de recoger that starts the second half of the program is one of a number of settings of Lope de Vega’s text. The Marian hymn No Ay Entendimiento Humano is from the Codex Trujillo del Perú, a manuscript of illustrations and music that Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón, Bishop of Trujillo, compiled in the 1780s and sent to the king of Spain in 1788, after the king named Compañón archbishop of Bogotá. As Compañón noted, it was sung and danced by eight performers when he visited the village of Otusco in the Peruvian coastal mountains.

Joan Cabanilles (1644–1712) was the organist at the Valencia Cathedral the last 46 years of his life. Among his works for organ are a number of pieces with dance titles. What he called Corrente Italiano is actually a mini-suite consisting of an introductory pavane or allemande (a stately walking dance), a corrente (a faster triple- meter dance) based on the same melody, and finally a giga (a faster triple-meter dance). It has been dubbed “obertura” because “overture” became synonymous with “suite.”

Calderón de la Barca collaborated with Juan Hidalgo (1614–1685) on at least five, and maybe as many as eight, stage works, including the first Spanish opera in 1660. Hidalgo, who played harp in the Royal Chapel, composed music for at least nine other stage works. “Quedito, pasito” is from a 1662 comedia called Ni amor se libra de amor (“Not Even Love Is Free From Love”).

Antonio Valente was an Italian who worked as a church organist in Naples (a Spanish possession from 1503 to 1714), which is where his book of harpsichord music was published in 1576. The music is written in a type of tablature that does not use the familiar five-line bass and treble staves, but represents each key by a number written over or under a line, thus saving both paper and ink, which were expensive in those days.

The Mexican Juan García de Zéspedes (1619–1678) sang, and eventually directed the music, at the cathedral in the east-central Mexican city known then as Puebla de los Ángeles, and known now as just plain Puebla. Ay que me abrazo ¡ay!, in the form of the energetic dance called the guaracha, is the second part of his Convidando está la noche, a Christmas villancico.