Cancionero Musical de Palacio: Music of the Spanish Court (Accentus Ensemble/ Thomas Wimmer) (Naxos: 8.553536)
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Cancionero Musical de Palacio
In the year 711 Arab armies from NorthAfrica crossed into the Iberian peninsula and in a few decades establishedthere a new Islamic kingdom that included nearly all present-day Spain.
Together with the Arabs came some 50,000 Jews, whose numbers increased duringthe course of the century. The opposition to foreign domination began to makeitself felt from the thirteenth century, continuing until 1492 when Granada wastaken, the last Moorish kingdom, and the whole Iberian peninsula passed againunder Christian suzerainty. In the almost eight preceding centuries there hadbeen a mixture of the three groups of people, Arabs, Christians and Jews, witha consequent exchange of some cultural elements. In 1492 this stimulating processcame to a sudden end. The fall of Granada was taken as a welcome reason toexile the unconverted Jews, and, with the help of the Inquisition, to imposeCatholicism as a state religion. More critical authors of the period were wellaware of the cultural loss and the spiritual impoverishment that Spainunderwent through these events. The support for Columbus and the subsequentattempts to establish overseas the Catholic Vice-Regal dominion offered, itseemed, a more than welcome opportunity away from the particular problems ofthe country.
The end of the fifteenth century broughta definite change in art music. Before this the Spanish rulers had looked formusicians in France, Flanders or Italy, but the Catholic court, under Ferdinandand Isabella, whose marriage in 1462 had united the kingdoms of Aragon andCastile, with their accession to the throne in 1474, engaged only Spanishmusicians for their orchestra. Above all it was Ferdinand who, after the deathof Isabella in 1504, invited the best Castilian musicians to his court andfounded the royal chapel, one of the largest in Europe, with 46 musicians.
Through this development of awareness of their own culture a style developeddifferent from the Franco-Flemish style of the early fifteenth century. Thisnew style, strongly oriented towards folk-music and based on a simpler harmonicstructure, brought in no way a simplification or descent into the banale, butrather an incomparable strength of feeling and expression. Counterpoint nolonger held the main point of interest, but, instead, the sensitive expressionof the text. Rather than looking back to original Christian Spain, here thereare traces of that culture of which Spain wanted to be rid, that had made sucha deep impression on the people, not only in music. The inner melancholy of themusic, the rhythm, the form and the contents of many songs are evidence of thepresence of Jews and Arabs.
Several so-called Cancioneros serveus today as sources of the court repertoire, collections of songs, among whichthe most important is the Cancionero de Palacio. This is found in thelibrary of the Royal Palace in Madrid and originally included 551 compositions,of which, through the loss of 54 pages, 460 are preserved. The origin of thisvery substantial witness to the musical life of Spain falls in the last thirdof the fifteenth century and in the first third of the sixteenth. It is certainthat this collection is not the work of one but rather of several scribes, whocopied the notation very exactly, but made many mistakes and phonetic changesin the texts. In the original the songs are not given in score but are, as inthe rest of Europe at this period, given in separate parts, with the text onlyunderlying the discant. The Cancionero must certainly have served at theestablishment of the Royal Chapel, although many poems stem from the entourageof the Duke of Alba.
The songs included are of many differentkinds, love stories, political and historical narratives (among them ever againthe theme of the capture of Granada), religious, knightly and pastoralsubjects, light-hearted pieces and dance music. Castilian is by far the mostfrequent language, with a smaller quantity of texts in Italian, Portuguese andeven Basque, as well as typical songs in a mixture of French, Italian andCastilian. The most frequent forms are those of the villancico and the romance.
The former has similarities with the Italian frottola and the Arab zejel,with its probable origin in the fourteenth century and continuing in usewell into the sixteenth. It is a strophic form, which always begins with anintroductory verse (estribillo), continuing with an original strophe (copla)and ending with the vuelta. The romance, on the other hand,is in more general narrative style, dealing with stories of love or knighthood.
The compositional style of the songs isnot unified and ranges from fugal writing to simple homophony and completeexpression of the text, from the three-voice discant-tenor-contratenortechnique of the fifteenth century to the six-voice polyphony of the sixteenth.
All in all the Cancionero de Palacio showsthe flowering of Spanish cultural life, made possible through a strengthenedself-awareness and feeling of nationhood, developed through ever-growing tradecontact with Flanders and overseas and characterized by simplicity, emotionaldepth and the interweaving of court art with the art of the people.
Thomas Wimmer (English version by KeithAnderson)
The Ensemble Accentus was established in Vienna in 1988 and consists of no morethan thirteen singers and instrumentalists. The group is devoted particularlyto the performance of early Spanish music, with special attention to theelement of improvisation. The repertoire ranges from Sephardic Romances, throughart-music and popular music of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuriesto the high polyphony of the latter. Ensemble Accentus has been active in therecording, broadcasting and television studios as well as in public concertsand festival appearances.
Carmen Cano (mezzo-soprano)
Bernhard Landauer (countertenor)
Bernd Lambauer (tenor)
James Curry (tenor)
Colin Mason (bass-baritone)
Marco Ambrosini (keyed fiddle, gaitita)
Nora Kallai (viola da gamba)
Lorenz Duftschmid (viola da gamba,violone)
Thomas Wimmer (viola da gamba, violone,vihuela d'arco, ud, gaitita)
Michael Posch (Renaissance recorder)
Riccardo Delfino (harp, double harp,hurdy gurdy, gaita)
Richard Labsch??tz (vihuela da mano)
Wolfgang Reithofer (percussion)
Director: Thomas Wimmer