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  • DON QUIJOTE DE LA MANCHA Romances y Músicas
  • DON QUIJOTE DE LA MANCHA Romances y Músicas
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DON QUIJOTE DE LA MANCHA Romances y Músicas
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Reference: AVSA9843

  • Hespèrion XXI
  • La Capella Reial de Catalunya
  • Jordi Savall

Amid the plethora of eulogies and tributes published to mark the fourth centenary of The Quixote, few will have addressed in any depth the musical facet of Miguel de Cervantes’s genius, and still fewer will have paused to reflect that Cervantes’s literary greatness brought him as little worldly success as his hero’s greatness of spirit afforded him. Like our musicians of the past, whose memory, even in the 21st century, is still buried under the successive layers of Romanticism and Modernism, let us not forget, in the midst of all the celebrations, that Miguel de Cervantes, to whose musical dimension we now pay tribute, was not only misunderstood in the Spain in which he lived, but also disparaged and humiliated by his contemporaries.

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Amid the plethora of eulogies and tributes published to mark the fourth centenary of The Quixote, few will have addressed in any depth the musical facet of Miguel de Cervantes’s genius, and still fewer will have paused to reflect that Cervantes’s literary greatness brought him as little worldly success as his hero’s greatness of spirit afforded him. Like our musicians of the past, whose memory, even in the 21st century, is still buried under the successive layers of Romanticism and Modernism, let us not forget, in the midst of all the celebrations, that Miguel de Cervantes, to whose musical dimension we now pay tribute, was not only misunderstood in the Spain in which he lived, but also disparaged and humiliated by his contemporaries.

Only a writer with excellent musical training and experience and, moreover, one who had a thorough knowledge of the nature and practice of music, of both the ancient and contemporary ballad repertories, of song and dance, as well as the musical instruments used in his day, could have incorporated such a wealth of precise information about everyday musical practice into his narratives. For Cervantes, music is always the purest form of expression of individual feeling. The numerous sounds, both musical and environmental, that are always described in profuse detail, fill and indeed quicken his characters’ lives at moments of heightened emotion. Music can evoke peace and joy, melancholy and sadness, but it can also enchant and bewitch the listener, thanks to the highly intimate and personal nature of song and its own particular beauty and expression. Together, the music and the ballads transport us to a fantastic world in which our ancestral memory of history and myth inspires or encourages to understand or bear, and ultimately to sublimate and overcome the disappointments and setbacks of our daily lives. That is why music is always such a crucial element in Cervantes’s narrative, taking us into that magical dimension which goes far beyond what can be expressed or suggested by words alone.

If almost all great novels are to a certain extent autobiographical, it is more than likely that Cervantes’s own life served as an allegorical inspiration for some passages in The Quixote. Thus, it is not difficult to imagine Cervantes, like his eponymous hero, tuning his vihuela “and with a somewhat hoarse, though not at all untuneful voice” singing a ballad to help him forget his troubles, for despite the extraordinary success, especially in international terms, of The Quixote, its author was obliged to eke out a meagre living, neglected and denied recognition in his own country, where he was finally to die in poverty.

Our interest in the music of Miguel de Cervantes goes back to the 1970s, when, together with Montserrat Figueras, Hopkinson Smith, Ton Koopman and other musicians of the newly-founded ensemble Hespèrion XX, we recorded “Canciones y Danzas de España en la Época de Miguel de Cervantes” (1977) on the EMI label. Although that early recording offered a varied sample of the Cervantine repertory, the present edition of Romances y Músicas de Don Quijote includes all the ballads, songs, madrigals and other musical forms quoted and mentioned by the various characters or otherwise described at various points in the narrative, each presented together with its corresponding passage in the text recited by a number of different narrators. As we listen to the pieces in their true context within the narrative, their expressive power and evocative beauty offer us a new and thrilling insight into the world of that most ineffable and ingenious of knights, Don Quixote.

The original melodies of a large majority of the ballads and songs have been preserved in songbooks, publications (on the hand-plucked vihuela de mano, harp or keyboard) and treatises of the period. The dramatic Romance de Don Beltrán, for instance, dealing with the defeat at Roncesvaux, has been restored using the plainsong of the vihuelists and the masterly polyphonic version by Juan Vásquez. The festive music greeting Don Quixote’s arrival in Barcelona is performed to the strains of the Villano, performed on flutes, hornpipes and kettledrums. The popular ballad recounting the loves and adventures of Count Claros is recreated thanks to the succinct but essential information concerning the melody provided by Francisco Salinas in his treatise entitled Musica Libri VII (1565) and also the harmonisations and theme-and-variation diferencias by Venegas de Henestrosa and the vihuelists.

In all those cases in which there is no extant documentary record of the music to which the poems were sung, either because of a lack of historical sources or because the songs were new, written by Cervantes himself (numbers 18, 22, 24 of Part One and 15, 19, 25 and 27 of Part Two), we have adopted the “contrafactum” technique which was widely used in the author’s day, selecting those melodies of the period which most closely match the mood and metre of the poems; the charming Romance Viejo de Lanzarote has thus been recreated using an ancient Sephardic melody, while for the Romance de Guarinos we have used the melody to the Romance de Alburquerque (CMP 106). For the Romance del Llanto de Belerma we have chosen the intensely expressive female lament “El bien qu’estuve esperando” by Sant Juan (CMP 68).

All the musical pieces have been integrated into the narrative and essentially performed according to the indications given in the novel: using specific instruments such as the vihuela, the harp or the rebec, or voice, whether alone or accompanied only by “the singer’s own sighs” (II Nº 25). The readings are accompanied and enhanced by some of the most popular instrumental pieces of Cervantes’s day: “Conde Claros” and “Guárdame las vacas”, pavanas and gallardas, in the various versions by vihuelists, as well as instrumental introductions or glosses improvised on instruments such as the oud, the vihuela de mano, the Spanish cross-strung harp, the organ, the harpsichord, etc… Don Quixote’s death is accompanied by fragments from the Requiem, the Lacrimosa in its fauxbourdon plainsong form and the sublime Pie Jesu (for 5 voices) by Cristóbal de Morales.

The extraordinarily varied themes and characters of all these “Romances y Músicas”, constitute a moving fresco of poetry and music which sheds new light on the possible source of Don Quixote’s madness. It also displays the great musical treasure that Miguel de Cervantes preserved in his novel recounting the life and adventures of Don Quixote. As Paloma Díaz-Mas points out, in Cervantes’s day ballads were a fashionable genre, thanks to the widespread availability of texts made possible by the printing press. Written to be sung, these poems were on everybody’s lips. Cervantes peppered his Don Quixote with traditional medieval ballads that were undoubtedly still well known to the early 17th century public, as well as new ballads that he composed specially for the novel, all of which evoke in the form of songs, popular sayings or merely allusions a world which, although familiar to all, was none the less fascinating and enchanting. The present recording rescues this ancient body of poetry and music from the oblivion to which it has so undeservedly and incomprehensibly been confined, revealing a musical treasure that until now has lain hidden and largely unexplored in the pages of the most universal masterpiece of Spanish literature.

JORDI SAVALL
Bellaterra, Summer 2005

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