One of the most distinctive characteristics of the rich theatrical tradition of the Iberian Peninsula, starting with the early sixteenth-century playwrights such as Juan del Enzina in Spain or Gil Vicente in Portugal, is the prominent role played by music in its context. By the beginning of the seventeenth-century, in every major Peninsular city where theatrical performances were allowed to take place—usually in a patio (courtyard) surrounded by rudimentary seating facilities for the audience—both the sacred autos sacramentales and the secular comedias usually opened with a tono for four voices and continuo known as cuatro de empezar (literally “four-part opener”), sometimes followed by a loa (laud).
One of the most distinctive characteristics of the rich theatrical tradition of the Iberian Peninsula, starting with the early sixteenth-century playwrights such as Juan del Enzina in Spain or Gil Vicente in Portugal, is the prominent role played by music in its context. By the beginning of the seventeenth-century, in every major Peninsular city where theatrical performances were allowed to take place—usually in a patio (courtyard) surrounded by rudimentary seating facilities for the audience—both the sacred autos sacramentales and the secular comedias usually opened with a tono for four voices and continuo known as cuatro de empezar (literally “four-part opener”), sometimes followed by a loa (laud). Musical “special effects” (courtly fanfares, military trumpet calls and drum rolls, thunderstorm roars, etc.) as well as full-scale songs and dances would then be inserted in the dramatic action itself, and at the end of the performance there could come a musical fin de fiesta (“end of feast”). Furthermore, the successive acts could be separated by musical interludes called bailes or entremeses, often quite developped, musically as well as dramatically.
Opera, in the strict sense of a drama entirely set to music, was introduced in the Peninsula as early as in 1627, when La selva sin amor, on a libretto by none other then the greatest Spanish playwright of the period, Félix Lope de Vega (1562-1635), was staged at the Coliseo del Buen Retiro, the theatre at the royal palace of Madrid. This seems, however, to have been an artificial attempt on the part of the young King Philip IV to give a public demonstration of the progressive and cosmopolitan artistic leanings of his court, most likely under the influence of the Papal Nuntio, Giulio Rospigliosi, who had been the librettist for some of the operas of Stefano Landi while moving in the circle of the Barberini family in Rome. The music (now lost) and sets were by two Italians—the composer Filippo Piccinini and the stage designer Cosimo Lotti, respectively—and although Lope de Vega himself praised the performance enthusiastically in the preface to the later edition of his play this first operatic experiment had no direct consequences for more than three decades. The Spanish court had to wait until 1660 for the production of two new operas, both now with texts by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (La púrpura de la rosa and Celos aún del aire matan), and the ultimate success of this later attempt to establish the new genre in Spain was most certainly due to the fact that this time the music was deeply rooted into the specifically Iberian stage tradition rather than crafted according to the distant and somewhat “exotic” taste of the Florentine and Roman intellectual circles.
Thus, throughout the first two thirds of the seventeenth century the Spanish and Portuguese stages, instead of adopting the Italianate operatic models continued to develop their own time-honoured tradition of combining spoken dialogue with music according to a variety of possible modes. The combination of text and music tended to take place within these plays in a rather informal way, to a greater or lesser extent according to the number and quality of the musicians available for each particular production, or in some cases to the musical talent of the actors involved themselves. More than half of the comedias and autos by Lope de Vega, for instance, incorporate specific references to particular songs, some with texts by Lope himself, others taken from the current songbook repertoire of his time, and in many cases these sung items can be identified in one or another of the Iberian musical sources of the period, either printed or manuscript. It is quite plausible, nevertheless, that actual performances may have been characterized by a very flexible musical component, and that the choices of songs mentioned in the printed, “official” edition of the playwright’s works may to a certain extent reflect the solution adopted for a particular production, far from being the equivalent to our modern concept of a musical Urtext for any of these plays.
The seventeenth-century secular song literature that found its way into Lope’s theatre goes back to the double tradition of the polyphonic songbooks started more than a century earlier with the Cancionero del Palacio and of the solo villancicos and romances with instrumental accompaniment published in the vihuela prints of Milán, Narváez and others, from 1536 on. The old distinction between the villancico, with its recurring refrain, and the strophic romance had disappeared in the meantime, however, and the term romance was now applied indifferently to works both with and without refrain, and with the most diversified formal design, being almost a synonym of tono in this new context. Other frequent designations for the same genre include tonada (or tonada humana), solo (or solo humano), tonillo, chanzoneta, letra, baile, or jácara, all of which just refer to the same generic reality of a secular song written for one to four parts, with or without a written-out instrumental accompaniment.
Throughout the first half of the century this repertoire was compiled in several songbooks now preserved in various countries, including, among others, the two at the Madrid National Library (Romances y letras a tres voces and Libro de Tonos Humanos), two in Spanish private collections (Tonos castellanos – B and the Cancionero de Onteniente), and those belonging to the Library of the Ajuda Palace (Lisbon), the National Library of Torino, the Casanatense Library (Rome), or the Bayrisches Staatsbibliothek (Munich)—the latter assembled by the copyist of the Spanish Royal Chapel, Claudio de la Sablonara. To these manuscript sources must be added a print, the Libro segundo de tonos y villancicos (Rome, 1624), by Juan Arañes, private musician of the Duke of Pastrana, Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See. It is, nevertheless, in Sablonara’s collection that we now find the largest number of songs by the composers more directly associated with Lope de Vega’s plays.
Amongst the latter a particularly significant place is that of the Aragonese composer Juan Blas de Castro (+ 1631), a close friend of Lope, who called him a “twice divine musician” (“dos veces músico divino”) in La Vega del Parnaso, both artists having served together for quite some time at the private court of the Duke of Alba. Equally important in this context was the great Flemish polyphonist Matthieu Rosmarin (+ 1647), known in Spain by his Hispanicized name of Mateo Romero and by the title of “Maestro Capitán” (“Master Captain”). He was to ascend to the dignity of Chapelmaster of the Flemish Chapel, a prestigious musical institution at the service of the Kings of Spain since the time of Philip the Handsome and Charles V. Another composer who distinguished himself as an author of songs for the theatre during Lope’s lifetime was the Portuguese Manuel Machado (+ 1646), the son of one of the harpists of the Spanish Royal Chapel, whose works were carefully collected in several of the manuscript anthologies of the period.
Ranging from two to four parts, these songs are usually based on tuneful melodies, some directly inspired by the simplicity of the traditional Peninsular romancero, others more sophisticated in their craft, often displaying a refined design and a particularly expressive, almost madrigalistic technique of text handling. The polyphonic texture tends to favour dialogue between the upper parts, with parallel motion at the third or sixth and homophonic declamation of energetic rhythmic figurations, rather than strict imitative counterpoint. Very often there are lively, dance-like rhythmic patterns, clearly taken from various Iberian popular dances, from the canarios and the passacalles to the jácaras and the seguidillas.
Lope de Vega also dealt extensively with religious subjects, especially in his Rimas Sacras, a collection of devotional poetry from which comes the impressive Si tus penas no pruevo, Jesus mío, presented as an “amorous soliloquy of a soul addressing God.” Significantly, this poem was chosen by Francisco Guerrero (+ 1599), the most dramatically intense Iberian composer of sacred polyphony in last third of the sixteenth-century, for one of the most moving settings of his collection of Canciones y Villanescas espirituales (Venice, 1589). Although its style is obviously different from that of most of the other vocal works included in the present recording it helps to give us a more comprehensive portrait of the full breadth of Lope’s connection with the music of his time.
Of course we cannot take for granted that the polished contrapuntal versions that have survived in the polyphonic songbook repertoire were the ones used in the actual theatrical performances of Lope de Vega’s time. Most likely, the main tunes were often sung by the actors with an improvised instrumental accompaniment, sometimes by an ensemble performing according to the well-established principles of the contrapunto concertado that had been explained and exemplified in the music theory of the Peninsula since the mid-sixteenth century, sometimes merely by a guitar or any other harmonic instrument, such as the harpsichord of the harp. And even when written polyphonic settings were used the issue of the specific solutions adopted in terms of instrumentation as well of such essential aspects of performance practice as ornamentation and diminution (“glosa”) is nowadays one that remains open to a variety of reconstruction possibilities, taking into consideration the principles explained already by such theorists as Diego Ortíz (1555), Juan Bermudo (1555) and Tomás de Santa María (1565).
Many of the references to music in Lope’s plays, however, are not shown by the inclusion of particular songs that can be located in the available music sources but instead by general indications such as “aquí cantan con guitarra” (“here they sing to a guitar”) “aquí cantan y bailan” (“here they sing and dance”), or even just “suena música” (“here music is heard”). This opens a wide scope of choices for any attempt to recreate the musical environment of his theatre, especially in regard to instrumental music. Besides purely instrumental versions of the vocal songbook literature, there is a vast soloistic repertoire of Iberian music written for instruments—from the Ortíz’ recercadas for the viols of 1555 to the entire body of vihuela and keyboard music published from the mid 1530s on—from which a selection of appropriate works can be taken for this purpose. The current album offers a collection of compositions representing these various areas of the instrumental repertoire. In his ground-breaking Trattado de glosas, Ortíz had offered a series of virtuosic diminutions on several of the most popular ostinato bass-lines of the time, amongst them those on the Passamezzo moderno and the Romanesca recorded here. The rich Spanish sixteenth-century repertoire for the vihuela is represented by Enríquez de Valderrábano’s two Sonnets from his printed collection of 1547, exemplifying an elaborate tradition of instrumental counterpoint that was at the forefront of the development of composition for plucked-string instruments in Europe.
Finally, we find in the present recording works by three of the foremost Spanish composers of keyboard music of this period: António de Cabezón (+ 1566), the great organ virtuoso at the service of the Royal Chamber of King Philip II, Sebastián Aguilera de Heredia (+ 1627), who distinguished himself as organist to the cathedral of Zaragoza, and the Andaluzian Francisco Correa de Arauxo (+ 1654), whose Facultad Organica (1626) was one of the most influential organ prints in the Peninsula throughout the whole seventeenth century. Cabezón’s compositions document both the tradition of the tiento, a typically Iberian contrapuntal genre of instrumental music with some similarities to the Italian ricercare, and the mid-sixteenth-century vogue for keyboard diminutions on fashionable Franco-Flemish polyphonic chansons such as, in this case, the song La dama le demanda.
Amongst the works by Correa and Aguilera we should stress those representative of yet another typically Iberian genre of organ music, the so-called “batalla”, a kind of battle-piece which was probably performed at Mass during the Elevation of the Host as a sort of musical representation of the mystical struggle between Good and Evil. Like its vocal equivalent, the “misa de batalla”, it makes use of the theatrical motives of Jannequin’s famous chanson La bataille de Marignan in its attempt to portray the sound effects of the battlefield. The growing number and variety of bright reed stops in the Peninsular organ helped the choice of tone colours for this musical portrayal, which must have had an extremely effective dramatic impact on the congregations assembled in the local cathedrals. Correa de Arauxo’s version—directly based on a mass by Cristóbal de Morales which in turn had followed the model of Jannequin’s above-mentioned chanson—was the first in the development of a genre that was to produce other extraordinary examples not only at the hands of his contemporary Aguilera de Heredia but also at those of later Spanish and Portuguese masters such as Pedro de Araújo, Diego da Conceição, José Ximénez or Joan Cabanilles.
Lope de Vega’s masterpieces cannot be fully understood as a purely literary and dramatic genre, without a clear conscience of the permanent interplay between spoken dialogue and music that took place on stage when they were originally produced. But beyond this immediate link in terms of its original performance practice Lope’s theatre is also an essential component of a unified cultural and spiritual world vision that defines and identifies the Iberian Peninsula as a whole in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and as such it shares with the music of its time and place yet another level of deep interpenetration. With this compilation of two of his most acclaimed classical recordings of this repertoire Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall offer us an enlightening view of both the musical side of the theatre and the theatrical side of the music within the fascinating heritage of the Spanish Siglo de Oro.
RUI VIEIRA NERY
University of Évora