The Spanish Cathedral in the 17th Century

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Program: #06-07   Air Date: Feb 06, 2006

The ensemble Al Ayre Espagnol conducted by Eduardo Lopez Banzo recreates the late 17th century in Spain, when the forces of the Counter-Reformation were resisted in music by the popular and uniquely Iberian popular folk-inspired villancico.

We continue our long and fruitful association with our partners at Radio Netherlands in presenting a series of concerts from the Holland Festival of Early Music at Utrecht. Please visit their web site, which will provide more in-depth information about the music and performers we hear as well as more information about the festival:

NOTE: All of the music on this program is performed by the ensembles Al Ayre Espagnol directed by Eduardo López Banzo, who writes:

"The silence which descends upon out churches and cathedrals nowadays exists in sharp contrast to the sense of hustle and bustle which would be experienced by our ancestors. The most important area of those cathedrals was the Choir. Not only the principal place for prayer, the Choir was also the main performing area for the musicians. Of these there would be two groups: the singers of plainchant and the performers of polyphony. The responsibility of the first was to sing Gregorian chant for all the services of the daily liturgy. The second group of only professional musicians was required to perform at all the key liturgical junctions of the day. The maestro de capilla was foremost among these musicians and would be employed to compose music as well as look after educational needs of the choristers.

"Throughout the seventeenth century music played a fundamental part in the life of Spanish churches. The Church of Rome made use of the power of music to bring its Counter-Reformation argument to bear on the faithful and in so doing it helped to foster the enormous rivalry between cathedrals for securing the best available musicians. The aesthetics of the Baroque allowed for the Latin liturgical repertoire to be enriched and enhanced by new techniques. Firstly, the expressiveness of the melodic line became strengthened at around the same time as instruments became independent from the voices, thereby allowing composers to create complex and rich universes of sound.

"Secondly, the use of the echo effect became a firm favourite with the Spanish baroque composers.

"The procedures mentioned above were applied to music setting both Latin Spanish texts. With the latter there was a special repertory which was exclusively Iberian: the villancico. Originating out of popular Spanish lyrical poetry and with a structure containing alternating estribillos (refrains) and coplas (verses), it reached its most brilliant heights during the seventeenth century. Much musicological debate and discussion has been spent on this form on account of its unusual characteristics. It was one of the most effective weapons in the armoury of the Counter-Reformation because it was performed in the vernacular so the faithful could understand the text and the ecclesiastical authorities could control their religious message. However, because of this, it failed to observe one of the Counter-Reformation's cardinal tenets: the celebration of the liturgy in Latin. Villancicos tended to be performed at Matins on special occasions such as Christmas, Epiphany, and feasts in honour of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Sacrament. They would also turn up on para-liturgical occasions such as special rogations or supplications, ceremonies of the veil, processions, etc. The texts might reflect theological and conceptual material or might be purely popular in content or even comical. Finally, villancicos might even be accompanied by small theatrical performances. Described in this manner, it is easy to understand how the baroque villancico became the preferred musical form of the Spanish faithful and how also at times the church authorities became suspicious of it, denouncing it both for turning the church „into a theatre‰ and also for its content which was barely appropriate to religious observance. Such arguments were to lead to its gradual disappearance by the end of the eighteenth century.

"Included in this programme are examples of sacred vocal music set alongside instrumental pieces composed by JuanBautista Cabanilles. Organist at Valencia Cathedral from 1666 until his death, Cabanilles is one of the more renowned Spanish composers of organ music, above all for his tientos, of which he wrote in excess of two hundred. There is a tiento de falsas, with one single theme and with a solemn character, a pasacalle with its particular rhythmic pattern extended into the second section and the tiento deprimer tono in an intricate contrapuntal style. The works in Latin employ interesting examples of Baroque technical innovations. The motets of Patino, maestro de capilla at the Royal Chapel from 1634 onwards are chronologically and aethetically the oldest. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that In devotione provides a dazzling example of polychoral contrasts while Maria Mater Dei successfully achieves melodic exploitation in its frequently used patters and figurations. Sebastian Duron was one of the most prestigious Spanish composers from the latter half of the century, who worked in the Capilla Real from 1691 until his banishment in 1706. In his Salve de ecos he demonstrates his mastery of the echo technique while at the same time illustrating the text with various homophonic declarations or expressive silences. His Lamentacion primera is a complex work whose emotional energy derives from the use of descending tetrachords and expressive dissonances as well as the pictorial depiction of the text.

"It is in the villancicos where the command of Baroque musical writing is revealed in all its intensity. The earliest, A la sombra estais, is the work of the Valencian Juan Bautista Comes, vice-maestro de capilla at the Royal Chapel in 1618 and again maestro de capilla in the cathedral of his native city from 1632 until his death. In this villancico he sets up an interesting contrast between the introduction and the coplas (here, romance), unhurried, using only a few voices, and sharing the same musical motif, and the estribillo (here, responsion), quicker and with frequent surprises. Oygan los dulzes ecos by Cristobal Galan, maestro at the Royal Chapel from 1680 until his death, exhibits a successful play of sonorities thanks to the echo technique. Sebastian Duron's genius is clearly demonstrated in the villancico which provides the title for this programme, A batallar estrellas: profoundly Spanish in style, it makes use of various techniques such as the repetition of a single note in the style of haranguing (a batalla) or the imitation of the high-pitched sound of the reed instrument called the chirimia. Finally, from Joseph Ruiz de Samaniego, the maestro de capilla at Nuestra Senora del Pilar in Zaragoza, we have a villancico dedicated to the Virgen del Pilar, De splendor se doran los ayres, flecked with delightful references to popular music, such as when, concluding the introduction, he uses a variation of an Aragonese jota."

"A batallar estrellas"

1. Juan Bautista Cabanilles (1644-1712) Symphonia Tiento de falsas de primer tono

The Offering of the Holy Sacrament

2. Carlos Patiño 1600-1675
In devotione Motete al Santísimo
Reprise Symphonia (see 1.)

3. Juan Bautista Comes (1582?-1643) A la sombra estáis Villancico al Santísimo

4. Sebastián Durón (1660-1716) A batallar estrellas, villancico Villancico al Santísimo

5. Cristóbal Galán (ca.1620-1684) Oygan los dulzes ecos Villancico de ecos, al Santísimo

The Passion of the Christ

Juan Bautista Cabanilles
Tiento de falsas de primer tono

Sebastián Durón
Lamentación primera, del Miércoles

The Veneration of the Virgin Mary

Sebastián Durón
Salve de ecos

Juan Bautista Cabanilles
Passacalles de quarto tono

Joseph Ruiz de Samaniego (active 1653-1670)
Sirenas del viento, villancico

Carlos Patiño
Maria Mater Dei
Motete a la Virgen

Joseph Ruiz de Samaniego
De esplendor se doran los ayres, villancico
Villancico a la Virgen del Pilar (1666)



Composer Info

Juan Bautista Cabanilles (1644-1712), Carlos Patiño 1600-1675, Juan Bautista Comes (1582?-1643), Sebastián Durón (1660-1716), Joseph Ruiz de Samaniego (active 1653-1670)

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