About this Recording
8.553536 - Cancionero Musical de Palacio: Music of the Spanish Court

Cancionero Musical de Palacio
In the year 711 Arab armies from North Africa crossed into the Iberian peninsula and in a few decades established there a new Islamic kingdom that included nearly all present-day Spain. Together with the Arabs came some 50,000 Jews, whose numbers increased during the course of the century. The opposition to foreign domination began to make itself felt from the thirteenth century, continuing until 1492 when Granada was taken, the last Moorish kingdom, and the whole Iberian peninsula passed again under Christian suzerainty. In the almost eight preceding centuries there had been a mixture of the three groups of people, Arabs, Christians and Jews, with a consequent exchange of some cultural elements. In 1492 this stimulating process came to a sudden end. The fall of Granada was taken as a welcome reason to exile the unconverted Jews, and, with the help of the Inquisition, to impose Catholicism as a state religion. More critical authors of the period were well aware of the cultural loss and the spiritual impoverishment that Spain underwent through these events. The support for Columbus and the subsequent attempts to establish overseas the Catholic Vice-Regal dominion offered, it seemed, a more than welcome opportunity away from the particular problems of the country.

The end of the fifteenth century brought a definite change in art music. Before this the Spanish rulers had looked for musicians in France, Flanders or Italy, but the Catholic court, under Ferdinand and Isabella, whose marriage in 1462 had united the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, with their accession to the throne in 1474, engaged only Spanish musicians for their orchestra. Above all it was Ferdinand who, after the death of Isabella in 1504, invited the best Castilian musicians to his court and founded the royal chapel, one of the largest in Europe, with 46 musicians. Through this development of awareness of their own culture a style developed different from the Franco-Flemish style of the early fifteenth century. This new style, strongly oriented towards folk-music and based on a simpler harmonic structure, brought in no way a simplification or descent into the banale, but rather an incomparable strength of feeling and expression. Counterpoint no longer held the main point of interest, but, instead, the sensitive expression of the text. Rather than looking back to original Christian Spain, here there are traces of that culture of which Spain wanted to be rid, that had made such a deep impression on the people, not only in music. The inner melancholy of the music, the rhythm, the form and the contents of many songs are evidence of the presence of Jews and Arabs.

Several so-called Cancioneros serve us today as sources of the court repertoire, collections of songs, among which the most important is the Cancionero de Palacio. This is found in the library 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 this very substantial witness to the musical life of Spain falls in the last third of the fifteenth century and in the first third of the sixteenth. It is certain that this collection is not the work of one but rather of several scribes, who copied the notation very exactly, but made many mistakes and phonetic changes in the texts. In the original the songs are not given in score but are, as in the rest of Europe at this period, given in separate parts, with the text only underlying the discant. The Cancionero must certainly have served at the establishment of the Royal Chapel, although many poems stem from the entourage of the Duke of Alba.

The songs included are of many different kinds, love stories, political and historical narratives (among them ever again the theme of the capture of Granada), religious, knightly and pastoral subjects, light-hearted pieces and dance music. Castilian is by far the most frequent language, with a smaller quantity of texts in Italian, Portuguese and even Basque, as well as typical songs in a mixture of French, Italian and Castilian. 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 use well into the sixteenth. It is a strophic form, which always begins with an introductory 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 is not unified and ranges from fugal writing to simple homophony and complete expression of the text, from the three-voice discant-tenor-contratenor technique of the fifteenth century to the six-voice polyphony of the sixteenth.

All in all the Cancionero de Palacio shows the flowering of Spanish cultural life, made possible through a strengthened self-awareness and feeling of nationhood, developed through ever-growing trade contact with Flanders and overseas and characterized by simplicity, emotional depth and the interweaving of court art with the art of the people.

Thomas Wimmer (English version by Keith Anderson)

Ensemble Accentus
The Ensemble Accentus was established in Vienna in 1988 and consists of no more than thirteen singers and instrumentalists. The group is devoted particularly to the performance of early Spanish music, with special attention to the element of improvisation. The repertoire ranges from Sephardic Romances, through art-music and popular music of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to the high polyphony of the latter. Ensemble Accentus has been active in the recording, broadcasting and television studios as well as in public concerts and festival appearances.

Ensemble Accentus

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

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