About this Recording
8.570458 - DURON: Tonadas (Songs)
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Sebastián Durón (1660–1716)
Tonadas (Songs)


An introduction to composer Sebastián Durón is also an introduction to a period of significant political and cultural change in Spanish history. The year 1700 saw the passing of the Spanish throne from the Habsburg dynasty to the Bourbons, while in the musical arena at around the same time, the Italian Baroque was becoming increasingly influential. Though Durón's musical roots were planted firmly in the Iberian tradition, he was to witness the overwhelming impact of this new, foreign style on the culture of his native country.

Sebastián Durón was born in 1660 in Brihuega (in the central Spanish province of Guadalajara). Little is known of his early life, but he was clearly very gifted from a young age and his talents must have been nurtured by some important teacher, given that before the age of twenty he had already been appointed to a number of responsible musical posts. We do know that at some point he began an ecclesiastical career and took holy orders. His brother Diego, two years older, also devoted his life to music, and for many years was maestro de capilla at the Las Palmas cathedral on Gran Canaria. Sebastián's career, meanwhile, was somewhat more varied.

It was common practice for musicians of the time to be employed as part of the musical staff of a cathedral, the most influential posts being those of organist and maestro de capilla. The latter's responsibilities included organising his team of musicians and providing all the music necessary for religious festivities and celebrations. The search for increasingly prominent and better-paid posts meant that organists and maestros frequently moved from one city to another. Sebastián, who was a very talented organist, was given an assistant's post at Saragossa Cathedral, but at only eighteen years old competed for the position of second organist at Seville, winning it by obtaining forty-three of the forty-nine votes cast. This new job proved to be a wonderful learning ground, both because of the wide range of musical activity that went on in Seville, and because of the opportunity it gave Durón to study with the cathedral's maestro de capilla, Alonso Xuárez, who went on to support the young man's burgeoning career, writing glowing letters of recommendation to his prospective employers.

This backing meant that Durón was directly appointed to his next job, that of organist at the Cathedral of El Burgo de Osma. There, however, in order to take up the post he was required to prove his Christian lineage. It is quite likely that Durón was Jewish in background, something that would have prevented his working for the Church, and he therefore had to procure the necessary proof that he was a Christian of long standing. This was a complex procedure, and a costly one, which seems to have been at the root of the financial problems that dogged him for the following years. It may have been something to do with these difficulties that led him to leave his job in a rather irregular manner, without official permission, and take up the post of organist in Palencia, where again he played a key role in the cathedral's musical life.

His skills as an organist and composer, and the fame he had accrued over the years, led then to an appointment as an organist in the Royal Chapel of Charles II. This was proof indeed of the esteem in which Durón was held by his contemporaries. There is even an anecdote that tells of Durón winning a musical duel in Vienna against Lully, thus paving his way to the royal appointment. Whatever the truth may be, Durón's work was very well-known, and he was later also appointed royal maestro de capilla, and entrusted with organising all the court's musical and theatrical entertainments. During this period (between 1691 and 1700), Durón firmly established himself as one of the most important musicians in Spain. His time in Madrid brought him into contact with music from elsewhere in Europe, and in particular, with the Italian style, which was by then provoking divisions in Spain between the defenders of native musical traditions and those open to Italian innovations. In general terms, Durón adhered to the Spanish style, especially in his sacred works, although he did introduce the use of violins into church music performance. His secular stage works (operas and zarzuelas), however, show a greater freedom and a more discernible foreign influence, albeit within the parameters of the composer's own individual style. Durón may therefore be seen as one of the first Spanish composers to have absorbed the new Italian influences.

His personal circumstances were to change in 1700, with the death of Charles II, the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession, and the ascent to the throne of the first Bourbon monarch, Philip V. The cultural tastes of the latter were decidedly Italian; in 1703 he arranged for the first Italian opera company to come and set up home in Madrid. While Italian music had always exerted a certain influence in Spain, now, with royal backing, it became a fully fledged rival to the indigenous traditions.

Durón, loyal to the late Charles II and the Austrian cause, soon fell out of favour with the new court, and was forced into exile in France, living in Bayonne, Pau and Cambo les Bains, where he worked at the court of Charles's widow, Maria Anna of Neuburg. As well as serving her as a musician, he was also her priest, even officiating at her scandalous wedding to the young son of a barrel-maker.

Durón died in 1716, probably of tuberculosis, in the spa town of Cambo les Bains (where, nearly two hundred years later, another legend of Spanish musical history – Isaac Albéniz – would also die). In a way he exemplifies the sea-change that Spanish Baroque music underwent at the turn of the eighteenth century. Brought up in a deeply rooted and clearly distinguishable native tradition, within which he had developed his personal style, he witnessed the advent of the Italian influence, and succeeded in adopting and adapting its new forms with originality into his own music. This was a fragile synthesis, the outcome of a specific set of circumstances, and destined not to endure, for with time, the pleasing Neapolitan style would convert the people of Spain to share Philip V's tastes, ensuring its predominance in the country's musical life for years to come.

José Angel Vilas
English translation: Susannah Howe



The Tonadas of Sebastián Durón

In seventeenth-century Spain the terms tonada and tono humano were both used to designate short secular songs, whether these were written for one, two, three or four voices. A tono became divino rather than humano if its secular words were modified or entirely replaced by a religious text, or if it had been written to sacred words in the first place.

This recording is the first monograph devoted to this eminent Spanish composer. It features nineteen works by Durón for solo voice and accompaniment: to be precise, sixteen secular tonadas, some taken from his zarzuelas and other stage works; one secular cantata in the Italian style (with recitatives, da capo arias, a Grave and Coplas); and two solos dedicated to the Eucharist, which show the extent to which the line between the sacred and the secular song could be blurred.

The journey involved in making this recording has not been an easy one. The first problem lay in tracking down these works, which were eventually discovered in different archives and libraries as well as in a number of modern editions, and which are presented together here for the first time. Having carried out our investigations and found a sufficient number of songs to give a representative view of Durón's work in the genre, our next task was to transcribe some of them. This too was fraught with difficulties: copyists' errors, smudged, illegible manuscripts, textual queries and even, in a couple of cases, missing musical parts, all added to our problems. The first piece with missing parts was ¡Ay de mi pasión!, a song taken from a manuscript of harp tablature (M 316) held by the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid. Only the original harp part has survived, but by following the indications on this and using what we know of Durón's style, I was able to reconstruct the missing vocal line. The second incomplete tono was that entitled Cristal apacible, from manuscript M 2618, also held by the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid. This manuscript of cantadas a lo humano clearly specifies that the cantatas had parts for violin and oboe accompaniment, but only actually supplies the vocal line. I reconstructed the bass without instrumental parts because, as the sources demonstrate, a particular tono or tonada could have existed in parallel but different versions: one with obbligato solo instrument parts, and one for voice and accompaniment. A good example of this is that of Sosieguen, sosieguen, a tonada better known in its version for obbligato vihuela de arco; here we give the version for voice and accompaniment found in a cantata manuscript held by the Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa.

It was common practice at the time for these works to be accompanied by either guitar or double harp: this much is clear from contemporary sources. The double, cross-strung harp is an instrument of Spanish origin which developed across the Iberian peninsula between the mid-1500s and the mid-1700s, being used for both sacred and secular music. The accompaniment on this recording is provided exclusively by the double harp – another first, as this practice, once widespread, has over the centuries been entirely forgotten.

These works by Durón were located in the following libraries and archives: the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, Biblioteca Central de Catalunya, Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa, Segovia Cathedral Archive, the private archives of Mr Miguel Querol and the Monte de Piedad Music Archive (Madrid). They were transcribed by Miguel Querol, Luis Robledo, Antonio Martín Moreno and Manuel Vilas.

Manuel Vilas
English translation: Susannah Howe


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