About this Recording
8.572477 - CABEZON, A. de / CABEZON, H. de / CABEZON, J. de: Glosas (Wilson)

Antonio de Cabezón (1510–66) • Juan de Cabezón (?–1566) • Hernando de Cabezón (1541–1602)
Glosas for Harpsichord


For biographical information about Antonio de Cabezón (1510–66), the reader is kindly referred to the notes (available online at www.naxos.com) for Naxos 8.572475–76, Complete Tientos and Variations. The thorny problem of establishing a reliable text from the Obras de Música (1578) published by Antonio’s son Hernando, also discussed there, is in this case eased somewhat by our having most of the vocal models for the Cabezón family’s ornamented versions found on the present recording of glosas. Suffice it here to quote Hernando’s preface: “If some errors are still present, I beg that they be altered with my full approval.” I have taken him up on this offer to a dizzying degree.

This type of keyboard transcription, which dominates the keyboard literature of the sixteenth century, stands in ill repute. Three “complete” editions of Antonio’s works were published before the glosas finally saw the light of day in 1974. In an age that does not bat an eye at “parody” Masses, or Handel’s notorious borrowings (not to mention such modern horrors as arrangements of the Goldberg Variations for string trio), this seems puzzling. One can understand the aversion in the case of some German “colorists” of the period, who, like Liszt meddling with a Schubert song, merely add a layer of irritating glitz. But the Cabezóns, father and son, belong in the realm of richest variation—adding layers of polyphony, transforming, enriching and commenting, even responding to the text with word-painting.

Perhaps it has been thought that the Cabezóns were gilding the pure white lily of Renaissance vocal music? This would be a misconception along the lines of closing one’s eyes to the polychrome of Greek temples or gothic cathedrals. The Cabezóns were only doing what composers of vocal polyphony expected and invited their interpreters to do—but without the inevitable blunders and bad taste. A small, highly skilled group of singers improvising upon their contemporaries’ masterpieces must have been poignantly ephemeral magic, but sources from the period also report how lamentable these efforts often were. With Cabezón we are safely in the hands of a master. And it must always be remembered that this practice was the main source of all later instrumental virtuosity.

Another hurdle for these works has been their extreme difficulty. To get four, five or six highly ornamented contrapuntal voices into perfect balance and make them all sing, while at the same time making it sound easy, requires a disciplined effort that makes the Well-Tempered Clavier look like a picnic. In the face of this hurricane of complexities, Hernando’s advice to “take the fingering as it comes” appears in an aspect of epic understatement. In the Obras, the glosas come at the end of a scheme of increasing difficulty leading up to works in six voices. (The song and dance variations bring up the rear, as a kind of dessert.)

The glosas are divided carefully not only by the number of voices, but also into sacred and secular. I have leaned towards the latter, since the sacred might be thought more appropriate to performance on the organ. There were three irresistible exceptions:

• Josquin Desprez, the princeps musicorum who thawed music’s gothic chill around 1500, is a strong presence in the Obras. Cabezón embellished the Osanna from the Josquin Mass which uses the French song L’homme armé [6] as a theme in long notes. If the nine orders of angels (who, we are told, eternally attend the Deity) do half as good a job of praising the Almighty, He must be well content.

• My acquaintance with the immense literature of sixteenth-century motets is slender, but I have never come across a more impressive one than Sana me Domine by Jacobus Clemens [2], a Dutch composer active in Bruges who at some point acquired the jocular nickname non Papa (“not the Pope”). The first theme of this plea for healing is passed around calmly through the voices. With the second theme—a rising sixth in trios of overlapping entrances—we enter a zone of increasing complexity, with the fourth and final theme (presented simultaneously in inversion) almost inaudibly eliding into a long descending sequence with one voice in long notes running down an octave scale. This pleased Cabezón so much that he presents it first plain, then gorgeously ornamented.

• The Corpus Christi hymn Pange lingua (text by St Thomas Aquinas, sung in Spain to a melody that probably goes back to a marching song of Caesar’s legions) received several extraordinarily long-lived settings by the late-fifteenth-century organist Johannes Wreede [16], a native of Bruges, who held the highest musical offices in Spain (where his unpronounceable name was modified to Urreda). Some were still in use as late as the eighteenth century. Cabezón’s glosa is the only work heard here that comes from the other source of his music, the Libro de cifra nueva (1557).

Straddling the fence between sacred and secular, we have the most famous chanson spirituelle of the century, Susanne un jour by Orlando di Lasso, as this native of Mons in Wallonia is usually known. The two versions on this disc stand at the beginning of a stream of Iberian Susanas that saw Lasso’s setting of a re-telling of an apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel become a genre unto itself. The monument near Lasso’s place of burial in Munich has become, at the time of this writing, an impromptu shrine to Michael Jackson. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The secular works are divided between Italian madrigals and French chansons. The latter predominate, and the lion’s share of these goes to the excellent Thomas Crecquillon [3] [8] [9] [20] with whom Cabezón undoubtedly became personally acquainted during his first visit to Brussels, where Crecquillon was a leading member of the chapelle of Charles V.

In Nicolas Gombert’s Ayme qui vouldra [1] (Fall in love if you dare), we have a brilliant example of chanson composition by one of the greatest masters of the sixteenth century. Flemish by birth, he served Charles V alongside Crecquillon, and may have met the young Cabezón on journeys to Spain before he was banished to the galleys for sodomy. The initial theme keeps turning up unexpectedly in various guises, as love will (at the end, in diminished and augmented note values). Gombert sets the text “or if you like danger” like the soundtrack to a thriller. The passage gets an approving comment from a later Spanish master (Correa de Arauxo), who attributes the entire glosa to Hernando. Either he had some special knowledge of the fact, or just confused the names of father and son. It does not really matter.

Almost as fine is the delightful Au joli bois sur la verdure [7] (On the grass in the lovely woods) by the all but forgotten Cambrai master Johannes Lupi (a Latinization of “Wolf”), who struggled unsuccessfully to keep discipline among his choirboys, and was honored by Baston with a musical memorial which proclaimed him “not a wolf, but an innocent lamb”.

The two chansons attributed to Clemens non Papa in the Obras, [11] and [14], are both of doubtful authorship. For one, not even a title is preserved, much less an original, but it resembles one of the Psalms in the Dutch vernacular which this Catholic priest rather surprisingly set to a wide variety of profane tunes in his Souterliedekens.

Philip van Wilder, a Fleming who was in charge of Henry VIII’s private music, was munificently rewarded with spoils from the secularization of the monasteries. He taught Henry’s successors Mary and Edward VI the lute when they were children, but died before Cabezón arrived in England for Mary’s wedding to his patron Philip II. Antonio probably picked up Je file [4] there, since it was only printed on the continent after his death, but he preferred the more congenial French text to the English version: “I heard a mess of merry shepherds”.

On the madrigal side, first mention must go to the only ones in six voices in the Obras, a famous pair by Philippe Verdelot, who rose from obscurity in a village of that name in musically fertile Brie to become maestro di cappella at the cathedral of Florence, and who published the first collection to bear the word “madrigal” in its title. Their texts both concern the endlessly fascinating subject of a rejected lover’s sighs. In Ardenti miei sospiri [12], hypnotic repetition of cadence patterns portrays amorous torpor so convincingly that one wonders if the composer hadn’t had first-hand experience of the poem’s dedicatee, the celebrity courtesan Tullia d’Aragona. Ultimi miei sospiri [5], on a poem in canzona form by the Medici protégé Ludovico Martelli (who also authored a tragedy entitled Tullia), has a chromatic passage on the text “infinite beauty” that presages Cipriano de Rore and Gesualdo.

De Rore himself is present with one [13] of the two other madrigals we offer here, both belonging to the repertoire of “standards” of the era; the other [15], by his Netherlandish countryman Adriaan Willaert, is a perfect example of the intricate pervading thematic imitation first fully developed by Gombert.

Hernando de Cabezón was his father’s successor as keyboardist to Philip II. He included four of his glosas in the Obras, three of which have found a place here, [17], [18] and [20]. Two of these are duplicates of pieces by his father, allowing a direct stylistic comparison. More will be found that is similar than disparate, but a certain Mannerist tendency is discernible in the younger generation. His Ave maris stella does not really belong in a collection of glosas, but I have included it in gratitude to Hernando for his efforts to preserve his father’s music; and because it is such a gemlike example of the ancient art which was the foundation of every keyboardist’s training, that of adding limpid voices to a cantus firmus in long notes from Gregorian chant—in this case, the hymn to “Mary, star of the sea”. It is a matter of infinite regret that Hernando’s own Compendio, left at his death to his family with the express desire that it be published, was lost.

Antonio’s brother Juan emerges from the shadows with one work only [21]. He must have been a major keyboardist in his own right, because he stayed behind in Brussels in 1555 when Antonio returned home, taking an appointment as organist in the Spanish king’s chapel there. At some point Juan came back to Madrid, and died four months after Antonio. I suspect Hernando had become too busy to take sufficient care of his blind father, and that Juan was recalled to his old post at the master’s side, passing away soon after his task was completed.

The text of Pues a mi desconsolado is a gloss on a poem first recorded in 1514. The similarity of the setting to that of the next piece in the Obras, [22] Quién llamó al partir, partir, has led to the supposition that it, too, might be by Juan. But the latter is on a completely different plane of contrapuntal mastery, and the similarities of key, layout and general atmosphere have another explanation, I think: they are transcribed from a pair of songs of sorrow and parting accompanied by the vihuela, the standard medium of lyric expression in Spain. Could they have been composed by the brothers for each other in Brussels? Certainly the end of Antonio’s song sounds like a benediction.

I cannot close without renewing my thanks to John Koster (National Music Museum, University of South Dakota) for his unfailing aid, and to Andrés Cea Galán (Conservatorio Superior de Música, Sevilla) for his pioneering work on the restoration of the texts.

Glen Wilson

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