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8.572876 - GUERRA MANUSCRIPT (The), Vol. 2 (Sancho, Ars Atlantica)
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The Guerra Manuscript, Volume 2
17th-Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music


This is the second volume in a series dedicated to the so-called “Guerra Manuscript”, a unique document housed in the University of Santiago de Compostela’s Biblioteca Xeral. It contains a collection of tonos humanos (secular songs, here with basso continuo accompaniment) dating from the second half of the seventeenth century, making it a hugely valuable source of information about secular vocal music of the Spanish Baroque. Most of the tonos in the anthology are for solo voice and basso continuo, but no composers’ names are given, nor are there any dates to help establish exactly when it was compiled. The cover, however, does bear the name of the copyist, José Miguel Guerra—hence the name of the manuscript—a scribe of his Majesty’s Royal Chapel.

José Miguel Guerra was a member of Spain’s lower nobility and in the years between his first appointment as a scribe in 1667 and his death in 1722 succeeded in obtaining other, more important posts, as well as being awarded various honours and titles. His work at times entailed the need to travel, and this may be why in 1692 he undertook a journey to various cities in north-western Spain, including Santiago, although the precise reasons for his travels are unknown. It seems reasonable to suppose that Guerra took this manuscript with him, which is how it ended up in Santiago. It came into the possession of Santiago University’s Library as part of a collection donated by a certain Miguel Marín Arén in 1880. As this legacy included a number of manuscripts from the monastery of San Martiño Pinario, also in Santiago, it could be that the Guerra Manuscript had come from there too, and that Marín Arén had acquired it as the result of some kind of sale of ecclesiastical property. Even if this were so, however, it fails to explain why a music manuscript from the Royal Household in Madrid should have been left in Santiago; the quality of its penmanship and the inclusion of drawings and other decorative elements seem to point to its having been intended as a gift for some distinguished figure or other.

The anthology contains 100 tonos humanos, all written for solo voice apart from two pieces requiring a pair of singers—tonos could be polyphonic, but in this period solo works were more common. They would have been performed in a wide variety of contexts, notably as one-off pieces sung at public or private entertainments; as musical numbers within a play; or as numbers within an opera or zarzuela. In terms of their lyrics, the most common theme was that of love: this was presented in different ways, from the serious to the satirical, and in anything from high-flown to down-to-earth language, but nearly all the songs show evidence of a delight in conceptual elaboration and the use of traditional poetic images, with frequent pastoral and mythological references.

The music of tonos too displayed a series of typical features: precise and regular rhythms, clear melodies and harmonies aiding textual articulation, a tendency towards syllabic style, an absence of Italianate virtuosic vocal ornamentation and limited use of freer, recitativelike passages. The usual structure comprised several strophes (coplas) and a refrain (estribillo), although there was no standard pattern for alternating the two.

Instruments for continuo accompaniment were often not specified, and this is true of the Guerra Manuscript too—it is left to the performers to decide what to use. It would be fair to suppose that at the time any available instruments might have been chosen and proved suitable; but in the case of this kind of secular music, two in particular are known to have been commonly used: the harp and the guitar. Two of the works in the Guerra anthology include a form of notation designed expressly for the guitar. Plucked instruments such as these were often chosen for vocal accompaniment because they did not overpower the voice and the intensity of the sound they produced could be altered to suit the vocal line.

Although the Guerra Manuscript does not name the composers of the tonos, more than half its works have also survived in other sources, enabling some of those concerned to be identified. Those with the highest number of songs in this collection are Juan Hidalgo (1614–1685) and José Marín (1619–1699). The former was a harpist in Spain’s Royal Chapel and a composer particularly known for his secular music, especially that written for the theatre, be it for plays, autos sacramentales (allegorical religious plays), operas or zarzuelas. Many of his tonos humanos would have been written for such spectacles, on some of which he collaborated with the great dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Hidalgo was famous in his own lifetime, and is considered the Spanish Baroque’s leading pioneer of theatre music. His close contemporary José Marín was a guitarist, a tenor and a composer, as well as an ordained priest, and he too achieved fame for his musical talents, not to mention notoriety for certain other aspects of his life. Accused of assault, robbery and murder, he was tortured but refused to confess, was imprisoned, tried unsuccessfully to escape, and in the end was sentenced to exile and a stint on the galleys. He later returned to Madrid where he is said thereafter to have led an exemplary life. The only other identifiable composer for the repertoire on this album is Juan de Navas (c. 1650–1719), about whom rather less is known. Son of a harpist in the Royal Chapel, he was appointed to that same role himself, although he was also involved in other areas of musical life, including composition. His output was abundant and varied, and he is particularly noted as a writer of tonos; these must have been appreciated in his day, given that they have survived in numerous Iberian and Latin American sources.

José Ángel Vilas Rodríguez
English translation by Susannah Howe

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