About this Recording
8.573312 - GUERRA MANUSCRIPT (The), Vol. 3 (Fernández, Ars Atlantica)
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The Guerra Manuscript • 3
17th-Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music


This latest volume of the complete recording of the works contained in the “Guerra Manuscript” explores Spanish Baroque performance practice for this kind of repertoire in greater depth. Known as tonos, these were secular works for solo voice with basso continuo accompaniment (no specific instruments are specified). Some of them are excerpted from stage works of various kinds, while others were conceived as stand-alone chamber works; in either case, the manner and means of their performance would have changed according to time, place and the forces available. Contemporary ideas about what constituted a performance gave artists relatively free rein, and so as well as each individual occasion needing a suitably qualified singer (the voice type would have varied), there would have been decisions to make about the type and number of continuo instruments, the appropriate tempo and character to express the tono’s lyrical content, and the manner in which the strophes (coplas) and refrain (estribillo) were alternated. The musicians involved therefore needed to be imaginative and skilled at improvisation and ornamentation. They had to be able to bring the written words and notes to life before an audience’s eyes and ears—in other words, to mount a captivating performance.

When it came to recording this third volume, a decision was made to use an ensemble of plucked and bowed string instruments, in various different combinations. As well as the guitar and double harp that are known to have been commonly used for performing tonos, this would also include two other instruments that were part of musical life in Baroque Spain: the viol and the theorbo.

In the Baroque world, the musical repertoire was seen as common property, open to free adaptation by performers, whose responsibility it was to bring it to life through their own personal interpretation. At times, therefore, achieving a satisfactory musical rendering might have been more important than other considerations, such as, for example, paying strict attention to the written version, or to a work’s integrity, or to keeping it quite separate from any other piece of music. In an attempt to reflect this aspect of the Baroque mentality, five of the tonos presented here are accompanied by instrumental works of the same period, with a view to framing and enhancing the vocal pieces.

For Juan Hidalgo’s Disfrazado de pastor (Disguised as a shepherd), therefore, an anonymous harp work (in the dance form known as seguidillas) taken from a manuscript housed in Washington’s Library of Congress (US Wc Mk.290) serves as a ritornello. The earliest surviving seguidillas date from around 1600; the piece used here comes from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century.

José Marín’s Qué dulcemente suena (How sweetly sings) is built around the literary trope of the nightingale that expresses its sorrow through its song. Given that it is metaphorically referred to as a “living theorbo”, our choice of instrumental accompaniment was obvious. We have also added, by way of introduction, a passacaglia by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580–1651), taken from his Libro IV d’intavolatura di chitarrone of 1640. Although of German origins, Kapsberger developed his style and achieved fame in Italy; his music was also known and appreciated in Spain. Gaspar Sanz, when mentioning his illustrious predecessors in the preface to his guitar treatise, Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española (1674), cites him as “Caspergier”.

The anonymous Ayer, zagales, bajé (Yesterday, lads, I went down) is presented in alternation with a dance—the Zangarilleja—from the Saldívar Codex No. 4. This manuscript, discovered in Mexico in 1943 by musicologist Gabriel Saldívar, contains guitar works by the Spanish composer Santiago de Murcia (c.1682–c.1737).

Introducing the anonymous No lloréis, mi Celia (Weep not, my Celia) is a minuet included by Antonio Martín y Coll in his anthology of keyboard works entitled Flores de música (Flowers of music, 1706), housed in Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacional. This manuscript collection contains numerous pieces, most of which are anonymous. By comparing them with other sources, it has been possible to identify many of the composers concerned, but not for this minuet, which appears to be of French origin.

Finally, an appropriate accompanying piece for Juan del Vado’s Desmayado el aliento (Short of breath), with the intensely moving rhetoric of its refrain, was found in the guise of the Sonata cromatica by Tarquinio Merula (c.1590–1665), one of the most progressive Italian composers of his day. Chromaticism and dissonance were widely used in Baroque music, both vocal and instrumental, to depict feelings of pain and sorrow. Juan del Vado’s tono makes bold use of both devices: on the last syllable of the key word “dolor” (pain), for example, he creates a clash between a B natural in the vocal line and a B flat in the bass line, an effect he underlines with another clash between a C sharp in the vocal part and a C natural in the accompaniment. Given that these procedures were used above all in Italy, cradle of the Baroque, Merula’s sonata seemed the perfect choice here—its imitative descending chromatic line not only makes it an innovative exercise in counterpoint but shows how its composer was seeking out a new and powerful means of expression.

Desmayado el aliento is the only one of the hundred tonos contained within the Guerra Manuscript known to have been written by Juan del Vado. He was a violinist and organist at the royal chapel, and although many of his surviving compositions are sacred works, he was renowned first and foremost as a writer of secular tonos. The rest of the songs on this recording are presented without supplementary musical material. The Guerra Manuscript provides no information about their composers, but it has been possible to identify some of them by referring to other sources. The best-represented are Juan Hidalgo and José Marín, whose work also features in the first two volumes in this series.

José Ángel Vilas Rodríguez

English translation by Susannah Howe

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