About this Recording
8.573678 - GUERRA MANUSCRIPT (The), Vol. 4 (Hernández, Fernández-Rueda, Fernández, Ars Atlántica, Vilas)
English  Spanish 

The Guerra Manuscript, Volume 4
17th Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music


This fourth volume in the complete recording of the vocal works found in the Guerra Manuscript contains a further twenty pieces of music. This manuscript is, in my opinion, the leading source of tonos humanos to have survived to the present day and a document of fundamental importance in the history of Spanish music. Broadly speaking, tonos humanos are secular songs, some of which are drawn from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spanish theatrical works. In the first half of the seventeenth century, most tonos were polyphonic, and while such pieces continued to be written, in the ensuing decades it was solo works that came to the fore. Among the unusual items in this fourth volume are the only two duets to be found in the Manuscript and a pair of bonus tracks [19][20] that complete the previous release in the series (The Guerra Manuscript, Vol. 3, Naxos 8.573312).

The anthology contains one hundred tonos humanos for voice and instrumental accompaniment. Close analysis of the manuscript reveals that of these hundred works, two are for two voices and there is a single piece (Manda la piedad, which can be heard on The Guerra Manuscript, Vol. 2, Naxos 8.572876) which is not a tono humano, but a tono a lo divino, the sacred equivalent.

It is only very recently that the Guerra Manuscript was christened thus, after the only name that appears in the entire manuscript, that of José Miguel de Guerra (1646–1722), the copyist of all one hundred works. In their exhaustive and highly impressive study of the manuscript and its contents, scholars Álvaro Torrente and Pablo L. Rodríguez¹ also manage to shed some light on Guerra’s life story. A member of the Spanish nobility, he became a scribe at Madrid’s Royal Chapel in 1667. By the end of his life he had been awarded various honours and titles, including that of Knight of the Order of Santiago, King of Arms of the Spanish monarchy and chief attendant to the Queen’s chamber. In 1679 Guerra travelled to the French border as a member of the party sent to escort Marie Louise of Orléans (first wife of the Spanish king Charles II) to Madrid. He then visited Italy in 1680–81, probably as part of his duties as a member of the queen’s staff. On his death, Guerra bequeathed his library to his son, Juan Alfonso de Guerra, who also inherited many of his titles and privileges. An inventory of this library, dated 1738, has survived and includes the books that Juan Alfonso was left by his father. The collection was sold to the Royal Library in 1753, and is now part of the Spanish National Library. It is worth noting that it contains not a single book of music.

Nothing is known about José Miguel de Guerra’s musical education. The documents that include references to his journeys to Italy and France make no mention of any musical interest on his part. His knowledge of the subject may well have been minimal—sufficient to carry out his duties as a music scribe and no more. His work as a copyist ended in 1685, and one might conclude that he was more interested in climbing the social ladder than in continuing to pursue his previous occupation. This manuscript contains a small number of minor or careless errors, easily amended, but in general his work shows an astonishing level of accuracy, clarity and professionalism. His handwriting is clear and pleasing to the eye, unlike that found in some other tono manuscripts housed in other archives and libraries, documents in which the writing often reveals a considerable lack of care and attention.

The Guerra Manuscript is an anthology of the best and most well-known solo songs that were circulating in the Madrid court in the latter half of the 1600s. It is currently the only music manuscript held by the Biblioteca Xeral at the University of Santiago de Compostela. It fails to tell us who wrote any of the music or lyrics contained within its folios, but as some of its tonos have survived in other sources, a certain number of works can be attributed to composers of the day. The two leading figures in this respect are two of the greatest composers of the Spanish Baroque: José Marín (c.1619–99) and Juan Hidalgo (1614–85). The following are some of the most notable pieces on this album:

Qué dulcemente canta (How sweetly sings) [1], a duet. This anonymous piece is stylistically very similar to the tonos of Juan Hidalgo, and may be attributable to him. The manuscript does not include an instrumental bass for the refrain, but reconstructing this is a simple enough task. It is also possible that the accompanying instrument read from the tenor line, or even that the refrain was sung without accompaniment.

Si descubro mi dolor (If I reveal my sorrow) [8]—this is unquestionably one of the most moving pieces in the whole collection, and sets one of the loveliest lyrics.

Poco sabe de Filis (He who holds) [4] is one of the few pieces that indicates a repeat of the refrain after each verse. Normally the performer is given considerable freedom as regards the order of verses and refrain, and as regards repetitions and the interspersing of the refrain between verses—this is one of the few examples in which unequivocal instructions are given.

¿Qué quiere Amor? (What does Cupid want?) [2] comes from Act Two of Los celos hacen estrellas, a play by Juan Vélez de Guevara, first performed on 22nd December 1672 to celebrate the birthday of the Queen Mother, and is sung by the character of Mercury. It was quite usual for numbers such as these to be removed from their theatrical context, included in anthologies such as this one, and performed at more private gatherings, in the homes of the aristocracy, for example, or at court.

En los floridos páramos (Amid the blossom) [13] is a fine example of a tono setting a text in which the stress falls on the antepenultimate syllable. The literarymusical genre known as the baile that used texts with this metre enjoyed great success during the seventeenth century. This piece also survives in other sources that attribute it to the harpist Juan Hidalgo.

Corazón que en prisión (Heart, you who find yourself captive) [15] must have been one of the bestknown tonos of the entire Spanish Baroque judging by the number of sources in which it appears, with only minor variations: the Verdú Songbook of Lleida attributes it to Hidalgo, a 1699 manuscript copied by Brother Martín García to José Marín. It can also be found in three other sources: an Italian manuscript from the Villa Contarini in Padua, another in the Biblioteca de Catalunya (Barcelona), and the last in the Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid). The latter version includes an instrumental realisation explicitly written for harp; our version is, of course, the one found in the Guerra Manuscript, but borrows the harp accompaniment from the Madrid manuscript. Unlike some other tonos that have survived in various disparate sources, here there are only a few discrepancies—textual or musical—between the different versions.

¡Ay que sí, ay que no! (Ah yes, ah no!) [7] is one of the songs that acquired new fame in the late twentieth century thanks to a 1977 set of transcriptions made by Miguel Querol of tonos humanos from the Biblioteca Nacional de España for the publisher Alpuerto. It became a regular fixture in the programmes of the early music groups of the day. Musically, the Guerra Manuscript version differs little from that of the Spanish National Library, but the text in our manuscript is entirely different.

Diz que era como una nieve (They say she was like the snow) [12] also appears in other sources, which are unanimous in attributing it to José Marín; it is a humorous piece about the love affair between the shepherd Benito and shepherdess Marica.

Filis, el miedo ha de ser (Phyllis, it must be fear) [6] survives in other manuscripts as well. It too is by the cleric, singer and guitarist José Marín, a man who led an eventful life: among other things, he was tortured and imprisoned after being accused of murder.

No hay razón que a lo bello (There is no reason) [10] is an unusual piece that praises beauty and discretion in equal measure. Its author is anonymous and the Guerra Manuscript is the only source to contain this magnificent tono.

Con la pasión amorosa (In vain do you battle) [5] is another number from Act Two of Los celos hacen estrellas. Sung by the goddess Minerva, it is in the half-melodic, half-declamatory style used to portray mythological characters in plays of this period. A brief stage direction introduces this tono: “Enter Minerva, in a spherical globe, singing…”.

Hermosa tortolilla (Pretty little turtle dove) [3]—this is a very beautiful piece with an intricate text and remarkably hypnotic power.

Canta pajarillo (Sing, little bird) [17] is a song of praise to Charles II; several tonos written to praise this monarch have survived, including one composed by another of the greats of the Spanish Baroque, Sebastián Durón. Canta pajarillo is unquestionably one of the most inspired examples of its type.

Detén los rayos (Hold back your light) [18] is the second of the two duets found in the Guerra Manuscript. Our source is missing any instrumental accompaniment, but that does not imply negligence on the part of the copyist; the corpus of tonos humanos was in no way a closed repertoire intended to be performed in one way and one way only. As well as the freedom of choice offered in terms of the order of verses and refrain, we also find the same tono in versions for one or two voices, duets with instrumental bass in one source but not the next (as in this case), notable differences in melody and text, the same text with different music, the same music with a different text, songs that in one source have strophes and refrain, and in others have the same strophes but no refrain, other songs that in certain manuscripts have a part for a melodic instrument while in others they only have an accompaniment part, and so on… These variants must respond on the one hand to the performing freedom characteristic of the period and on the other to the range of circumstances in which the different manuscripts were produced, not to mention the efforts of different scribes, introducing discrepancies as they worked. This particular tono is performed here using the two vocal lines included in the Guerra Manuscript, in conjunction with the instrumental part from manuscript E-Mn M 3880/28 (Biblioteca Nacional de España), in which the bass line is notated.

One fascinating and little-studied aspect of this repertoire is that of the people that performed it. These pieces, whether theatrical excerpts or stand-alone songs, caused a sensation in Spain in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and it seems likely that much of that success would have been due to the actors, actresses and singers who performed them, rather than to the composers themselves. The names of great if now long-forgotten theatrical artists were extraordinarily well-known: actresses such as María de Navas, who wielded considerable power in Madrid society, or Manuela de Escamilla, who gained what was almost a pension for life from the Royal Household for her performance of the song Ay que soy tamborilero, to give just two examples. They were genuine stars of the stage, forerunners of the great copla artists of the twentieth century.

The instruments most frequently employed to accompany these pieces are very well documented: music manuscripts and literary works confirm time and again the use of the guitar and double harp, both of which would have been in the possession of any theatrical company. Of course, other instruments such as theorbo, harpsichord and organ would also have been used, but contemporary sources suggest that the guitar and harp were the indisputable kings of tono humano accompaniment. In my view, they are the ideal instruments for this repertoire—whether used separately or together, they bring out the rhythmical, melodic and textual characteristics of these songs with clarity and flexibility as far as the singers are concerned, something it would be difficult to achieve with a fuller instrumental accompaniment.

Manuel Vilas
English translation: Susannah Howe

¹ “The Guerra Manuscript (c.1680) and the Rise of Solo Song in Spain.” Álvaro Torrente and Pablo L. Rodríguez. Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 123 (1998)

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