About this Recording
8.574092 - GUERRA MANUSCRIPT (The), Vol. 5 (Ars Atlántica, Vilas)
English  Spanish 

The Guerra Manuscript, Volume 5
17th Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music


This is the fifth and penultimate volume in our complete recording of the anthology of vocal works known as the Guerra Manuscript, one of the main sources—indeed, the most important source of all, in my opinion—of the so-called tono humano, a secular song form that developed throughout the 17th century in Spain and a characteristic genre of the Spanish Baroque. Housed in the Biblioteca Xeral at the University of Santiago de Compostela, the manuscript owes its name to José Miguel de Guerra, a scribe at Madrid’s Royal Chapel and the man responsible for copying all one hundred tonos humanos in the manuscript. Although he did not include any composer names, it has been possible to work out the authorship of a good number of these songs by comparing them with other sources. It is worth recalling here that while in the first half of the 17th century most songs were polyphonic, the second half saw the rise of works for solo voice and continuo accompaniment. Most of these were written for guitar and/or harp, the two instruments most frequently used for tono humano accompaniment, but other instruments would also have been employed at times—a keyboard instrument plays a prominent role in this particular volume. The works contained in the Guerra Manuscript come from the period when the solo accompanied song was at its height, and can therefore be dated to the latter half of the 17th century.

In setting out to record all one hundred songs from the manuscript, our aim was to present as wide an interpretative spectrum as possible, while respecting the principles of historical performance practice. The fact that we have been able to work with singers from a diverse range of backgrounds, and with a varied ensemble of instruments—though the double harp has a key presence—has been very important in the development of this long and complex project. I decided that keyboard instruments, although not a particularly popular choice for accompanying this kind of repertoire at the time, needed to be included in our recordings. While there is an overwhelming number of contemporary references to tonos accompanied by harp and guitar, it is also true that other instruments (theorbos, lutes, harpsichords, etc.) were also used for the purpose, albeit far less frequently.

On this album, therefore, listeners will be able to hear the sound of a copy of an early 17th-century Flemish harpsichord housed in Segovia Cathedral—an instrument with undeniable links to Hispanic music-making. Track 16, ¿A quién me quejaré?, is an instrumental adaptation of a tono (common practice at the time), demonstrating one possible way of turning a vocal work into an instrumental piece and enabling listeners to enjoy the sound of this instrument and the ornamental possibilities it offers in tono humano performance.

As in the previous volumes in this series of recordings, we have also used the double harp, an instrument inextricably linked to Spanish Baroque music, symbolic of the 17th-century Hispanic soundworld, especially the world of tonos, as we know from the way it appears in a range of contemporary sources: music manuscripts, iconography, chronicles, poems and other literary works, and so on. The combination of the two instruments, whether in vocal accompaniment or purely instrumental interventions, creates some wonderful sonorities.

This album includes music by two composers whose names will be familiar to anyone who loves the music of the Spanish Baroque—Juan Hidalgo (four tonos) and José Marín (three tonos)—as well as ten anonymous pieces and the only work in the whole manuscript that has been attributed to Matías Ruiz.

The poems set to music here, the true stars of these pieces, come together with the music to create a universe full of character. Tonos are an inherently Hispanic vocal genre, unique to Spain, free from the influence of the Baroque traditions of any other European country, hence their exclusive and idiosyncratic nature. Structurally, most of these songs are built around the alternation of a refrain (estribillo) and a number of strophes (coplas). One of the difficulties with this repertoire is the application of the text, particularly in the strophes—a complex task, but one that provides wide-ranging opportunities to play with rhythm, rhetoric, accentuation, interpretation, tempo, texture and colour. The songs pose a real challenge to both singers and instrumentalists, who need to be attentive at all times to the text and to vary the tone of the music according to the emotion and state of mind in question.

Thematically, all of these texts are secular (hence their qualification as humanos), dealing with subjects such as unrequited love, the balance between suffering and joy, as well as borrowing from mythology (Ovid’s Metamorphoses), and so on, with love and its many facets playing the leading role.

The 18 tonos on this album are as follows:

Zagalejos del valle (‘Shepherds of the Valley’)  1 . For this tono we have chosen to use a dance from Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz’s Luz y Norte (1677)—a treatise devoted to the guitar and double harp—to act both as an introduction and as a common musical thread throughout the song. I felt that this dance, Matachines, worked well as an instrumental complement to this tono, in which the protagonist addresses some shepherds as he wonders which is the worse fate, death or absence from one’s beloved, given that, as the refrain tells us, there is little to tell the two apart.

Recelos, cuidados (‘Suspicion, care’)  2 . This is a theatrical tono from Juan Vélez de Guevara’s two-act play Los celos hacen estrellas. It is sung in Act One by the character of Cupid, who warns us of the dangers of falling into his traps and of the advantages of worshipping him. The music is by Juan Hidalgo, harpist and one of the greatest composers of the Spanish Baroque.

Válgate Amor por Gileta (‘Beware, Cupid, for Gileta’s sake’)  3 . This setting is by the singer and guitarist José Marín, whose output of tonos represents one of the greatest achievements in the genre. This song begins in the first person as Lisardo bemoans the fact that his beloved Gileta has rejected him. In the final strophe and in the refrain the perspective switches to that of a third-person narrator. Marín employs a fascinating rhetorical-musical device on the word ‘suspira’, extending its syllables to convey the sense that the singer-actor is indeed sighing.

¿Qué quiere el sol en el monte? (‘Why does the sun shine on the mountain?’)  4 . Here the focus is on the sun, the king of nature, and its power to melt the snow—a metaphor for the passion that melts a lover’s coldness.

Rompe, Amor, la venda (‘Cupid, rip off your blindfold’)  5 . Cupid (Amor) is one of the most frequently recurring characters in Spanish Golden Age drama, traditionally portrayed as a little boy with wings, blindfolded, and armed with a bow and a quiver of arrows, with which he instils love in his victims. This song refers to these conventions but concludes that if Cupid were really blind, and the sense of sight had no influence on love, it would be pointless his wearing a blindfold.

Por no merecer (‘Not being worthy of you’)  6  begins with a pasacalles by the harpist Diego Fernández de Huete, a leading composer of 17th-century Spanish instrumental music, particularly influential on the Baroque harp repertoire. It was common when performing tonos to use a pasacalles or other instrumental piece as an introduction: inspired by that idea, I decided to revive the practice with this tono.

Aquella sierra nevada (‘Those snow-capped mountains’)  7  is one of the gems of José Marín’s production. It must have been hugely popular in its day because it appears in other contemporary sources as well. Here we find descriptions of natural elements such as rivers and mountains used as proof that everything in the world changes, the exception being the torment lovers must endure.

Diga el dolor (‘Let sorrow explain’)  8 . This is a thirdperson portrayal of the tears and sadness of shy Amaryllis.

¿Por qué afectas imposibles? (‘Why do you feign refusals?’)  9 . Another Amaryllis here, this time an ugly woman who is never happy with her lovers and makes them suffer by offering them hope, then scorning them, acting as if she is a beautiful and much sought-after lady. This is one of the few comic pieces in the entire collection.

Apostemos niña que acierto (‘Let’s wager, my girl’)  10 . Another tono by José Marín who, with twelve songs, is one of the best-represented composers in the Guerra Manuscript. A lover suggests to his beloved that they lay bets on his ability to guess what she is thinking. The lady treats her suitor with rigour, disdain and cruelty, but he thinks that happiness will come from these negative sentiments.

No lloren más mis ojos (‘Let my eyes weep no more’)  11 . Love causes tears, sighs and grief, none of which will bring the lover any cure; all that remains is suffering.

Pues de la beldad que adoro (‘Since the sweet enchantment’)  12  is one of the greatest unpublished treasures of the manuscript. The beauty of the text is matched by that of the music as together they depict the eternal theme of the lover whose only delight lies in the pain of love.

Porque no es falta (‘Because it is no crime’)  13 . This seems to belong to an as yet undiscovered stage work. Here again we see the importance of the eyes and sense of sight, with another example of a lover worshipping an elusive object of desire.

A las peñas las penas (‘The mountains are moved’)  14  begins with an introduction on the harpsichord, reflecting the contemporary convention of adding pasacalles and instrumental episodes to tonos. In this case we have used my transcription of a guitar work by Santiago de Murcia entitled Las penas. The text begins with a description of Chloris singing a lament for her cruel lover, before we hear her address him directly. The constant here is her beloved’s unchanging stance—he remains unmoved throughout by the distress he is causing her.

Oíd del amante más fino (‘Hear the noble passion’)  15 . In this song the protagonist gives a series of pieces of advice on the correct feelings of the lover, and comments on the happiness that can only be achieved by suffering and dying of love. This is the only piece in the entire manuscript attributable to Matías Ruiz, a musician who was associated with the Royal Convent of the Incarnation in Madrid but about whom little else is known.

¿A quién me quejaré? (‘To whom shall I make plaint?’)  16 . This is an instrumental version of a song that we included in the second release in this series (see 8.572876 6). I was keen to reference the practice of transcribing vocal tonos to create instrumental versions here.

Al aire se entregue (‘Let my words fly’)  17 . Juan Hidalgo is the composer best represented in the manuscript, with a total of 28 works attributed to him. Al aire se entregue is another number from the above-mentioned play Los celos hacen estrellas, and is sung by Isis, daughter of the king of Argos, in the second act. It features some magnificent examples of rhetorical-musical figures: notice the care with which the words ‘veloz’ (‘swiftly’), ‘aire’ (‘air’), ‘gime’ (‘lament’) and ‘pena’ (‘pain’) are musically represented. It was common for songs originally intended for theatrical works to take on an independent life and become part of the chamber repertoire—Al aire is one such example.

Ya, madre del ciego dios (‘Mother of the blind god’)  18 . The text of this tono is inspired by the mythological love triangle between Venus, Adonis and Mars. As an instrumental complement this time I have used a chaconne bass, a device suggested by the first few bars of the song.

Manuel Vilas

English translation: Susannah Howe

Close the window