Iberian Garden, vol. 1 / Altramar
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Music in Medieval Spain

“This is a very professional and well-done CD”

Dorian Discovery DIS-80 151

℗1995 ©1997

1. Lababi ya‛ireni kašo’el lašaharah  [0:38]
reshut · Levi Ibn al-TABBAN (fl. late 11th century)

2. Dum pater familias  [6:05]   cc  117
cantio · Codex Calixtinus
Angela, Allison, David, Chris, Jann (vihuela d'arco)

3. Raše ‛am ‛et hitassef  [14:25]
muwashshah · Yehuda ha-LEVI (1075-1141)
Angela (solo, moroccan tabla), Jann (vihuela d'arco), Chris (darabukka), David (tar)

4.Rosa das rosas   [10:31]   CSM  10
Cantigas de Santa María (13th century)
David (solo), Angela (voice, harp), Chris (lute), Jann (vihuela d'arco)

5. Ma li-l-muwallah  [14:14]
muwashshah · Ibn ZUHR (1113-1198)
Angela (solo, lira), Chris (oud), Jann (rebec), David (darabukka)

6. Dona si totz temps vivia  [7:59]
canso · Berenguer de PALOL (fl. early 12th century)
Allison (voice, harp)

7. Eno sagrado en Vigo  [4:30]   ca  VI
cantiga de amigo · Martin CODAX (fl. c.1230)
David (solo, duff), Angela (harp), Chris (vihuela da mano), Jann (vihuela d'arco)

medieval music ensemble

Jann Cosart — vihuelas d'arco, rebecs
Angela Mariani — voice, harp, lira, percussion
Chris Smith — vihuela da mano, mozarabic lute, oud, percussion
David Stattelman — voice, percussion
Timothy G. Johnson — shawm
Allison Zelles, voice — harp, percussion

Altramar performs on a matched set of instruments especially designed
for them by luthier Timothy G. Johnson.
Oud — unknown Persian maker.

Altramar, in the Occitan language of the troubadours, was the name given to the Near Eastern lands that lay "over the sea", where crusade and trade resulted in the rich cultural interchange of East and West.

Altramar is an ensemble specializing in music of the Medieval Era, sharing historical repertory in the context of human experience, and evoking the vibrant tapestry of medieval culture. Altramar combines a process of collaborative partnership with a commitment to scholarship and expression. Since 1991, Altramar has been presenting their unique blend of song and story, drama and rhetoric, and voices and instruments to audiences throughout North America.

Altramar uses instruments appropriate to the times and places of their repertoire. Most of the information about medieval instruments comes from iconography, because very few of the originals survive. By studying paintings and sculptures, one can discover which instruments were played when and where. Also, clues can be found which suggest construction techniques of medieval craftsmen. Luthier Timothy G. Johnson has created a matched set of instruments for Altramar using this type of research.

Altramar can be found on the World Wide Web at: http://www.indiana.edu/~altramar and contacted via eMail at: altramar@indiana.edu

Catalog No. DIS-80151
Recorded at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana in December 1994 and November 1995.
Session Producers: Timothy G. Johnson, Peter Nothnagle
Engineer & Editor. Peter Nothnagle
Post Session Production: Altramar
Mastering Engineer: David H. Walters
Booklet Preparation & Editing: Katherine A. Dory
Graphic Design: Kimberly Smith Co.
Cover Art: Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS. Vat. Arab, 368, fol. 10r.

Altramar would like to thank Abdullah al-Malik, Luis Beltrán, Thomas Binkley, Federico Corriente, Liljana Elverskog, Stephen Katz, Consuelo Lopez-Morillas, James Monroe, Angel Saenz-Badillos, Josep Miguel Sobrer, Byron Stayskal and the community of the Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

All transcriptions, reconstructions, realizations, original compositions and arrangements copyright 1994 by Altramar medieval music ensemble are protected under copyright law and may not be used by others without express permission.

℗1995 Altramar
©1997 DORIAN DISCOVERY. A division of The Dorian Group, Ltd.

notas en español

In the Middle Ages, the interaction of cultures in the Iberian Peninsula created a cosmopolitan world in which people of differing ethnicities, backgrounds and religious faiths lived, loved, battled, and learned from one another. This was the Golden Age of Hebrew poetry, a high point of Islamic science and art, a flowering of Christian theology and music; all learned and shared in this Golden Age. Musicians and mathematicians; poets, painters and politicians; architects and artists; nobility and common people traded, studied, sang and worked together.

In 1993, the eminent scholar and performer Thomas Binkley challenged the members of Altramar to create a program of medieval music that would, for the first time, give equal representation to the extraordinary musical, literary and spiritual diversity of Jewish, Christian and Muslim Spain. Such a project, we all agreed, would require the inclusion of pieces in Castilian, Catalan, Gallego-Portuguese, Latin, Hebrew, colloquial and formal Arabic — and, in addition, a plethora of specific musical styles and techniques. “If you can do that”, he said, “you really will have done something unique”. Tom Binkley did not live to hear the final result, but his indomitable spirit inspired and continues to inspire us.

The attainment of our goal was a complex process. Primary sources for poetic texts abound for all three cultures, and the existence of rich and extensive musical activity is well-documented. But there is a crucial gap in the evidence: while the Christian music traditions of medieval Spain are preserved in manuscripts, and the post-medieval sung repertoires of both Andalusian and Sephardic oral tradition are still widely-performed, definitive sources for certifiably “medieval” Arabic and Jewish melodies are scant or nonexistent.

Consequently, we made a decision to use only texts known to originate in the medieval period, and turned to firsthand medieval descriptions and to the still-thriving oral traditions to inform our musical decisions. It is our hope that the results, which are in one sense “new”, nevertheless capture the sound and spirit of the old, displaying these jewels of medieval sung-poetry in settings that aptly reflect their transcendent beauty.


Some of the repertoire represented in this collection is in relatively familiar forms: hymn, cantiga, love lyric; even the piyyut continues as a familiar part of the modern Jewish repertory. However, some other forms, especially those from the Arabo-Andalusian tradition, are perhaps less familiar.

The muwashshah and the zajal developed as poetic and musical idioms in Arabic Spain during the tenth and eleventh centuries, were subsequently borrowed by Hebrew poets, and are still performed today in the Maghrib. Andalusian Jewish poets, many of whom held high positions in culturally sophisticated Arabic courts, admired and imitated the Arabic love lyric, whose lush and evocative language they saw mirrored in the Song of Songs. Jewish poets of the Golden Age synthesized elements of the Arabic repertoire's imagery and conventions with their own rich poetic traditions, and the result was a tradition that paralleled the Arabo-Andalusian one: muwashshahat in Hebrew on a variety of sacred and secular topics.

The text of the medieval Arabic muwashshah is typically in the classical language, while the second part of the last stanza, or jarcha, is in either colloquial Arabic or a Hispanic romance dialect, and is believed to be borrowed from popular sources. In another example of parallel usage, the jarcha of the Hebrew muwashshah was also often written in a Romance dialect, and thus displays an interesting example of the interaction between vernacular and high-art genres.

As part of the modern nawba, a suite of musical pieces grouped by mode and performed in sequence, the Arabo-Andalusian muwashshah is played by a group of instrumentalists and sung by either a chorus or a soloist alternating with choral refrains.1

The zajal, the largest extant collection of which is by the Andalusian poet Ibn Quzman, is a lyric, strophic form in colloquial Arabic. Interestingly, many zajals share an aspect of musical structure with the Spanish cantiga, the Italian lauda, and the French virelai: in each, the melody of the refrain recurs as the closing section (vuelta) of each stanza. This structure is widespread in traditional European folk music, and appears in Arabic song only after the Muslim conquest of Andalusia. The extent of Arabic influence on the music and poetry of Europe is widely and hotly debated: here is one instance in which the influence might just as easily have gone in the opposite direction.

muwashshahat and zajals made up the bulk of the repertoire of young female singers who were basically highly-prized slaves. These women were trained from childhood in the memorization and performance of the sung poetic forms, and their cultural and economic value increased according to their skill. When a young woman was sold, her price was negotiated through examination of a large volume that detailed the scope and nature of her repertoire. The most highly-prized singers also brought to their employers an ensemble of musicians, trained in the accompaniment of these pieces.

No music survives for the medieval muwashshah and zajal, and, while medieval sources provide some descriptions of the poetry and performance, they alone do not give enough information to reconstruct the music. Here is a situation in which parallel musical traditions become particularly important to the historical performer. The modern Andalusian oral tradition, known and so identified throughout North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria), retains particularly strong and immediate roots with its medieval Iberian ancestry, a retention attested by the self-identification of modern players with the lineages of medieval teachers. The connection is nearly as immediate in the repertoire itself: many examples of muwashshah and zajal in the modern Andalusian oral tradition adhere closely to the original medieval texts, giving us a point of departure from which musical reconstructions may be made. In this area, we are indebted to scholars James Monroe and Benjamin Liu, whose book Ten Hispano-Arabic Songs in the Modern Oral Tradition (Berkeley, 1989) has been an invaluable resource for these musical realizations.

In the fabled wine-parties of tri-cultural medieval Iberia, full performances of these genres could last many hours. Therefore, while the texts of the poems are given here in their deserved entirety, in some cases we have chosen to present only two or three musical stanzas of a muwashshah.

Pronunciation of medieval Iberian texts also requires special consideration: pronunciation has changed greatly over the centuries, and varied according to region and dialect. We thank Liljana Elverskog, Abdallah Malik, Consuelo Lopez-Morillas, and Angel Saenz-Badillos for their expert coaching in the spoken subtleties of these ancient languages.


1 References for such performance practice can be found as far back as the thirteenth century; see James T. Monroe and Benjamin Liu, Ten Hispano-Arabic Strophic Songs in the Modern Oral Tradition (Berkeley, 1989) p.16.

1. Reshut: Lababi ya‛ireni kašo’el lašaharah
Levi Ibn al-Tabban (fl. late 11th century)
Source: Raymond Scheindlin, The Gazelle (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991)

The period from c1000-c1150CE is referred to as a Golden Age of Iberian Jewish culture. Jewish scholars, poets, philosophers and scientists held important official, cultural and advisory positions in both Muslim and Christian courts.

During this Golden Age, Andalusian Jews introduced the practice of presenting poems called reshuyot, as a preface to the standard prayers that occur between the preliminary service and the morning service “proper”. These were, in effect, a “beginning before the beginning”: intimate meditations sung by the precentor, with their immediacy characterized by the consistent use of the first person singular pronoun.

The reshuyot typically incorporate Biblical diction, but also delight in poetical wordplay: often the number of lines matches the number of letters in the poet's given name; very often they incorporate an acrostic of the poet's given name at initial of each line (as does the example presented below).

In Arabic love lyric, the poet often spoke of the gazelle as a metaphor for the Beloved; in Hebrew religious texts, this was adapted to symbolize God or Israel. Ours is by Levi Ibn al-Tabban, a grammarian and poet from Saragossa who wrote primarily liturgical verse.

2. Cantio: Dum pater familias
Anonymous (12th century)
Source: Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca de la Catedral (“Codex Calixtinus”)

In the Middle Ages, Christians from Germany, France, Italy, and all over western Europe made the pilgrimage to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, built over the grave of St James, Santiago, the patron saint of Spain. The 12th century manuscript known as the Codex Calixtinus, housed at the Cathedral Library, contains music associated with this cathedral and the pilgrimage to it, and includes an observance of the feast of St. James. Dum pater familias, a Latin cantio in praise of the saint, comes from this collection. Its refrain commemorates James, “first of the apostles”, martyred in Jerusalem.

3. Muwashshah: Raše ‛am ‛et hitassef
Yéhuda ha-Levi (1075-1141)
Source: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Opp. Add 4°, 81

The Hebrew muwashshah on our program is by Yehuda ha-Levi, renowned for his contribution to sacred and secular poetry of Andalusia's Golden Age. The poem is a cultural melange, containing Biblical references, vernacularized Hebrew, and elements of Arabic and Romance speech, culminating in a Romance jarcha. It is a panegyric to “Joseph”, the identity of whom has been the subject of debate.

It has been suggested that this is a poem of messianic redemption, and that “Joseph” is a reference to a “secondary messianic figure”, Messiah son of Joseph, who would precede the Davidic Messiah and reunite the tribes of Israel.1 The poem may be read on multiple levels of meaning, as both lauding a patron and intending a symbolic, messianic message. Our melody is informed by melodic gestures found in 13th century Hebrew Bible cantillation symbols, formed into rhythmic song characteristic of the Andalusian muwashshah tradition.

1 H.P. Salomon “Yehuda Halevi and hid 'Cid'” (American Sephardi IX, 1978)

4. Cantiga #10: Rosa das Rosas
Anonymous (13th century), The Cantigas de Santa María
Source: El Escorial, Real Monasterio de El Escorial, B.1.2

The court of Alfonso X El Sabio “The Wise” (1252-1284), king of Castile and León, was one of the cultural centers of western Europe, drawing scholars, artists, scientists, and musicians of diverse backgrounds and faiths. The collection of Gallego-Portuguese songs known as the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a treasury of religious folk-legend, was assembled under Alfonso's direction. These cantigas tell of the many miracles performed by the Virgin Mary. The largest manuscript (El Escorial B.1.2, or “E1”) is filled with illuminations that portray Christians, Arabs, and Jews, together and separately playing an astonishing variety of musical instruments. Every tenth cantiga in this collection departs from the narrative miracle theme and instead presents an adoring song of Marian praise; our cantiga, Rosa das Rosas, is one of these.

5. Muwashshah: Ma li-l-muwallah
Ibn Zuhr (1113-1198)
Source: Sayyid Gazi Diwan al-Muwashshat al-Andalusiyya (Alexandria: Mansha‛at al-Ma‛arif, 1979)

When Andalusian poet Ibn Zuhr was asked which of his muwashshahat was most excellent, he chose this one. It is a poem of yearning, full of the sensuous imagery beloved by medieval Iberian poets of all three cultures, and used by them to evoke both earthly and spiritual love: sweet wine, gardens, beautiful women, the crescent moon.

Our musical arrangement is informed by medieval Arabic prose descriptions and by contemporary Moroccan folk music approaches. In the original manuscript, part of the final stanza is missing; for the purpose of performance, we repeat text from the first verse, incorporating a change in verb tense as utilized in the modern oral tradition. On the recording, you will hear the first and last stanzas and the jarcha. The entire text is presented below.

6. Canso: Dona si totz temps vivia
Berenguer de Palol (a.k.a. Berenguier de Palazol; fl. early 12th century)
Source: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, f. fr. 22543 (Troubadour ms. “R”)

The eleventh and twelfth century poet-musicians known as trobadors flourished in southern France and in neighboring Catalonia, itself a part of the Iberian culture. Much of the trobadors' poetry, written in the language of Old Occitan, is an expression of the “art of courtly love”, an idealized system of cultural and social behavior between noble women and men that developed over a period of time in Europe, with antecedents in the Middle East. The courtly lover views himself as the servant of the beloved; love is often either unrequited, or in some way illicit (it was common, for example, for the lady to be married to someone else). Yet through suffering and rejection the lover's situation becomes elevated to an almost mystical state in which he is ennobled or illuminated by this experience of transcendent devotion.

In the thirteenth century, the culture that had inspired the art of the trobadors was nearly destroyed by the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heresy; but the trobadors' influence spread far and wide, to the northern French trouvères, to the German minnesänger, to Dante and the Italian poets of the dolce stil nuovo, and beyond.

Dona, s'ieu tostems vivia is by one of the first Catalan trobadors, Berenguer de Palol, whose vida, or biography, tells us that he was the “son of a poor knight”. Only eight of the twelve extant songs by Berenguer have survived with their melodies intact.

7. Cantiga de amigo: Eno sagrado en Vigo
Martim Codax (fl. c.1230)
Source: Pierpont Morgan Library, Vindel MS M979

The Gallego-Portuguese cantiga de amigo is one of the Iberian peninsula's oldest vernacular poetic forms. The words are most often expressed from the point of view of a woman; this suggests that the cantigas de amigo may derive from a very old tradition of vernacular women's song.

Many of the cantigas' recurring themes — yearning for a distant lover, confiding in a mother or sister — are shared with women's songs from the Sephardic oral tradition, and also with the jarchas (which were known to have been “borrowed” from pre-existing sources). While it is impossible to conclusively identify certain Sephardic women's songs as “medieval”, this shared imagery suggests possible connections across genres.

Few of the melodies of the cantigas de amigo have survived. The seven cantigas de amigo by the Gallician troubadour Martim Codax are a notable exception: all but one are notated, and it is that cantiga, written under an empty staff with no notes, which we have chosen. The melody was arranged by Jann Cosan and Altramar on the basis of the existing cantiga melodies.