Alfonso X el Sabio and the Cantigas de Santa Maria
EMI Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 1CO 65 99 898 — LP, 1980
BMG Deutsche Harmonia mundi GD 77 242 — CD, 1992
1. Santa Maria, strela do dia [3:26] CSM 100
Preludio instrumental [0:54]
Santa Maria, strela do dia — M. FIGUERAS [2:32]
2. A que pera parayso [12:09] CSM 389
Preludio instrumental [1:45]
A que pera parayso — J. BENET [4:25]
Interludio instrumental [0:51]
... E con gran coita sobeja [1:55]
Interludio instrumental [1:05]
... E tal promessa com' esta [2:08]
3. Dized' ai trobadores! [4:03] CSM 260
Preludio instrumental [0:43]
Dized' ai trobadores! — J. PROUBASTA [3:21]
4. Pero que seja a gente [8:15] CSM 181
Preludio instrumental [0:36]
Pero que seja a gente — M. FIGUERAS [7:40]
5. Quena festa e o dia [26:56] CSM 195
Preludio instrumental [3:55]
Quenta festa e o dia (4/4) J. Benet [3:38]
... Que a cobiiçasse (3/4) J. Proubasta [1:38]
... Pois Ila outorgada (4/4) M. Figueras [1:53]
Interludio instrumental [2:30]
... Quand' el est' oydo (8/4) M. Figueras [1:43]
... Ey-la no convento (5/4) J. Benet [2:29]
... Ca ja é na vida (4/4) J. Proubasta [2:18]
Interludio instrumental [1:40]
... A moça, que sage (6/8) M. Figueras, J. Benet, J. Proubasta [5:14]
Das Mittelalter-Ensemble der Schola Cantorum Basiliensis
Sänger der Mudanzas (Strophen):
Montserrat Figueras, #1, 4, 5
Josep Benet, #2, 5
Joaquim Proubasta, #3, 5
Sänger der Estribillos (Refrains):
Sylvia Greiner, Gemma Jansana, Lauren Pomerantz, Josep Cabré, Francesc Guillén
Donald Irving, Flöte
André Jéquier, Flöte
Randall Cook, Schalmei, Fidel
Sterling Jones, Rebab, Rabel
Jason Paras, Rebec, Fidel, Lyra
Thomas Binkley, Laute, Citole, Schlagzeug
Ken Zukerman, Laute
Solomon Ross, Laute
Robert Clancy, Mandora
Laurent Aubert, Gittern
Terumi Chinone, Chitarra Saracenica
Timothy Doughty, Harfe
Sally Thorpe-Smith, Psalterium
℗ 1980 harmonia mundi, Freiburg
© 1992 Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (CD)
Aufnahme/Recording: Pere Casulleras, Kurt Deggeler
Technik/Technical equipment: Perevox
St. Alban Kirche Basel
Kommentar/Liner notes: Dagmar Hoffmann-Axthelm
Übersetzungen/Translations: Anne Smith, J. Trescher
Weitere Übersetzungen/Another Translations: Kurt Deggeller, Marie-José Brochard
Titelbild/Front cover picture:aus/from “Las cantigas de Santa Maria de Alfonso El Sabio”
(Bibliothek des Klosters des Escorial/Bibliotheca of the monastery of the Escorial)
Redaktion/Editing: Dr. Jens Markowsky
English liner notes
Synopsis of the contents of the texts
On the performance of the Cantigas
The Cantigas de Santa Maria is a 13th century Spanish collection of 400 songs in the Galician language extolling the Virgin Mary and describing the miracles she carried out on behalf of mankind. Its size and contents, as well a its cultural origins inspire awe and admiration in us. The thematic, formal, and linguistic uniformity found in the collection is unique for its time. The collection was commissioned by Alfonso X (1230-1280), King of Castile and León, and was assembled at his court. Historians have honored him with the epithet el Sabio, “the Wise”, and he is held to be one of the most exceptional Spanish kings because of the political and intellectual influence he wielded. His political importance is demonstrated by the fact that during his reign a balance, however precarious, was maintained between the Christians and the Moslems.
In 711, a small but powerful army of Berbers, Syrians, and Arabs invaded Spain from North Africa and occupied a large portion of the country. From that time on, the Moslems strove, using varying means, all of which, however, had the same intent, to win the country and its people for Islam. Some of the Moorish rulers attempted to achieve this goal by force. Others limited themselves to showing the Jewish and Christian inhabitants examples of Oriental culture and life-style in ways that could not be overlooked; landscaped gardens with fountains, public baths and hospitals, columned halls which seemed light and airy in comparison to the heavier European architecture, chess, a game to keep the mind working actively, scrolls with treatises on the liberal and natural sciences, Arabic musical instruments, and Arabic singing all opened up entirely new horizons for the Europeans. The Christians were admittedly not in a position to assimilate this cultural wealth during the centuries of Islamic rule. Those who did not convert to Islam lived as mozárabes under the Moors and were forced to pay tribute for this privilege; as a result they needed most of their strength simply to retain their own cultural, political, and religious identity.
During the reign of King Alfonso in the 13th century this situation changed. As a result of the reconquista, the Christian rebellion against Arabic rule, the whole country was again under the rule of Spanish kings with the exception of the Kingdom of Granada. In a position of power, the Christians were now glad to take in what they could from Moorish art, liberal and natural sciences, and technology. Many Arabs, known as mudéjares, respected architects or astronomers, translators, botanists, doctors, and musicians, lived under this Christian rule, for example at the court of King Alfonso. Alfonso X's political goals were not limited to ensuring the peaceful coexistence between the individual religious communities. His main ambition was to establish a central government in a unified, Christian Spain. The Spanish subjects of the king, not the Moslems, caused this plan to fail. The nobility resisted because it felt that its own desires concerning a federal government were being endangered. One of Alfonso's sons objected to his father's decision regarding the succession to the throne and started a war against him. Finally the King was deposed in 1282. He died two years later without having reached his political goal.
Although Alfonso was unable to unify the country politically as he had desired, he managed to unify it culturally. He introduced Castilian as the compulsory language of the land; at that time it was simply called “nuestra lenguaje”. The majority of the important works commissioned by Alfonso at his court, the history Estoria de Espanna, the lawbook Siete partidas, as well as a number of translations of Arabic treatises on medicine and astronomy were written in this new national language. Power politics surely played a role in the introduction of Castilian as the written language. A uniform language, understood by all, would help in establishing a centralized government. A second reason is given by the Franciscan monk, Juan Gil de Zamora, who lived at Alfonso's court and wrote a short biography of the King. There he writes that Alfonso introduced the national language because he desired “that all people be able to easily learn and understand those things which, when they are expressed in Latin, are even difficult for learned men to comprehend”. Thus the King did not want the knowledge of his time to remain hidden behind monastery walls and in the studies of learned men. Instead, all language barriers were to be broken down, thereby making the knowledge available to those who could assimilate and make use of it.
Here lies the key to the question of why Alfonso chose Galician, an early form of Portuguese, instead of Castilian, as the language for the Cantigas de Santa Maria, the work that has made him so important in music history. Why did he use a different language for this lyric-epic work than for theoretical treatises? The answer may be seen in the fact that in Alfonso's reign there was already a tradition of writing poetry in Galician. This language was spoken in the northwestern portion of the peninsula, in the Kingdom of León. Its spiritual center was at the site of St. Jacob's tomb, Santiago de Compostela, the most important goal for Christian pilgrims in the Occident. As a result of the confrontation with Islam, the apostle had grown to be a symbol of Christian resistance. This in turn motivated the pilgrims and native inhabitants alike to develop a rich song repertory in the vernacular language. Alfonso linked himself to this repertory with Cantigas. The cancioneiros, the song collections compiled by Galician minstrels, proved clearly that Galician was a suitable language for the creation of a universally understood, lyric-epic work. As a consequence, the Cantigas were Galician songs, showing the northern influence not only in the language in which they were written, but also in their form. The pieces which frequently have solo sections alternating with a choral refrain, are either rondeaus, virelais, or songs similar to a litany.
What purpose did the king have in mind in assembling this huge collection of songs to the Virgin Mary? Gil de Zamora also answers this question. He writes that “he [Alfonso], just like King David, wrote many Marvelous songs in praise of the Virgin Mary and provided them with suitable melodies”. The king, therefore, considered himself to be one of the successors to King David, the singer of psalms. We may conclude that he understood the Cantigas to be a psalter in a vernacular language, thus one that would encourage the devoutness of all Christians. The purpose of the work may also be seen as the desire of a Christian ruler to erect a monument to his own faith in a world subject to Moorish and Jewish influences. The way in which the King injects his own personality into the collection is characteristic for this; the similarity to King David in his dialogue with God may also be seen here. He refers to himself several times as the “Troubadour of the Virgin Mary”, as a minstrel always prepared to be of service to his lady. This may be partially a reflection of his personal piety and humility, but the other side should not be overlooked. In kneeling before Mary, the Mother of Christ, Alfonso X, the most powerful man in Spain, a claimant, though unsuccessful, to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, clearly showed all those of other faiths where the center of secular and religious power was to be found.
The contents of the texts also bear similarity to the psalms of David. In these he not only praised God, but also prayed for consolation when in personal distress and for help against the inimical heathens. Corresponding to this, Mary is always invoked in Alfonso's songs when a member of the family of the Castilian King needs succor, such as when the King's mother lay seriously ill, when his father, Fernando III, was fighting the Moors, or when Alfonso was trying to arrange a settlement of a conflict between himself and the rebellious nobility. The miragres, the stories of miracles found in the Cantigas, do not only tell of miraculous events in the lives of the King's family. In the majority of the songs, stories are told that come from Latin or vernacular collections of miracles performed by the Virgin Mary; at that time such collections were common throughout Europe. In addition there are some loores, lyrical poems, which are in praise of the Virgin Mary, not of her deeds.
The miragres et loores de Santa Maria are found in four manuscripts. Of these, one presently found in Escorial, MS. j.b.2, is most interesting, as it is not only the most complete, but also is embellished with 40 miniatures. A parallel may also be drawn here to contemporary psalter manuscripts. In these a miniature portraying King David with his harp and surrounded by his musicians often serves as an introduction. In the corresponding place in our manuscript is a miniature of Alfonso and his collaborators, who may be identified as four musicians, four courtiers, and four clerics. They are all looking towards the king who is singing or reciting from a book. And just as musicians and their instruments are depicted throughout some psalter manuscripts (a reference to the exhortation in the 150th psalm that the Lord be praised with all musical instruments), the Cantigas manuscript contains miniatures portraying instrumentalists playing music.
Apart from their artistic delicacy and beauty, these miniatures also give us information on two other points. First of all, they show Arabs, Christians, and Jews, who may be identified by their clothing, assembled peacefully together. From this we may conclude that the hiring practices for musicians at Alfonso's court were free from religious discrimination. Second, they offer us an idea of the large variety of instruments in use in medieval Spain; more than 30 different string, plucked, wind, and percussion instruments may be distinguished. We know the names, some of which are of Arabic origin, of several of the instruments which have been described and characterized in other contemporary Spanish sources. The original names of the instruments used on this recording and portrayed in the miniatures are: flauta (flute), rabé and rabé morisco (rebec), vihuela de arco (vielle), mandurria (mandola), laúd (lute), arpa (harp), salterio (psaltery), pandero (tambourine), guitarra morisca (gittern), citole (cister), and dulcema (shawm).
Thus, in his Cantigas de Santa Maria, Alfonso el Sabio accomplished that which he was unable to do politically. He created a unified whole which came into being not as a result of destruction, but through the assimilation and fusion of elements of disparate traditions, a procedure which makes us still appreciate today why he was called “the Wise”.
Synopsis of the contents of the texts
Santa Maria, strela do dia (Cantiga 100)
Song of praise to the Virgin Mary, in which she is praised as a guide and intercessor.
A que pera parayso (Cantiga 389)
Maestro Pedro from Marseille was once an Abbot, then married in Seville and now has two handsome sons. When the younger one falls seriously ill, the father places him in the care of the Holy Virgin of Oporto and pledges that if his son recovers, he will make a pilgrimage with him to Oporto and offer her spices and poultry. His plea is heard, the boy's appetite is revived, and he recovers.
Dized'ai, trobadores! (Cantiga 260)
In this song of praise to the Mother of God, the trobadors are called upon to praise the compassion of the Lord and the goodness of the Holy Virgin.
Pero que seja a gente (Cantiga 181)
The Holy Virgin even helps the faithless when they turn to her: Aboyuçaf, the King of Marocco, is being besieged by his enemies. His subjects advise him to unfurl the banner of the Holy Virgin and to ally himself with the Christians in the region. In this way he is able to vanquish his opponents at the Morabe River.
Quena festa e o dia (Cantiga 195)
A young knight is riding with his squire to the tournament. Along the way he sees a pretty girl. He induces her father with a gift of money to entrust her to him as his lover. He takes her with him to his lodgings, but she cries and proclaims her veneration of the Mother of God. At this, the knight repents his sin and sends her to the Convent of Saint Clement in Toulouse. He dies in the tournament and is buried at the same place. The Holy Virgin inspires the girl to send the Abbess to the grave of the knight. When the latter refuses, the girl relates her sin and convinces the Abbess of the necessity of giving the knight a proper funeral.
On the performance of the Cantigas
The performances make use of preludes which are improvised along guidelines set up with reference to the specific cantiga. The aim is to establish a pitch reference and an aesthetic framework for the ensuing song. The accompaniments attempt to follow similar guidelines:
follows the principal of simultaneous participation in accompaniment. Each instrumentalist plays as if the others were not present, and thus each one permits his own idea of the song and its text to be imprinted upon the total sound picture.
The instrumentalists alternate with the singers in this short tune creating variations as if in reply to the invitation of the singer addressed to the Trobadores to praise the Virgin.
Operating within the unusual rhythmic framework, the instrumentalists characterize the events of the narrative (e.g., the shawm signaling the battle and the crossing of the river).
follows the most complicated discipline of these cantigas. Here cyclic rhythm is employed, a borrowing from the Hispanic-Arabic music, as a means to organize the lengthy strophic song into a sequence of movements with instrumental pieces inters ersed. Thus there are three strophes in 4, three in 3/4, three in another 4/4 followed by an instrumental piece. Then three strophes in 8/4, three in5/4 and three in another 4/4 followed by an instrumental piece and a concluding group in 6/8. The tambourin maintains the cyclic rhythms normally without strong accents at the beginning of the cycle, yielding a subtle rhythmic plane independent of the melodic and heterophonic planes of the performance. The melody is transformed by the rhythms without affecting pitch or text underlay. The melody by the way, survives in the 16th century with another, fragmented text: si me llaman a mi...
Gramophone review, March 1981
CANTIGAS DE SANTA MARIA. Schola Cantorum Basiliensia directed by Thomas Binkley. Harmonia Mundi 1C 065 99898 (£5.50). Notes and texts included.
No. 100, Santa Maria, strela do dia; No. 389, A que pera parayso; No. 260, Dized- ai, trobadores!; No. 181, Pero que seja a gente; No. 195, Quena festa e o dia.
Though there have been previous nibbles at recording Alfonso X of Castile's famous collection of bores (hymns of praise to the Virgin) and accounts of her miracles—notably by Thomas Binkley himself with the Studio der frilihen Musik (EMI/Conifer IC 063 30107-8) and the
Clemencic Consort (Harmonia Mundi HM977-8, 3/78)—its sheer size has proved something of an embarras de richesses. The present disc adds a mere five more songs (one already duplicated) to the still modest tally, but with over 400 in the volume there is a long way to go; and so fascinating and haunting are many of these thirteenthcentury monodies that they imperatively demand to be heard.
Exactly how they were originally performed we cannot know, though it is clear from the 40 or so delightful vignettes in the copy now in the Escorial that they were accompanied by a great variety of stringed and wind instruments and by percussion. Binkley and Clemencic adopt a much freer approach than did the New York Pro Musica (Brunswick SXA45I3, 4/63—nla) or the awardwinning Jose Luis Ochoa de Olza's forces (Erato STU70694), and vital though they are, some aspects of their readings may be open to question. That preludes were improvised to the songs can be accepted, but several of the instrumental introductions here are over-long and have no basis other than the accomplished Basle players' invention; and I wonder whether even so lengthy a narrative as Quena festa (which occupies a whole side) would have been twice interrupted by totally independent instrumental pieces. Also, while various interpretations of the rhythm are possible, would more than half a dozen variants be employed within one song (as they are in this particular miragre)? Besides playing in unison or in loose heterophony, instruments might certainly have indulged in drones or free strumming (as they do here in ,4 que pera parayso, which resembles a medieval jam session), but would they have supplied a primitive harmonization, as here in the lovely Santa Maria, strela do dia?
Let me quickly say that such questions do not diminish the attractiveness of the Basle performers' presentation or the welcome it deserves. The refrains are sung in chorus (no mean feat in one so complicated as No. 181), sometimes with touches of parallel-motion organum or contrarymotion lines (much in vogue in the preceding century): of its three solo voices who sing the strophes the soprano, Montserrat Figueras, is outstanding for the ease of her diction and her skilful use of grace-notes which add an appropriate Arab flavour to the melodies. In this regard, indeed, she is on her own, so that a disparity of style becomes evident when, in the long No. 195, the narrative is passed from one soloist to another. The instrumental playing throughout is of a high order.
It is a pity that the otherwise valuable sleevematerial should provide, along with the sung texts, only summaries in English and not full translations. Not all of us are all that good at the Galician tongue, though if you understand Portuguese and Spanish you could make it out fairly well. L.S.
Alfonso X el Sabio and the Cantigas de Santa Maria