ALFONSO X EL SABIO. Cantigas de Santa María
Camerata Mediterranea · Abdelkrim Rais Andalusian Orchestra of Fès
Erato 3984-25498-2

2004: Warner "Apex" 2564-61924-2

1. Nawba Ramal al-Maya. Bughya  [1:06]   overture, instrumental

2. Santa Maria, strela do dia  [3:24]   CSM 100
Anne Azéma, Françoise Atlan, Hayet Ayad, Equidad Bares

3. Ben vennas Mayo  [2:43]   CSM 406
Saïd Chraibi

4. Loemos muit'a Virgen  [3:13]   CSM 370
Hayet Ayad

5. Sola fusti senlleira  [3:47]   CSM 90
Equidad Bares

6. Mui gran dereit'é  [1:50]   CSM 52

7. Nawba Gharibat al-Husayn. Tushiyas  [2:18]   prelude, instrumental

8. Tod'ome deve dar loor  [2:21]   CSM 230
Hayet Ayad

9. Quen entender quiser  [4:59]   CSM 130
Françoise Atlan

10. Gran dereit  [5:14]   CSM 56
Anne Azéma

11. Nawba Irak al-Ajam. Sana 'Kouli Lmalihti'  [0:45]   Mizan Darj, instrumental

12. Santa Maria leva  [3:47]   CSM 320
Françoise Atlan

13. Santa Maria loei  [5:37]   CSM 200
Hayet Ayad, Equidad Bares

14. Nobre don e muy preçado  [5:14]   CSM 417
Anne Azéma, Françoise Atlan

15. Nawba Gharibat al-Husayn. Sana 'Kad nilto hibbi'  [1:49]   Mizan Bacit, instrumental

16. A Santa Maria dadas  [3:36]   CSM 140
Saïd Chraibi

17. Nawba Rasd al-dhil. Sana 'Allah hoo Yalamo'  [1:47]   Mizan Koddam
Saïd Chraibi

18. Por nos virgen madre  [2:39]   CSM 250
Anne Azéma

Joel Cohen

Françoise Atlan, voice
Hayet Ayad, voice
Anne Azéma, voice
Equidad Bares, voice
Joel Cohen, lute and voice
Shira Kammen, harp and vielle

Mohammed Briouel

Aziz Alami, taar and voice
Abdessalam Amri, darbouka and voice
Mustapha Amri, viola and voice
Mohammed Briouel, violin, viola and voice
Salah Chraki, canun
Saïd Chraibi, tenor and voice
Rachid Lebbar, ud and voice

Literary consultant: Pierre Bec

Producer: Ysabelle Van Wersch-Cot
Sound engineer: Jacques Doll
Assistant: Didier Jean
Editing: Ysabelle Van Wersch-Cot
Recording: 11-18 October 1988 [sic; 1998]

Recorded in the Mnehbi Palace,
in the heart of the Medina (old city) at Fès. Marocco

Cover, back cover, back inlay: photo B. Jonathan/SDP

Mystic Spain: the Cantigas
Joel Cohen

What are the Cantigas?
High among the many achievements of the Spanish King Alfonso X, called "El Sabio" — the Wise — (1221-1284) is the superb collection of more than 400 sacred songs to the Virgin Mary, the celebrated Cantigas de Santa Maria. King Alfonso's Cantigas are the most important examples of vernacular song from the Spanish Middle Ages; more than that, they are a summit of medieval Christian spirituality. They are preserved in several large and elaborate manuscripts prepared at the royal court; and while it is doubtful that the King composed all of the songs personally, it is clear that he was closely involved, emotionally and materially, in their compilation.

España es diferente

And yet, while the theological and literary center of these pieces — miracle ballads in their majority, interspersed with songs of praise to the Virgin — is intensely Christian, any attempt to perform them anew needs, I believe, to take into account the special, polycultural situation of medieval Spain. The cultural and artistic context of Spain in the thirteenth century was unmistakably mixed, with strong Muslim and Judaic influences present everywhere. Alfonso's court was a reflection of the general situation of Spain during this period. Calling himself "King of the three religions" the liberal-minded Alfonso surrounded himself with scholars and artists of all faiths. The illuminated miniatures in the most elaborate of the Cantigas manuscripts bear witness to intense cross-cultural interaction: musicians in typicolly Christian, Islamic, and Jewish garb are shown performing their instruments; light-skinned and dark-skinned musicians make music together. And many of the instruments in Europe are still-current in the Muslim world of North Africa.

It is for these reasons that our performances of Alfonso's Cantigas attempt to integrate certain musical elements, and musicians, whose points of reference lie outside the mainstream of Western "classical" music.

A cross-cultural experiment
While we can never be sure exactly how the musicians at King Alfonso's court might have interpreted these songs, we have everything to gain in our hypothefical reconstructions by calling on musical traditions currently outside, but once closely related European musical practice. Accordingly, we have asked an outstanding ensemble of current Moroccan masters to supply accompaniments to the vocal lines set out in the manuscript pages, using the instruments they currently employ in their own repertoire. These instruments ore, in many cases (lute, canun, percussion) virtually the same as those shown in the medieval manuscript, or, in the case of the Moroccan violin and viola, closely related thereto.

Furthermore, the possible relationship between Arab musical art and the musical medieval Spain goes far beyond the queston of instrumental morphology. The classical Arab music of North Africa is called "Andalusian music", and its contemporary practitioners are conscious of perpetuating a system of musical thought and practice which is traced back to the Muslim courts of medieval Spain. Four hundred years after the "reunification" of Spain under a Christian Kingdom, the once-closely-related traditions of Christian and Muslim Spain have, inevitably, grown apart. But what is astonishing to the "occidental" student of Arab classical music is how much the current tradition contains that is self-evidently very ancient. The modes of Andalusian music as played today in Morocco are very similar to those employed in the European Middle Ages. The exotic microtones associated with "oriental" music in the Western imagination are absent from this classically-codified musical system. The scales are composed, like Gregorian chant, of tones and semitones arranged in different patterns according to the mode. Thus, the practitioner of the Arabo-andalusian repedoire can assimilate the melodies of the Cantigas to his own instrument or voice with litle disruption, and even with delectation. And, as we happily discovered during the weeks of preparatory collaboration, many melodic elements found in the Cantigas are still employed in Arabo-andalusian music. The Arabo-Andalusian pieces that serve as preludes and postludes to the Cantigas on this recording were chosen for their intrinsic beauty first of all, but also for their musical kinship with certain Cantigas melodies. The musical modes of these arabic pieces are the same as those of the Cantigas that preced or follow, and while they at no point replicate the medieval European melodies note-for-note, you will hear any number of musical motifs and patterns in the Arabic pieces that can be perceived as variants, or first cousins, to motifs in the Cantigas tunes.

How were the Cantigas sung?
Unlike the musical accompaniments, which are not notated in the Cantigas manuscript and which need to be re-imagined anew, the melodies are clearly set out in the medieval source. While the intervallic relationships and (to a somewhat lesser extent) the rhythms are clearly exposed in the original notation, the questions of stylistic nuance and interpretation are not. And in fact, given the heterogeneous makeup of King Alfonso's court (the King hinself was half German!), a broad range of options and singing styles may have been available, as it is today in vital and diverse "crossroads" centers like New York or Marseille. We have therefore recruited accomplished vocal soloists from a variety of backgrounds. All of our singers have Mediterranean roots — Occitanian, Spanish, Kabyle, Arabic, and Judeo-Berber — and all the women soloists have sung Cantigas and other medieval repertoires prior to coming together for this project. But we have tried, while creating a unitary framework, to allow for and encourage the diversity inherent both in our selection of soloists and (we believe) in the song repertoire itself. We have also chosen to perform several of these Cantigas as unaccompanied solos, echoing in this practice certain deep-rooted traditions of sacred song in both the Christian and Islamic traditions.

The preparation of these Cantigas has been a large undertaking, as exhilarating and passionate in its human interactions as it has been on the scholarly and musical front.Special thanks are due Erato Disques, Paris, for their courage and foresight in supporting this project. In proceding as we have done, have we reproduced the music of Alfonso's thirteenth-century court in every detail? No, for that task is clearly impossible for us, or for anyone else. On the other hand, have we perhaps come closer to the spirit of the Cantigas, and to that extraordinary, humane, and convivial moment of our collective past? Such is our wish as we send this beautiful music forth into the world, and to you.

Joel Cohen
Mirabeau, September 1998

Joel Cohen
and the Camerata Mediterranea

Joel Cohen is a leading authority in the field of medieval and Renaissance musical performance. He has received widespread acclaim as performer, conductor, and writer/commentator in his chosen field, and his unique style of program building has made the Boston Camerata ensemble famous on five continents. Joel Cohen studied composition at Harvard University. Awarded a Danforth Fellowship, he spent the next two years in Paris as a student of Nadia Boulanger. He has taught and lectured at many East Coast universities, including Harvard, Yale, Brandeis, and Amherst. Abroad, he has given seminars and workshops at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, at the Royal Opera of Brussels, in Spain, Singapore, and Japon. His professional honours include membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the Erwin Bodky award in early music, and the Signet Society medal from Harvard. He is a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of the French Republic.

As a lutenist, Joel Cohen has appeared with numerous European ensembles.

Joel Cohen's chosen repertoires span many centuries and countries. He has, however, taken a special interest in French music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and early Baroque.

In 1990, Joel Cohen founded a new ensemble, the Camerata Mediterranea, devoted to the performance of early music repertoires from the Mediterranean basin. The ensemble's initial tour season took place in France, Italy, Spain, and Morocco; further tours brought the group's music to audiences in France, the United States, and Holland.
Mohammed Briouel
and the Abdelkrim Rais Orchestra of Fès

Just as the name of Hadj Abdelkrim Rais cannot be dissociated from that of his master Lebrihi, likewise the name of Hadj Abdelkrim Rais cannot be dissociated from that of his favourite pupil, Mohammed Briouel. As the former grew older, the younger man played on increasingly important role in the activity of the orchestra. He was born in 1954 in the region of Fès and in 1963 began his studies with Hadj Abdelkrim Rais, alongside whom he followed most of his career. He was the first Moroccan student to win first prizes in Andalusian music, and he now teaches at the Fès Conservatoire, where he also occupies the post of Director. In 1986, Mohammed Briouel was awarded the Morocco Prize on the publication of his work, "Moroccan Andalusian Music: Nouba Gharibat-Al Husayn". Over a period of ten years, he carried out the monumental task of transcribing eleven Noubas into western notation.

The orchestra of the late Hadj Abdelkrim Rais is looked upon as the earliest and most important Moroccan Andalusian music ensemble. Whilst continuing to ensure the presence of this art form, the orchestra has undertaken the artistic task of restoring this music to its traditional setting and guaranteeing its authentic performance.

In order to observe the original forms as for as possible, as well as the sound colour and the rhythmic features of the music it has set out to champion, the orchestra endeavours to keep to traditional methods of interpretation by every mains at its disposal, in particular by refusing to resort to the use of modern instruments.