Songs for a Wise King / The Renaissance Players
Cantigas de Santa Maria I
Walsingham WAL 8007-2


1. Alfonso's Prologo (Prologue A / B)  [6:35]   t: Presentación / Prólogo — m: CSM 1
Geoff Sirmai, reader (in English) Prologue A / B | Winsome Evans, harp CSM 1

2. Rosa das rosas  [5:40]   CSM 10
Mara Kiek, alto | Llew Kiek, bouzouki | Winsome Evans, bowed diwan saz

3. Da que Deus mamou  [4:21]   CSM 77
Winsome Evans, shawms (2), gemshorns, organetto, harp | Katie Ward, vielle | Benedict Hames, rebec, gemshorn | Andrew Tredinnick, mandora | Llew Kiek, gittern | Ingrid Walker, whistle, gemshorn | Barbara Stackpool, castanets, finger cymbals | Jenny Duck-Chong, bells | Andrew Lambkin, darabukka

4. Gran dereit e de seer  [7:05]   CSM 56
Chorus | Jenny Duck-Chong, mezzo-soprano | Mina Kanaridis, soprano
Winsome Evans, psaltery | Andrew Tredinnick, ud | Katie Ward, vielle | Benedict Hames, bowed diwan saz | Barbara Stackpool, tambourine | Andrew Lambkin, bells

5. A Virgen que de Deus Madre  [3:57]   CSM 322
Winsome Evans, organetto | Ingrid Walker, whistle | Katie Ward, vielle | Andrew Tredinnick, mandora | Llew Kiek, gittern | Jenny Duck-Chong, tambourine | Barbara Stackpool, castanets | Andrew Lambkin, darabukka

6. Santa Maria strella do dia  [4:02]   CSM 100
Chorus | Jenny Duck-Chong, mezzo-soprano | Mina Kanaridis, soprano | Mara Kiek, alto, tapan
Winsome Evans, bombarde, shawm, bells | Ingrid Walker, whistle | Katie Ward, vielle | Benedict Hames, rebec | Andrew Tredinnick, mandora | Llew Kiek, gittern | Barbara Stackpool, finger cymbals

7. Assi pod'a Virgen  [7:55]   CSM 226
Jenny Duck-Chong, mezzo-soprano | Mina Kanaridis, soprano | Mara Kiek, alto
Chorus | Winsome Evans, harps (2) | Andrew Tredinnick, chitarra moresca | Andrew Lambkin, daireh

8. Quen quer que na Virgen fia  [6:19]   CSM 167
Winsome Evans, harps (2)

9. Como somos per conssello  [10:07]   CSM 119
Jenny Duck-Chong, mezzo-soprano | Chorus
Winsome Evans, shawm | Ingrid Walker, whistle | Katie Ward, vielle | Andrew Tredinnick, mandora | Barbara Stackpool, castanets | Andrew Lambkin, darabukka

10. Non sofre Santa Maria  [5:06]   CSM 159
Chorus | Mara Kiek, alto, daireh | Geoff Sirmai, reader
Winsome Evans, shawms (3) | Andrew Tredinnick, mandora | Katie Ward, vielle | Benedict Hames, rebec | Ingrid Walker, whistle | Barbara Stackpool, castanets | Andrew Lambkin, tapan

1. Alfonso's Prologo   (A / B)

In the first of the two parts of the Prologue preceding the main body of cantigas, Alfonso outlines those principalities of Northern and reconquered Spain as well as places beyond the Iberian Peninsula to which he considered he could claim kingly birthright. In the second part he declares his intention to become a trobador for the best lady of all, the Virgin Mary, to whom alone he will devote his poetry. The text is declaimed and, in a biblical gesture reminiscent of King David's “joywood”, is accompanied by the harp.

Count Afonso Sanches and his brother Pedro, two of the illegitimate sons of Dinis (the sixth king of Portugal and grandson of Alfonso X), were amongst the many distinguished poets who gathered at the Portuguese court. It has been noted that in one of his love poems Afonso Sanches expresses  exactly the same sentiment, in slightly different words, as that found in the third stanza of me second part of the Affonsine Prologue, possibly as a tribute to his great-grandfather. The difference is that, unlike the Virgin Mary, his lady rejected him:
“I have lost her who was the best thing who God made and however much I served her I nevertheless lost her”.
The main melody, when played, is in the aeolian mode; most of the harp part is improvised.

2. Rosa das rosas   (C.10)

This is  the second cantiga de loor, in Alfonso's collection (the first being cantiga 1 which describes the seven sorrows and joys of Mary). As the first cantiga with the final number X (symbol of Christ), it thus starts the first complete cyclic pattern of one cantiga de loor followed by nine cantigas de miragre. The cantigas de loor as a genre are related to paraliturgical hymns which were often processional. The last stanza of this cantiga is not performed here (though printed below) because it repeats the sentiments of the Prologo where they were more fully expounded.

It is sung here in the mysterious chest voice reminiscent of that used in cante jondo and still heard in various forms of Andalusian-Arabic-Judaic music in North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. The stanzas are sung in free rhythms with increasing intensity and ornamentation, while the refrains are in regularly measured rhythms. While we have not attempted to reproduce literally the instruments depicted in the manuscript's mast -head illumination (plucked gittern and bowed vielle), we have decided to follow its concept by accompanying the singer with two baglamas. one plucked and one bowed. The plucked baglama takes the main instrumental role and acts as the singer's counterfoil, echoing and developing her end-of-phrase ornaments.

The mode is dorian with two sixths, minor and major.

3. Da que Deus mamou   (C. 77)

This is an instrumental rendition of a cantiga which tells of a miracle performed by the Virgin Mary at Lugo which is situated near Triacastela in Galicia, north of the famous pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela. The piece is used to demonstrate a large-scale instrumentarium, in which the stanzas are played by small, homogeneous or paired groupings (plucked strings, bowed strings, horn recorders or gemshorns, shawms, organ plus bells) and the refrains by the full, mixed ensemble.

The idea for this motley ensemble, out of which smaller groupings take their turn to play the stanzas, derived not from the depiction of the twenty-four Elders playing varieties of bowed and plucked stringed instruments wonderfully sculptured around the Portico de la Gloria of Santiago Cathedral (which Phil Pickett has used as the basis of some of his instrumental renditions of Alfonso's cantigas), but from the description of pilgrims assembled from all over Europe for the feast-day vigil of Santiago found in the Liber Sancti Jacobi (now known as The Pilgrim's Guide), the fifth book of the 12th century Codex Calixtinus. The pilgrim crowds singing, playing and dancing around the altar include Teutons, Franks, English, Greeks, “barbarians... and other tribes”, that is, “various people from every climate of the world” and they sing “to the accompaniment of harps,  lyres, tambourines, bone flutes, shepherds' pipes, reed pipes, straight metal trumpets, vielles, rotas of Brittany and Gaul, and psalteries”.

4. Gran dereit e de seer   (C. 561)

This rose-bush miracle is related to cantiga 24 which recounts the legend from Chartres about “how Holy Mary made a flower similar to a lily grow in the mouth of cleric after he died”. Interestingly, its text finishes with the congregation of living clerics going off to dance after the sermon of thanksgiving.

In cantiga 56, a rose-bush with five roses on it appears in the mouth of a devout monk soon after his death. The fourth stanza cites a list of the five texts the monk had recited in her honour, each of which started with a letter in Mary's name (but not in the exact order of the letters of “Maria”). All of these are psalms and include the Magnificat, whose full title from the Latin Vulgate is Magnificat anima mea Dominum (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”). This is the Virgin's hymn of praise at the Annunciation (found in Luke 1:46-55), which is usually sung at Vespers.

The melody of this cantiga is in the hypo-ionian mode. Various types of plucked and bowed stringed instruments and bells accompany the text which is sung in measured and unmeasured rhythms or, to heighten the drama, declaimed against instrumental drones and improvised melodic filigree.

5. A Virgen que de Deus Madre   (C.322)

This is the second of the three instrumental renderings of cantiga melodies in this CD set. It is played as a discreetly joyful dance in honour of the Virgin Mary who, in the text, had restored to life a man who had suffered a terrible death. The plucked and bowed stringed instruments play the melody in only the tutti sections (i.e, the first and fourth) along with the organetto and whistle. The latter pair of instruments play the two stanzaic sections — firstly improvising decorations on the main melody (as given in the manuscript) and then improvising completely new melodies or counter-melodies in the allotted time span of the stanza's melody.

The melody is in the dorian mode and is played with major and minor sixths.

6. Santa Maria strela do dia   (C. 100)

There seem to be certain mnemonic icons at play in the structures and numbers of this, the centesimal cantiga, and the tenth cantiga de loor in the X series. Its Roman number C may suggest the last uncial of the Greek spelling of Christ. It is structured with a trinity of stanzas and a septenary of refrains and stanzas. The melody is structured into ten units, if refrains are sung at the beginning and end of each of its three stanzas. Our after-dance, which represents the dance following the recessional after the sermon, as described in cantiga 24, reiterates the ten-fold segmentation.

The text is a gloss on the hymn Ave maris stella composed by the 6th century poet-bishop Venantius Fortunatus (author of the wondrous Holy Cross hymns Vexilla regis prodeunt and Pange lingua). Mary is addressed as “Strela do Dia” (Star of the Day) in the refrain to this cantiga, and also in that of cantiga 325 (where she is described as “the one who gives guidance on sea and land”). Likewise, in Polorum regina, one of the dance-songs in the Catalonian Llibre Vermell, she is addressed as “Stella Matutina” (Morning Star). In 1272 Alfonso X founded the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the star as its emblem.

The melody is in the dorian mode, sung by the chorus in the refrains and soloists in the stanzas, and accompanied by a joyously motley pilgrim ensemble.

7. Assi pod' a Virgen   (C. 226)

One of the 21 cantigas dealing with churches and monasteries, this is a miraculous tale of the sunken monastery in “Ingraterra” / “Gran Bretanna” which arose on Easter Day (like God), exactly one year after it had disappeared into the earth. Though by no means the same tale, it may be a variant on the Celtic legend, c. 400 AD, about the submerged Cathedral of Ys in Brittany (which was Claude Debussy's inspiration for his piano piece La cathédrale engloutie). It apparently sank into the sea as punishment for the wicked behaviour of its inhabitants and arose again from time to time at sunrise to curb and warn against further misdeeds.

In order to preserve the enjambements of text across the stanzas (particularly from stanzas 8 to 9 and 12 to 13), the refrain is not sung after every stanza but only after stanza 6 and, to give the whole a cyclic structure, at the beginning and the end of the piece. The cueing melodies which lead into the refrain are exactly the same each time, and the stanzas are sung or declaimed by a solo voice (with harp doubling or improvising), or by three voices using drone-harmonies (plus two harps and chitarra moresca).

The melody is in the mixolydian mode and is rhythmicised in triple metre with hemiola accentuation.

8. Quen quer que na Virgen fia   (C. 167)

This is one of the six cantigas in which the Virgin Mary comes to the assistance of Muslims or Jews. The text, which is not sung here, tells how a Muslim woman from Borja in Saragossa was converted to Christianity. She had carried her dead son to the shrine of Holy Mary at Salas and, after three days, he was resurrected at Mary's intervention.

This the third instrumental rendering of a cantiga melody in this CD set, and the first of such played by a pair of identical instruments. The idea to use lap-harps was taken from the illumination at the head of cantiga 380. In this the social status and race of the two harp players are difficult to determine — with their long, curly auburn hair on head and face, bejewelled with helmets”(possibly pilgrim hats?) and voluminous shoulder-fastened cloaks. This is one of the few illustrations in this manuscript (b.1.2) to feature a representational background rather than the Mudejar-style patterned texture of the others. The players sit under a double arch above which rooftops and minaret-like turrets are shown.

In our arrangement, the first harp player improvises a long prelude to introduce the mode and the metre of the refrain melody which is rendered in triple time with end-of-phrase hemiolas. The melodies of the stanzas are played alternately in free-moving-into-measured rhythms, or are entirely measured. There is much decorative improvisation between stanzas. For example, the two harps simultaneously improvise cueing melodies of appropriate length in measured rhythms, as well as free-measured interludes between stanzas.

The melody is in the mixolydian mode.

9. Como somos per conssello   (C. 119)

This is one of eleven cantigas in which the Virgin Mary sets free those who ask for her assistance when being persecuted by devils. In this case, she rescues a corrupt judge and then gives him one day's grace before he dies in which to make confession to a priest.

The instrumentation in this piece (and also in cantigas 100 and 159) is based on that still used today in the popular cobla bands all over Spain from Galicia to Catalonia (guitars, one-man whistle and drum, two or three shawms), to which the vielle is added. In our arrangement, the instruments provide the improvised prelude and the short, dance-like postlude, as well as various types of interludes (known today as falsetas) both between stanzas and as pre-learnt cues before refrains. Both instruments and voices add extempore ornamental graces and passage-work to the main and cue melodies.

To heighten its drama, the main text is presented in three ways — sung in regular metre, in free rhythm or declaimed. Although there are fourteen stanzas the refrain is sung only four times: at the very beginning and the end, as well as after stanzas 1 and 8. It is also played once by instruments alone, between stanzas 12 and 13, as a melodic mnemonic of its text and to make the change-over to the events that followed the Virgin Mary's speech. Thus stanzas 2—8 and 9—12 are continuous, sung or spoken in free rhythms.

The main melody is in the dorian mode and, when measured, is set in 2+3 patterns against cross-accented 3+2 in percussion parts, as is still found in the charrada of Castile, Leon and Extremadura.

10. Non sofre Santa Maria   (C.159)

Narrated “as-I-heard-tell” in the third person, this is one of several cantigas which concern the misadventures which befell pilgrims in foreign towns (such as Soissons) or far from home (Santiago de Compostela). The reformed monastery of Cluny was primarily responsible for setting up and managing the pilgrimages to Santiago which, by the 13th century, was already established for Christians as the third great pilgrim shrine after Jerusalem and Rome. From the 12th century on, an influx of French Cistercian monks (wbo adhered in a more austere way to the same Rule of St Benedict as the Cluniacs) came to settle in Northern Spain in order to assist in the spiritual Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula. They encouraged pilgrims to travel to other shrines beyond the border, such as the Church of Saint Mary of Rocamador in Southern France which had been given grants of land in the Peninsula by grateful Christian Iberian kings. From Rocamador there survives yet another factor which links it with Alfonso's spiritual lyrical venture. This is the anonymous prose collection of Marian pilgrim miracles, the Liber miraculorum Sancta Mariae de Rupe Amatoris, which mostly follows the themes of Gauthier de Coincy.

Pilgrims were distinguishable by their dress — the long, coarse, sleeved runic, the pouch and the tall, stout staff as well as various kinds of protective headgear — all of which were blessed before departure. For the return journey, as proof of having completed the pilgrimage, they then attached a badge or token to their bag or has (for example, a palm from Jericho, or a cockle-shell from Compostela). The illuminations in the T.j.1 manuscript to cantiga 159 show the pilgrims in their various hats, wearing plain garments and carrying staffs but without pouches (having already arrived and taken them off): likewise, in the illumination for cantiga 49 (Ben com' aos van per mar), the more ornately dressed, lost pilgrims bear their staffs and wear their waist-pouches as they are still out on the road being guided by Mary to her church at Soissons.

As there is a discrepancy between the number of pilgrims described in the text of cantiga 159 (nine) and the number shown in the cartoon illuminations in T.j.1 (eight or nine), we decided to take a little poetic licence here and change the number of pilgrims to “ten” — on the basis that X is a significant number in Alfonso's arrangement of the two cantiga genres (de loor and de miragre); and this is the tenth cantiga in this recorded set, which started with cantiga 10, and is performed by ten musicians!

The stanzas are sung solo (with the same mysterious vocal quality as our first cantiga, number 10) in measured and unmeasured rhythms, or against drone harmonies. The refrains themselves, which do not occur after every stanza, are structured in a triptych arrangement. Firstly, the text is sung and played tutti, then repeated by instruments alone and thirdly followed by e new, prelearnt coda — a pattern maintained until the postlude. The instrumentation is based again (like cantigas 110 and 119) on the cobla instrumentation.

The melody is in the mixolydian mode, with a piquant start on the supertonic, and has been transcribed into 2+2+3 rhythms.