Of Numbers and Miracles / The Renaissance Players
Selected Cantigas de Santa Maria

Celestial Harmonies 13091-2
, 2001

1. Bêeyta es Maria   [3:25]   CSM 420   — · · · —  Mirror of Light, CSM III #1

2. Rosa das rosas   [5:35]   CSM 10   — · · · —  Songs for a Wise King, CSM I #2

3. Da que Deus mamou   [4:18]   CSM 77   — · · · —   Songs for a Wise King, CSM I #3

4. Quen bôa dona querra   [5:12]   CSM 160   — · · · —  Mirror of Light, CSM III #2

5. Muito devemos varôes   [7:37]   CSM 2   — · · · —  Maria Morning Star, CSM II #4

6. Non pod' ome pela Virgen   [7:18]   CSM 127   — · · · —  Maria Morning Star, CSM II #5

7. Bêyto foi o dia   [5:49]   CSM 411   — · · · —  Gabriel's Message, CSM V #2   [excerpt, 23:40]

8. O que pola Virgen leixa   [7:35]   CSM 124   — · · · —  Maria Morning Star, CSM II #6

9. O nome da Virgen Santa   [1:56]   CSM 254   — · · · —  Maria Morning Star, CSM II #3

10. Non deve null' ome   [4:50]   CSM 50   — · · · —  Pillar of Wisdom, CSM IV #8

11. A madre do que a bestia   [3:05]   CSM 147   — · · · —  Pillar of Wisdom, CSM IV #9

12. Assi pod'a Virgen   [7:56]   CSM 226   — · · · —  Songs for a Wise King, CSM I #7

13. Santa Maria strela do dia   [3:57]   CSM 100   — · · · —  Songs for a Wise King, CSM I #6

14. Virgen madre groriosa   [10:08]   CSM 340   — · · · —  Maria Morning Star, CSM I

The Renaissance Players
Winsome Evans

In 13th century Spain, seven hundred years before anyone thought of using the term "world music", a remarkable king named Alfonso the Wise was creating it. Alfonso X, King of Castile and Leon, filled his courts with the finest poets, musicians, artists and scientists he could find, from all three of the Iberian peninsula's great religions. Christian, Jews and Muslims worked side by side, creating a body of work that included groundbreaking scientific and astronomic treatises, translations of epic poems and scriptures from as far away as India — and some of the earliest and most sophisticated blends of European and Middle Eastern/Arabic music. The greatest of these was the enormous collection of songs in praise of the Virgin Mary now called Cantigas de Santa Maria.

This collection of performances by the Australian early music ensemble The Renaissance Players is a colorful and widely varied introduction to the cantigas — but it is simply that, an introduction. The ensemble has performed dozens of cantigas in addition to the ones recorded here, and even that represents just the tip of the iceberg. Alfonso and his collaborators produced four volumes of music, poetry, and history under the name of Cantigas de Santa Maria. Three of the manuscripts are incomplete, but the fourth, the one used by The Renaissance Players, contains an unparalleled compilation of 427 songs.

"The Cantigas de Santa Maria represents the largest surviving body of secular music from medieval Europe", says Winsome Evans, director of The Renaissance Players. The word secular in this context may bear some explaining: the texts are mostly religious, but they are not liturgical. This collection of songs and poems came from the people, not the church. In fact, some of the texts are quite earthy, even a bit racy at times. "I've always been interested in folk music", Evans explains; "and that aspect of the cantigas interested me. Alfonso wanted these songs to be accessible to everyone, both musically and morally". As a result, the texts were written not in Latin but in the dialect of poetry, Galician-Portuguese. And although they are songs about Mary, at least some of the melodies are certainly derived from Arabic/Moorish and Jewish traditions.

The cantigas are divided into two groups. Most of them are cantigas de miragre, songs of miracles. These stories tell of the saving power of Mary's intercession on behalf of sinners (whose various exploits are often enthusiastically detailed) and even, in one notable example, on behalf of the ailing Alfonso himself. Every tenth song, however, is a cantiga de loor, a song of praise. These are addressed to the Virgin Mary and are more hymn-like. This structure probably served multiple purposes: it may have represented the format of the rosary, for one thing. The X (Roman 10) found in the numbering of every tenth cantiga may also have referred to Christ (X being the first letter in the Greek spelling of the name Christ) and perhaps even to Alfonso, the tenth king of that name.

The cross-cultural roots of the cantigas are reflected in the diverse and often exotic instrumentation used by The Renaissance Players in this collection. Medieval European instruments, classical Arabic instruments, and even echoes of the folk traditions of Eastern Europe, all figure in Winsome Evans' orchestrations. Part of the inspiration for this comes from the manuscript itself. The cantigas are occasionally accompanied by an illumination, which often shows musicians playing instruments. "You have to be really careful with medieval iconography", Evans warns: "you can't assume the song was played with the instruments illustrated above it". Still, with every tenth song illuminated, the manuscript contains a wealth of instrumental suggestions. "Many show string instruments, but all sorts of other instruments are depicted. And with Spain being such a melting pot of Christian, Jewish, and Arabic ideas, that gave me the freedom to use a wide range of instrumental colors".

In addition to instruments like the vielle (a bowed lute), the shawm (a plangent-sounding reed instrument), and the harp — all of which one might expect to hear in medieval European performances — The Renaissance Players also include the Greek bouzouki and the Turkish diwan saz (both types of lutes), the tapan (a southeast European drum), and a wide range of vocal techniques. "In approaching the cantigas we had no shortage of ideas", Evans says. "The hardest part was working with the different approaches to tuning and ornamentation". In songs like Rosa das rosas, for example, the vocals are delivered in a style reminiscent of the singing still found in Moorish, Moroccan Jewish, and flamenco music. Several other songs feature vocals in a Bulgarian or Balkan style. "It's important to have ideas", she points out, "but those ideas should be justified by research". In the case of the Balkan connection, the singing of southeastern Europe provides a still-ringing echo of the vocal styles of the Turkish and Persian cultures that were brought to Spain by the Moors.

Other arrangements are the result of researching the instrumentation of surviving folk bands like the cobla bands of Galicia in Spain, and the Andaluzi ensembles of North Africa, as well as the songs of the Sephardic Jews who settled around the perimeter of the Mediterranean after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. In each case, research led the Renaissance Players to arrangements that fit the music and the text, and, for all their unusual instrumentation, were musicologically plausible. In fact, the Sephardic connection has proven to be especially fertile: as a result of researching the roots of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, the Renaissance Players wound up recording the four volume set The Sephardic Experience, a magnificent compendium of Spanish Jewish and Mediterranean music (Celestial Harmonies 13166 - 13169).

This blend of imagination and musical sleuthing has led to some unorthodox results. The Renaissance Players' performances of the cantigas may sound more like a kind of hybrid folk music than conventional classical music. If so, that's fine with Winsome Evans. "That's been my main thrust, to bring this music back to people. And that's what Alfonso wanted. This was music that everyone sang. The tunes are wonderful, and sometimes we just play them instrumentally, without the singers — just like in pop music". At certain points, Evans asked the singers to forget about classical music training and techniques, and to sing "as if they were Arabs". With some of the instruments occasionally improvising their parts, it's no wonder that some of the cantigas come off sounding more like a distant, medieval folk/jazz. Many of the songs, Evans points out, end with an instrumental section, played as if accompanying a sacred dance. "It doesn't have to be decorous. It can be ecstatic, almost chaotic, like a burst of joy".

The cantigas have never been wholly neglected: many recordings have been made over the years. But this massive collection, with its tangled musical/cultural roots, its perplexing instrumentation and performance questions, and its strange mix of spiritual and worldly sentiments, has never been a comfortable fit with the classical music world. Only in the last years of the 20th century, with the surging interest in multiculturalism and world music traditions, has the broader musical world begun to catch up with the work that Alfonso and his collaborators were doing in the second half of the 13th century.

Traditionally, classical music recordings of the Cantigas de Santa Maria have listed Alfonso as the composer. It seems likely that he did have a hand in the creation of some of the melodies, and certainly in the writing of the texts. But more important was his position as a patron of the arts, and the supporter of a motley crew of talented artists, musicians, poets and scribes from all corners of Europe and the Arabic world. Alfonso's intellectual and artistic pursuits were the fruit of a restless and unusually progressive mind. They were also expensive. Forced to tax his kingdom heavily, and often, one suspects, distracted from his more day to day royal duties (tedious little things like wars, treaties, and insurrections), Alfonso's legacy as a king was undistinguished. But, as the conduit for so much Arabic culture (and through that, even farther-flung ideas from Persia and India), and as a knowledgeable, involved patron of the arts and sciences, his contributions to the development of European literature and culture still haven't been adequately assessed. In the Cantigas de Santa Maria, Alfonso left behind an extraordinary poetic and musical legacy that proves he deserved his nickname, El Sabio — Alfonso the Wise.

1. Bêeyta es Maria (Cantiga 420)
Winsome Evans: bells

This compilation begins with a solo instrumental performance on the bells. In 13th century Europe, the idea of playing a melody on the bells was not uncommon. Bells were rung to greet the Virgin Mary, to call parishioners to prayer, and to end the day with an audible
sign of peace. The number 420 would normally mean this is a late cantiga; in fact, it's part of the first set of twelve introductory songs. The number comes from a much later compilation from all four extant manuscripts of the Cantigas.

2. Rosa das rosas (Cantiga 10)
Mara Kiek: alto
Llew Kiek: baglama
Winsome Evans: bowed diwan saz

Vocalist Mara Kiek was trained in the Bulgarian vocal style in Sofia; in this song, her voice at once recalls the sounds of Eastern Europe, medieval troubadours, and classical Arabic music. The illumination that accompanies this cantiga de loor shows a plucked lute and a bowed vielle; the combination of plucked and bowed strings is maintained here, although the instruments were also known at the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea.

3. Da que Deus mamou (Cantiga 77)
Katie Ward: vielle
Andrew Tredinnick: mandora
Llew Kiek: gittern
Winsome Evans: shawms, gemshorns, organetto, harp   
Jenny Duck-Chong: bells
Andrew Lambkin: darabukka
Ingrid Walker: whistle, gemshorn
Barbara Stackpool: castanets, finger cymbals

This instrumental free-for-all features verses performed by small groups of matched instruments with a big mixed ensemble in the chorus or refrain. The idea for this arrangement came from contemporary accounts of the racket made by pilgrims from around Europe who converged with their instruments upon the holy Spanish site of Santiago de Compostela. Plucked strings (mandora, gittern), bowed strings (rebec, vielle), the gemshorns (recorders made of animal horn), and shawms each take a turn at the melody, playing in harmony — not an easy feat with some of these notoriously cranky medieval winds.

4. Quen bôa dona querra (Cantiga 160)
Mara Kiek: alto, tapan
Jenny Duck-Chong: mezzo-soprano
Mina Kanaridis: soprano
Tobias Cole: countertenor
Winsome Evans: treble shawms, bombarde, bells
Katie Ward: vielle
Benedict Hames: rebec
Andrew Tredinnick: ud
Barbara Stackpool: castanets

The graceful, sinuous melody is doubled throughout by various combinations of instruments. With its increasing layers of sound and its recurring, insistent refrain (simply the words "Santa Maria"), Evans sees this cantiga as "a procession that builds momentum, and erupts into a sacred dance at the end".

5. Muito devemos varôes (Cantiga 2)
Mina Kanaridis: soprano
Jenny Duck-Chong: mezzo-soprano
Winsome Evans: organetto
Andrew Tredinnick: gittern
Benedict llames: rebec
Katie Ward: vielle
Andrew Lambkin: daireh
Barbara Stackpool: finger cymbals

This is the first of the miracle songs in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, so Alfonso chose his text carefully. The story tells of how the Virgin Mary gave a special vestment to Saint Ildefonso (spelled Alifonso or even Alfonso in the text) in 7th century Toledo. There is little mistaking Alfonso's intent to suggest that he, like the earlier religious leader, was a champion of the faith and a protector of the Church.

6. Non pod' ome pela Virgen (Cantiga 127)
Winsome Evans: harp, psaltery
Andrew Tredinnick: gittern
Llew Kiek: citole

This lovely melody is played on a variety of string instruments, each of which not only plays the tune, but also improvises after each stanza. The tale is an odd one of a boy who, after hitting his mother, finds he cannot enter his church — until it is suggested that he try lopping off his own foot. This does the trick, and Mary's intercession restores his foot.

7. Bêeyto foi o dia (excerpt, Cantiga 411)
Winsome Evans: harps, psalteries, bells
Llew Kick: baglama, gittern
Belinda Montgomery: diwan saz
Andrew Lambkin: pandero
Mara Kiek: pandero
Andrew Lambkin: pandero
Barbara Stackpool: bells

This is merely an excerpt composed by Winsome Evans, based on the original tune from a sprawling tale that takes close to half an hour to perform in its entirety. It tells the story of how Mary was conceived. "Her elderly Jewish parents were terribly upset that God had not blessed them with children", Winsome Evans recounts. "And they became outcasts until an angel came to tell them that they were to be blessed — with a quite wondrous child..." The end of this fragment, full of pealing bells and glittering strings, mark this as one of the most striking of the Renaissance Players' arrangements.

8. O que pola Virgen leixa (Cantiga 124)
Mina Kanaridis: soprano
Jenny Duck-Chong: mezzo-soprano
Tobias Cole: countertenor
Andrew Tredinnick: chitarra moresca
Winsome Evans: sinfonye
Andrew Lambkin: daireh
Barbara Stackpool: castanets

This tune almost has the sound of a pop song, and indeed it is in the form known as virelai, which was quite popular in medieval Europe. The piece contains several surprises. One is the rudimentary harmony in the vocals produced by the combination of the melody, a series of drones, and some countermelodic material. The other is the grisly tale so charmingly presented: a Christian is captured in Moorish Spain and tortured to death, a process which is prolonged, apparently, through Mary's unusual idea of mercy, as she
keeps him alive until he is able to make a final confession.

9. O nome da Virgen Santa (Cantiga 254)
Winsome Evans: whistle
Benedict Hames: whistle
Katie Ward: vielle
Andrew Lambkin: darabukka

Like the preceding work, this is another virelai, and is rendered here without its Galician-Portuguese text. The melody is eerily reminiscent of Nordic, Hungarian, and even Celtic folk music (especially in this arrangement, with its duelling whistles). It serves as a perhaps unexpected reminder that Galicia was and is to this day a Celtic region within the Iberian peninsula.

10. Non deve null' ome (Cantiga 50)
Melissa Irwin: soprano
Belinda Montgomery: soprano
Mina Kanaridis: soprano
Andrew Lambkin: pandero
Winsome Evans: pandero

In the best medieval Marian tradition, Winsome Evans and company use numeric devices throughout this arrangement. Specifically, the number three is used to refer to the Holy Trinity, and the number five refers to the five letters of the name Maria. "The poetic structure", she explains, "is presented triadically as three groupings of three elements" (namely, two stanzas and one refrain). In addition, the three vocalists share the solo line in the stanzas, and then come together to perform the refrain in a melody-with-drone style that looks to slightly later organum music — or to slightly earlier North African music. The addition of the two drummers brings the ensemble to a total of five, symbolic of the name Maria.

11. A madre do que a bestia (Cantiga 147)
Winsome Evans: bombardes (3)
Andrew Lambkin: bombo, tapan

The text for this cantiga tells a slightly goofy tale of a wily shepherd cheating an old woman out of her rightful share of wool. Things are put right through the intercession of Mary, for whom no task, not even the equitable distribution of livestock, is too small. (Don't laugh — this would have been a reassuring, if humorously cast, story to many of Alfonso's subjects). Evans' arrangement is intentionally rustic, using the reedy sound of the bombardes to
evoke open fields, distant shepherd's cries, and country dances.

12. Assi pod'a Virgen (Cantiga 226)
Jenny Duck-Chong: mezzo-soprano
Mina Kanaridis: soprano
Mara Kiek: alto
Winsome Evans: harps (2)
Andrew Lambkin: daireh
Andrew Tredinnick: chitarra moresca

This gently rhythmic cantiga has, as Evans puts it, "a watery sound, with lots of vocals and overdubbed harps. It's based on the legend of the Cathedral of Ys, which sunk into the sea". This is essentially the same legend that inspired Claude Debussy's famous piano prelude La Cathédrale Engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral).

13. Santa Maria strela do dia (Cantiga 100)
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
Llew Kiek: gittern
Andrew Tredinnick: mandora
Barbara Stackpool: finger cymbals

Once again, little was left to chance when Alfonso put together this collection of songs. For cantiga number 100, he chose a ten-part text with three stanzas (representing the Holy Trinity) and a ten-part melody. Winsome Evans and the Renaissance Players chose to make a joyful noise with a sizable chorus in the refrains and then another ten-part instrumental dance at the end, replete with bells, piercing, nasal reeds, and thumping drums.

14. Virgen madre groriosa (Cantiga 340)
Mina Kanaridis: soprano
Tobias Cole: countertenor
Winsome Evans: bells

"We weren't sure how to approach this piece", Evans says. "Suddenly, as we were preparing for the recording, the singers really found a way into it. It became a magical piece". This is indeed a magical song, and in fact it appears twice, returning later in the collection as Cantiga 412. Its beautiful text is married to what is apparently a kind of troubadour melody used specifically to welcome the dawn. Mary is called in this song "alva dos alvores" — the dawn of dawns. The tune is full of embellishments and ornaments, and is tossed back and forth between the two singers with occasional interludes from the bells. This collection of cantigas ends the way it began — with the sound of the bells calling to prayer, or suggesting a prayer beyond words.

John Schaefer
New Sounds
New York City

Produced by Winsome Evans
Executive Producer: Eckart Rahn

All items arranged by Winsome Evans
with the exception of Track 7 which is composed and arranged by Winsome Evans

Recorded at St. Peters (Sydney, Australia)

Engineer: Guy Dickerson (Megaphon Studios)
Digital editing, compiling and mastering engineers:
Oscar Gaono, Wayne Baptist (Sony, Sydney, Australia)
Digitally remastered by Don Bartley (Studios 301, Sydney, Australia)

Published by Celestial Harmonies (BMI)

This compilation
℗ 2001
Celestial Harmonies P.O. Box 30122
Tucson, Arizona 85751-0122

Dedicated to Professor Peter Platt and Barbara Stackpool

Front cover illustration:
Catalan World Map (Mallorcan School)
Biblioteca Estense, Modena, Italy
Year: c. 1450
Format: 113 cm in diameter

History of the Map
The Estense World Map, also knows as the Catalan World Map, is one of two surviving circular world maps of Catalan origin. It was made in the Mallorcan school of mapmaking in the fifteenth century during the reign of Nicholas III.

Historians are still uncertain for whom the map was made or for what purpose the owner intended to use it. It displays a strange combination of practical navigational information and semi-religious speculations about the location of Paradise (in East Africa) and the landmasses that lie south of Africa and west of Europe. For example, to the west of Africa and Europe lies a series of islands called the Islands of the Happy Peoples or the Fortunate Ones. Such references may suggest that this mappa mundi was not made for use at sea. The religious motifs, additional Arabic details and the lack of a legend, title or other identifying marks all contribute to the mystery of this curious round map and its owner. The map was originally made on delicate calf hide.