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Antonio DE CABEZÓN (1510 - 1566): "Pour un plaisir - Intabulations by Antonio de Cabezón and his contemporaries"

Véronique Musson-Gonneaud, renaissance double harp

rec: Sept 2010, Pietracorbara (Corsica), Chapelle Saint-Antoine
Brilliant Classics - 94351 (© 2012) (45'02")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list
Scores De Cabezón
Scores Venegas de Henestrosa

anon: Cinque diferencias sobre Las Vacas [2]; Tiento secondo tono [2]; Antonio DE CABEZÓN: Anchor che col partire [3]; Canción Francesca [3]; Diferencias sobre el canto llano del Caballero [3]; Diferencias sobre la gallarda milanesa [3]; Je suis ayme de la plus belle [3]; Pavana (con su glosa) [3]; Pour un plaisir [3]; Quien llamo al partir partir [3]; Romance Para quien crie yo cabellos [3]; Tiento cuarto tono [3]; Tiento del quarto tono sobre Malheur me bat [3]; Tiento primo tomo [3]; Tres sobre el canto llano de la alta [3]; Hernando DE CABEZÓN (1541-1602): Doulce mémoire [3]; Alonso MUDARRA (c1510-1580): Tiento para harpa ó organo [1]; Francisco Fernández PALERO (c1533-1597): Mort m'a privé par se cruelle envie [2]

Sources: [1] Alonso Mudarra, Tres libros de música en cifras para vihuela, 1546; [2] Luys Venegas de Henestrosa, Libro de Cifra Nueva para tecla, arpa y vihuela, 1557; [3] Antonio de Cabezón, Obras de musica para tecla, arpa y vihuela, 1578

The harp has been one of the most distinguished instruments in Western history from early times until the late 17th century. Part of its high stature derived from its connection with the biblical King David. In the Middle Ages the harp was a rather simple instrument which was only able to play diatonic scales. In the 16th century it was considered not suitable to play the more complicated pieces which were written at that time. In 1555 the Spanish theorist Juan Bermudo described various ways in which the harp could be adapted to modern requirements. Over the ensuing decades a second rank of strings was added, comparable to the black keys of the keyboard. The chromatic notes were played by poking a finger between the two strings in the main row to reach a chromatic string beyond.

There is relatively little repertoire from the 16th and early 17th centuries which was specifically intended for the harp. The main reason was that there were few amateurs who played it. There was therefore no market for collections of harp music. Both in Spain and in Italy there were some highly-skilled professional harpists, though. The Spanish played solo music, mostly improvised, and accompanied singers in secular songs (tonos humanos). Their Italian colleagues also participated in performances of oratorios and operas in the basso continuo section. Broadly speaking the music harpists played was also suitable to be performed at the keyboard or on plucked instruments, like the vihuela in Spain and the chitarrone in Italy. In the liner-notes of his recording "Harp Music of the Italian Renaissance" Andrew Lawrence-King refers to a "hidden repertoire" of pieces which were published as keyboard music but were in fact less suited for it. Such pieces included, for instance, intervals which were too wide for the harpsichord or elements which explored specific features of the harp.

The present disc brings us music from the Spanish renaissance. In large part it was written either for the vihuela or the keyboard, not specifically for the harp. There were few harp players in Spain: the most famous was Ludovico (or Luduvico), from the early 16th-century. None of his compositions is known, but the vihuelist Alonso Mudarra portrayed his playing in the Fantasía que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico (included in Lawrence-King's disc devoted to his art: "The Harp of Luduvico". Mudarra also composed the only piece on this disc which mentions the harp as one of the instruments for which it is intended: the Tiento para harpa ó organo.

Most of the pieces were written by Antonio de Cabezón, the leading composer of keyboard music in Spain in the 16th century. He was blind from his birth and became the favourite of King Philip II. Although the large collection of his music which was printed in 1578 comprised music "for keyboard, harp and vihuela", it was primarily intended for the keyboard. This means that the harp's peculiar characteristics are not exploited. This disc shows, though, that these pieces do very well on the harp. A prerequisite is the exploration of its dynamic possibilities which the harpsichord or the organ lack. That is exactly how Véronique Musson-Gonneaud plays them. That way these performances are true alternatives to interpretations on keyboard instruments. That is especially important as various pieces belong to Cabezón's most frequently played. Among them are the Diferencias sobre el canto llano del Caballero and the Diferencias sobre la gallarda milanesa. These represent two of the main then contemporary forms of music for solo instrument.

This kind of music had its origin in improvisation. It could take the form of free invention (in Spain known as tiento), variations over a ground bass (canto llano) and divisions over vocal music (diferencias). All three genres are represented here. The various titles refer to the kind of music which was popular at the time, and largely from the pen of representatives of the Franco-Flemish school (Crecquillon, Pour un plaisir; De Rore, Anchor che col partire). As far as the less well-known composers are concerned: Francisco Fernández Palero served for 40 years as the organist of the royal chapel at Granada and was a famous organ expert. Hernando de Cabezón was Antonio's son who also was responsible for the publication of a large part of his father's oeuvre in 1578. In the track-list Quien llamo al partir partir is attributed to Juan de Cabezón, Antonio's brother. I haven't been able to find any confirmation of this and suspect it may be an error.

At the end of the 16th century there were two kind of chromatic harps. In Spain an instrument, known as arpa de dos órdenes, had crossed strings, whereas the Italian arpa doppia had parallel rows. In her notes in the booklet Véronique Musson-Gonneaud writes that "it is impossible to say whether or not the harp played here (based on the double harp conserved in Bologna) would have been used in Spain at the time. But the aim is also to build a repertoire for this relatively unknown instrument, and this cannot be achieved without experimentation". It seems a little exaggerated to describe the arpa doppia as a "relatively unknown instrument". It is used pretty frequently these days as a basso continuo instrument in 17th century music. There are also various recordings on the market with solo music for the harp. Moreover I would like to point out that Andrew Lawrence-King, on his disc "The Harp of Luduvico", played the Spanish items on a Spanish arpa doblada. That would have been the most appropriate instrument for the repertoire on this disc. Ms Musson-Gonneaud has selected those pieces which she considered to be suitable for the harp she chose to play.

These considerations apart I have nothing but praise for the performances. Ms Musson-Gonneaud's playing is differentiated and tasteful. She uses the dynamic possibilities of her instrument well, and this way even pieces which are quite familiar sound different from the way I have heard them before. Moreover, this disc includes plenty pieces which are not well-known. The playing time is very short, but as Brilliant Classics discs are very cheap, we have no right to complain, I suppose.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Véronique Musson-Gonneaud

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