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"El teatro del arpa" (The theatre of the harp)

Sara Águeda, harp
Adriana Mayer, mezzo-soprano; Víctor Sordo, tenor; Calia Álvarez, vihuela de arco; Daniel Garay, percussion

rec: Sept 2016, Alconadilla (Segovia), Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Presentación
Dux - 1359 (© 2016) (69'56")
Liner-notes: E/S; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
[Act I] Diego Fernández DE HUETE (1633/43?-c1713): Canción Alemana; Zarambeques; Juan SERQUEIRA DE LIMA (?-c1726): ¡Ay de mi ganadito!; Diego Fernández DE HUETE: Pasacalles de segundillo; Lucas RUIZ DE RIBAYAZ (17th C): Españoletas; Juan HIDALGO (1614-1685): Quién es Amor; anon: Prolatio; Lucas RUIZ DE RIBAYAZ: Pabanas
[Act II] Juan HIDALGO: No queráis dormir, mis ojos; Diego Fernández DE HUETE: Monsiúr dela boleta; Lucas RUIZ DE RIBAYAZ: Tarantela; anon: Minuet de primer tono; Juan HIDALGO: Tened, parad, suspended; Bernardo DE ZALA (?-?): Suit segunda
[Act III] Juan SERQUEIRA DE LIMA: Valgate amor por niña; Diego Fernández DE HUETE: Gaitas; Antonio MARTÍN Y COLL (?-after 1733): Achas; Juan F. GÓMEZ DE NAVAS (c1630-c1695): Aura, tierna amorosa; John DOWLAND (1562-1626): Fortune; Antonio MARTÍN Y COLL: Canarios; Juan HIDALGO: El agua del llanto; Antonio MARTÍN Y COLL: Folías

In the 16th and 17th centuries the harp was a popular instrument, especially in Spain and Italy. In Spain the harp became a chromatic instrument in the mid-16th century by adding an order of chromatic strings interwoven or intertwined with the diatonic ones. It seems to have been an exclusively Spanish thing and not to have been used elsewhere. The harp was used as a solo instrument and for the accompaniment of singers.

There was little solo repertoire specifically written for the harp. It usually played music which was intended for the keyboard or the vihuela. Several collections of music were published which mentioned the three instruments as alternatives on the title page. One of the best-known examples is Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela, a collection of pieces by Antonio de Cabezón, which was published by his son Hernando in 1578. One century later Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz, who played the guitar as well as the harp, published Luz y norte musical para caminar por las cifras, a treatise on playing these instruments, which included musical examples.

The harp was also used in vocal music, especially in songs, known as tonos. These could be sacred or secular; the latter - called tonos humanos - were often performed in the theatre. This inspired Sara Águeda to put together a programme of instrumental and vocal pieces in form of theatrical play, as the disc's title indicates. The programme is divided into three acts. Every item is connected to "very typical situations, contexts and characters from the theatrical circumstances in the 17th century", as she puts it in the booklet. So we find here pieces related to the merchant, the servant or the old woman, to 'the secret', 'the poetry' or 'the promise' and to peoples: the French, the English. In the booklet every track has a text; in the case of instrumental items these are taken from various literary sources, in particular the writings of Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega.

Most vocal pieces are from the pen of Juan Hidalgo, himself a harpist, and the main composer of music for the theatre of the 17th century. The work-list in New Grove includes works for the stage but also "secular and theatre songs". The booklet does not indicate where these songs come from, and whether they were intended as independent pieces or were part of a theatrical play. Far less known is Juan Serqueira de Lima, a guitarist and harpist of Portuguese birth, who for most of his life worked in Spain. According to New Grove "Serqueira was the most prestigious and talented theatre musician of his time in Spain, working for companies in Madrid for nearly 50 years."

The subtitle of this disc says that it includes harp music in Spain in the 17th century. Therefore Cabezón is not represented, in contrast to Ruiz de Ribayaz. Diego Fernández de Huete was also a harpist who worked in this capacity at Toledo Cathedral and published a treatise on harp playing. I could not find any information about Don Bernardo de Zala y Galdiano, who is represented with a suite. He must have been a harpist, as I found a reference to a Libro de arpa from his pen, dating from 1700. The latest composer in the programme is Antonio Martín y Coll who died after 1733. He was an organist by profession, and his Folías which end the programme, was certainly intended for the keyboard. It does very well on the harp, and it is a fitting end of this disc, because the folia was of Portuguese origin and made its first appearances in Portuguese and Spanish theatrical works of the early 16th century. During the 17th century it became famous across Europe and was often used for variations. Martín y Coll is also responsible for a specimen of a composition technique which was very popular in the 17th century: the basso ostinato, here Achas.

The way Sara Águeda presents her selection of music is quite original and makes much sense. Not only is she inspired by the theatre, her playing is also theatrical. Some music lovers may not feel attracted to a disc with mainly music for harp solo, but they should give this a try. This disc is the best possible case for the harp. The percussion and the vihuela de arco are additions which underline the theatrical concept of the programme, but are used sparingly and appropriately, for instance in Huete's Zarambeques. Víctor Sordo sings just one item, the other vocal pieces are performed by Adriana Mayer. Both are perfect in this repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Sara Águeda
Calia Álvarez
Adriana Mayer
Víctor Sordo

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