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Antonio DE CABEZÓN (1510 - 1566): "Complete Tientos and Variations"

Glen Wilson, harpsichord

rec: April 12 - 14, 2011, Piana degli Albanesi, Chiesa di Maria Santissima Odigitria
Naxos - 8.572475-76 (2 CDs) (© 2012) (2.21'23")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

[Libro de Cifra Nueva, 1557]
Differencias sobre el canto llano de alta (5); Differencias para quien crie yo cabellos (119); Pavana (121); Primer tiento del primer tono (16); Primer tiento del primer tono (34); Segundo tiento (26); Tercero tiento (29); Quarto tiento (30); Quinto tiento (31); Sesto tiento (32); Septimo tiento (33); Otro primero (35); Otro primero tono (36); Otro primero tono (37); Otro quarto tono (44); Otro sesto (51); Quarto tono sobre malheur me bat (43); Rugier Glosado de Antonio (120)
N.B. The figures between brackets refer to the place in Libro de Cifra Nueva
[Obras de Música, 1578]
Ad dominum con tribularer, Fuga en quarta con el tiple; Differencias sobre el canto de la dama le demanda; Differencias sobre el canto llano del Cavallero; Differencias sobre el Pavana Italiana; Differencias sobre el Villancico, de quien te me enojo Isabel; Differencias sobre la Gallarda Milanesa; Differencias sobre las Vacas; Differencias sobre las Vacas; Duviensela; Fuga a quatro todas las bozes por una, sexto tono; Otras differencias de Vacas; Pavana Italiana; Tiento (I) del segundo tono; Tiento (II) del quarto tono; Tiento (III) del primer tono; Tiento (IV) sobre Qui la dira; Tiento (V) del segundo tono; Tiento (VII) del quarto tono; Tiento (VIII) del quarto tono; Tiento (IX) del quinto tono; Tiento (X) del primer tono; Tiento (XI) del sexto tono con segunda parte; Tiento (XII) sobre el cum sancto spiritu, de beata virgine de Iusquin
Julio SEGNI da Modena (1498-1561): Tiento del sexto tono

Antonio de Cabezón was the leading composer of keyboard music in Spain in the 16th century. He is even considered the first truly great composer for the instrument in Europe. He had a lifelong close connection to the royal court, and was the favourite musician of King Philip II.

Very little is known about his early years, apart from the fact that he became blind and started his musical education at an early age. It is likely that he was a pupil of Garcia de Baeza, who was organist at the cathedral of Palencia, close to the village where Cabezón was born. In 1526 he entered the service of Isabella of Portugal who in 1525 had married the Habsburg emperor Charles V, who in 1516 had become King of Castile and Aragon (called Carlos I). When Isabella died in 1539 De Cabezón became the music teacher of her children, one of whom was Felipe, who in 1543 became regent of Spain and appointed De Cabezón as his court organist. He accompanied Felipe (Philip II) on his many trips through Europe, bringing him in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and England. As a result of these travels his art became known outside Spain and influenced composers in other countries.

In his liner-notes Glen Wilson specifically mentions Philip II's visit to England for his marriage to Mary Tudor. Although there is no documentary evidence that Cabezón met William Byrd, Wilson thinks it most unlikely that Byrd would have missed out on such an opportunity. In the liner-notes to his recording of Byrd's complete fantasias he had already suggested De Cabezón's influence on Byrd: "Cabezón was one of the first to employ the thoroughly balanced four-part texture in keyboard music which had barely been seen in England before then, and which suddenly appears there, fully-fledged, with Byrd".

Cabezón's keyboard music has been largely preserved in two collections. In 1557 Luys Venegas de Henestrosa published his Libro de Cifra Nueva para Tecla, Arpa y Vihuela which includes a number of pieces by Cabezón. After the latter's death his son Hernando published a large collection under the title Obras de Música para Tecla, Arpa e Vihuela (1578). Wilson states that both sources are damaged by some serious errors, especially in the case of the Henestrosa collection. For this recording he has done some restoration work. "Fortunately, the web of thematic entrances is so dense and the laws of counterpoint so clear that restoration os often feasible, although it must always be remembered that in such cases nothing can be definitive". Henestrosa himself admitted the errors in his publication as he stated that he didn't want to wait another ten years to sort them out.

In the present recording Wilson focuses on two genres: the tientos and the differencias or variations. The latter category is the most famous in Cabezón's oeuvre. Various pieces on the second disc feature regularly in organ or harpsichord recitals and in CD recordings. Among them are the Differencias sobre el canto llano del Cavallero and the Differencias sobre las Vacas. These are mostly based on a repeated bass pattern which would frequently turn up in all kinds of compositions in the 17th and 18th centuries. Las Vacas refers to a tune called Guardame las Vacas, and all three pieces in Cabezón's oeuvre are based on a basso ostinato known as romanesca. The Pavana Italiana later came to be known as the Follia which was used numerous times in the following centuries. There are also variations on vocal works by other composers. Duviensela refers to the chanson D'òu vient cela by Claudin de Sermisy.

The tientos are problably less familiar and also less accessible as they are more abstract. Tiento is the Spanish word for a form which is best known as ricercar and could be described as the instrumental counterpart to the motet. It was dominated by imitative polyphony. Through the thematic development in his tientos De Cabezón greatly contributed to the growing popularity of this musical form. His tientos are all written in the then common modes, with an apparent preference for the first. Some of the tientos are fully independent instrumental compositions, others are transcriptions or arrangements of vocal models, such as the Tiento quarto tono sobre malheur me bat, a chanson attributed to Johannes Martini and the Tiento sobre Qui la dira, based on a chanson by Janequin. Sacred music was also often used for transcriptions of some kind. This programme includes one specimen: the Tiento sobre el cum sancto spiritu, de beata virgine de Iusquin. The original is the 'Cum Sancto Spiritu' from Josquin's Missa Beata Virgine. Glen Wilson suspects that some other pieces which are just called tiento could also be transcriptions of vocal items. It needs to be noted that Wilson omitted the sixth tiento from the twelve in Obras de Música as it is considered not authentic and was probably composed by Giaches Brunel.

The choice of instrument for this repertoire is not obvious. Today the variations are played either on harpsichord or organ and that also goes for the tientos. It is also perfectly possible to perform them on a plucked instrument or on the harp, as the titles of the two sources mentioned above indicate. Only recently I reviewed a recording with pieces by De Cabezón played at the harp. "Recent research by prof. John Koster shows that a northern European harpsichord or virginal (not an Italian one) is most appropriate for sixteenth-century Spain", Wilson writes. He therefore has chosen a reconstruction of such a harpsichord. Temperament is modified 1/6 comma meantone, "based on evidence in Santa Maria (1565)". The latter guarantees that the dissonances in some of the pieces come off perfectly.

This is a major recording which is to be followed by a disc devoted to Cabezón's glosas. With that we will have a large portion of Cabezón's keyboard music on disc. Only recently Brilliant Classics released a complete recording of the Obras de Música, which I hope to review here in the near future. It will be interesting to see how they compare. This set of discs is in any event a great achievement, not least because of Glen Wilson's research and reconstruction efforts. His engaging interpretations allow the music to blossom. For those who are not familiar with this kind of repertoire it may be advisable to start with the second disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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