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Joan CABANILLES (1644 - 1712): Keyboard Music

[I] "Keyboard Music, Volume One"
Timothy Roberts, organ
rec: April 5 - 7, 2016, Vila-real (Valencia), Església de Sant Jaume
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0391 (© 2016) (64'48")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Pasacalles II de 1° tono; Tiento IX partido de mano derecha de 2° tono; Tiento XII de falsas de 4° tono; Tiento XIV partido de dos tiples, de 4° tono; Tiento XXXI partido de mano derecha de 1° tono; Tiento LV lleno, de 1° tono; Tiento LXIII de contras de 4° tono; Tiento LXXXII lleno, por Bequadrado de 5° tono; Tocata I de 1° tono; Tocata II de mano izquierda 5° tono; Tocata IV de 5° tono

[II] "Keyboard Music, Volume Two"
Timothy Roberts, organab, harpsichordc
rec: August 20, 2006, Madrid, Iglesia de San José, Navalcarnerob; Nov 17, 2015, Fontmell Magna (Dorset, UK), workshop of Michael Johnsonc; May 30 - 31, 2017, Vila-real (Valencia), Església de Sant Jaumea
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0406 (© 2018) (78'44")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Passacalles IV de 4° tonoc; Tiento IV partido de mano derecha sobre Ave Maris Stella de 1° tonoa; Tiento X lleno de 3° tonoc; Tiento XV de falsas de 5° tonoa; Tiento XVI lleno de 5° tonob; Tiento XXIV lleno de 8° tonob; Tiento XLII partido de dos tiples de 4° tonoa; Tiento LXV lleno de 5° tonoa; Tiento XCVII partido de mano izquierda de 3° tonoa; Tiento CIX de contras de 8° tonoa; Tiento CXXVI de clarines de 6° tono [partido de mano derecha, y de dos tiples]a; Verso LXI sobre Ave Maris Stella de 1° tonoa; Verso LXII sobre Ave Maris Stella de 1° tonoa; Versos de 4° tono (Nos. 230, 231, 232, 233, 257, 261 partido de dos bajos, 262 partido de dos bajos, 276, 277 de ecos, 278, 286)a


The organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach is played across the world. Although I am not saying that any organ is suited for a performance which does them full justice, Bach's works are playable on various types of organ, in part because he himself played different instruments during his life. Things are very different in the case of Spanish organ music. Spanish organs as they were built during the renaissance and baroque periods are so different from instruments in other parts of Europe, that it is hardly possible to deliver an appropriate interpretation on non-Spanish organs.

Two features are especially notable. The first is that many Spanish organs had only one manual, which was split into two halves which could be registered differently. This resulted in a large repertoire of pieces with the indication medio registro. The second feature is the inclusion of trumpet stops (clarines) which Spanish organ composers liked to explore for their batallas, but also for other pieces. Because of the close connection between music and instruments, Spanish organ music is not often played outside Spain and therefore not very well-known.

A couple of years ago the British keyboard player Timothy Roberts, a specialist in early music, started an exciting recording project, devoted to the oeuvre of Joan Cabanilles. He was the most versatile and productive composer of organ music of his time in Spain and therefore better known in our time than most other Spanish organ composers. However, a large part of his output waits to be discovered, in part because to date not all of his compositions are available in modern editions.

Such editions are important, as the manuscripts in which Cabanilles' organ works have survived, include many errors. In the renaissance and baroque periods organ music was mostly not printed, as organists were expected to improvise. What has come down to us is mostly the result of pupils and admirers copying what an organist had played or what he wrote down in sketches. That is the case with the music by, for instance, the representatives of the North German organ school and by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, and it is not any different with Cabanilles. Noel Lee, in his liner-notes to Volume Two, states: "Internal evidence shows that Cabanilles' music was originally copied from rather messy sketches in which neither rhythm nor accidentals were precisely indicated; sometimes different possible readings for the same passage were included in the same sketch, while in other instances there apparently existed more than one sketch for the same piece." There is more: Cabanilles wrote his music for his own organ, which was larger than most instruments in his time. Therefore, there are reasons to believe, as Roberts writes in his liner-notes to Volume One, "that some of his cathedral organ music had to be adapted to some extent - whether by the composer himself, or by his pupils and copyists - to make it playable on smaller organs such as those of monastic chapels or parish churches, or even on domestic instruments. Such adaptation would sometimes have included reducing the total range of a work, from the presumed four octaves of the cathedral organ." Moreover, it seems that some pieces which have come down to us as being intended for split manuals, were originally conceived to be played on two manuals. Roberts believes that this is indeed the case and "that much of his music needs significant re-editing if it is to speak with its true voice." Therefore these two discs include several examples of pieces which he has attempted to reconstruct. Obviously this means that his version of such a piece is only one of various possibilities.

In Cabanilles' oeuvre we find the genres common in Spanish organ music. One of the most popular genres was that of the tiento, a piece dominated by counterpoint and comparable with the fantasia or ricercare. Tientos sometimes have an additional description, such as lleno, which refers to the use of the same registration in both halves of the keyboard, or de falsas, which is comparable to the Italian indication durezze e ligature, which means that they include chromaticism and dissonances. A specific type is the tiento de batalla, in which the clarines are employed. And then we have the tiento partido, which means that the manual is split and one of the hands plays a solo, whereas the other hand delivers an accompaniment. Another large corpus in Cabanilles' organ oeuvre comprises verses for liturgical use, which reflect the wide-spread alternatim practice. In some cases it is indicated for which liturgical chants the verses are intended, but most come without any reference as to which part of Mass they are written for. This probably explains why they are played here without plainchant. It would be nice, though, if somewhere during this project, we would hear how some of Cabanilles' verses were used in the liturgy. In contrast to France and Italy, no complete 'organ masses' by Spanish composers are known.

The second disc ends with two pieces played on a harpsichord. Roberts admits that no music by Cabanilles is specifically intended for a strung keyboard. "However, one cannot know whether the composer used his domestic instruments for anything other than private practice, and more widely his work was transmitted in musical circles that traditionally regarded organ, harpsichord and clavichord repertory as largely interchangeable." He plays a copy of an instrument in 17th-century Flemish style. Although in particular the instruments of the Ruckers family were famous across Europe and one cannot exclude that such instruments were known in Spain, I would have preferred a Spanish instrument here. There is no lack of 'Spanishness' in the case of the organ. The instrument in the church of Sant Jaume in Vila-real (Castellón, Valencia) was originally built by Nicolás Salanova in 1724 for the medieval church and then re-installed in the present church. It is called 'historical', but that only goes for keyboards, mechanism and soundboards, which are from the 1724 organ. Most of the pipework is modern, but has been constructed in the style of the time. The pitch is a=380 Hz. It is a fine instrument with a wide colour palette, which Roberts uses effectively to bring out the features of every single piece. The temperament guarantees that the harmonic tension and dissonances in several of Cabanilles' works comes off perfectly.

From his youth Roberts was fascinated by Spanish keyboard music and has studied it thoroughly. That shows in his fully idiomatic and engaging performances. In addition, these discs come with very informative booklets. Not only do we read much about Spanish organ music and Cabanilles' oeuvre in particular, they also include analyses of every single piece.

Undoubtedly this is a project of great importance, and the quality of music, instrument and interpreter makes me look forward to the next volumes.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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