Sweetness and Oddity
Genoa cathedral, 8th of December 1548: “A pontifical mass was celebrated. It was officiated by the singers and chapel of the Prince to the great amazement of all the people, seeing the solemnity that was used and the so divine music of such well selected voices and hearing the sweetness and oddity used in the organ playing by Antonio de Cabezón, unique on this kind of music, another Orpheus of our times” (Calvete de la Estrella: El felicísimo viaje, Antwerp, 1552).
Five hundred years after his birth, Cabezón’s music continues to cause wonderment due to his sweetness and oddity. Both attributes, as concrete as intangible, are used to define a music that can only be understood from a cosmopolitan perspective. This view is determined by three fundamental aspects that are necessary to consider: the extensive travels of Cabezón, the instruments at his disposal, and the geographical and temporal difusion of his works.
Born in 1510, Antonio entered the service of the Spanish Royal Chamber and Chapel when he was 16. He first served the Empress Isabel, then the Emperor Carlos, the Princesses Juana and Maria and Prince Felipe. The itinerant condition of the Court obliged Cabezón to travel unceasingly to most of the main cities in Castille, where he was going to live for more or less long periods of time.
Later as a member of the entourage of prince Felipe, Antonio took part in his first long European journey. The retinue started from Valladolid on the 13th October 1548, passing through Burgo de Osma, Montserrat and Barcelona. A fleet of one hundred ships got under way from Castelló de Ampuries and Roses in the direction of Genoa. They reached port on the 25th November, and sixteen days later, the road to Milan was taken. From this point, the route continued to Cremona, Mantua and Trento. Crossing the Alps, Innsbruck was reached in January and from there they continued their way to Munich, Ausburg, Ulm and Heidelberg arriving in Brussels after passing through Luxemburg, Namur and Louvain.
During the summer of 1549, the Royal suite visited Gant, Bruges, Ypern, St. Omer, Douai, Arras, Cambrai, Valenciennes, Mons, Antwerp, Bergen, Breda, Hertogenbosch, Dordrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, Leiden, Haarlem, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Kampen, Zwolle, Deventer, Zutphen, Nimega, Venlo, Roermond, Veert, Tongeren and Maastricht. They returned to Brussels at the end of October and stayed there for seven months, until the end of May of 1550.
The entourage of the Prince joined that of Emperor Carlos and started again through Aachen, Koln and Speyer to Ausburg. Here they are going to stay for ten months, until the end of May of 1551. Only at that moment was the return to Spain organized, using the seaway from Genoa to Barcelona and passing Lérida, Zaragoza, Soria, Burgo de Osma and Valladolid to reach the Royal palace in the city of Toro. Their European trip had lasted two years and eight months.
Then, Cabezón alternated holidays in Avila, where he had his home from 1538 when he married Luisa Núñez, with his duties at Prince Felipe’s chapel, mainly in Madrid, Valladolid, Tordesillas, Sigüenza, Alcalá de Henares and Segovia. Meanwhile, another long voyage was being prepared for the wedding of Felipe and Maria Tudor and Antonio would also accompany the Prince’s suite to England.
Departing from Tordesillas during the summer of 1554, they arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Then, one hundred and twenty five ships got under way from La Coruña to Southampton with Prince Felipe on board. They stayed in Winchester for three weeks, before making their entrance into London, the city which was to be their place of residence for more than a year.
At the begining of September 1555, the abdication of the Emperor forced a second trip for Felipe and his chapel to Brussels. Antonio then asked for a consession to go to Spain and returned to Avila at the begining of 1556 with permission to spend a year at home. Later, in 1557, during the absence of Felipe, now King Felipe II, Cabezón joined the service of Prince Carlos and took up his main residence in Valladolid.
King Felipe would not return to Spain until 1559 and after being married to Isabel de Valois in Guadalajara, the Spanish Court was finally installed in Madrid in September of 1560. This circumstance required a new change of residence also for Antonio but provided him a more settled life in this period of maturity, with only sporadic visits to Toledo and Aranjuez.
The story of all those trips invites us to imagine the contacts that Cabezón would have surely maintained with diverse musical milieu and musicians of Italian, German, Flemish, Portuguese, English, French and Spanish origin, both inside and outside of the court environment. On the occasion of these contacts, we could hardly envision Cabezón as a mere receptor of influences, as the memorable Macario Santiago Kastner has demostrated so well in his books.
Cabezón’s style and fame must have been well established before 1539, when Cristóbal de Villalón wrote in his Ingeniosa comparación entre lo antiguo y lo presente: “Antonio, the blind player at the Empress’s House, that in art is not possible express more, because it is said that he has found the center of composition”. In the same sense, the words in the preface of Obras de música of 1578 must be understood: “There was no one so mad as to not surrender to his fantasies when confronted by the great talent of Antonio, as everyone recognizes. This was understood not only in Spain, but in Flanders and Italy too, where he was travelling in the service of King Felipe”.
Even if we consider the point of view in these texts as somewhat passionate, it is also true that Antonio de Cabezón’s music, drawn from the wide tradition of the international European style of the 16th century, shows so many peculiar elements that it is easy to accept the words by Hernando in his will, where he concludes that “in music, my father was the most singular man in the world”.