Del Canto Figurado
Vocal & Instrumental Music of the Spanish Renaissance
The Royal Wind Music
Ensemble music that pre-dates 1600 is for the most part invisible: the overall majority of the scores that survive are composed for voices. Instrumental collections are usually devoted to repertory for solo instruments: on the one hand the popular lute (or, in Spain, the vihuela), on the other hand the practical keyboards, organ and harpsichord. Nevertheless, instrumental ensembles were by no means rare; on the contrary, they flourished all around Europe, and, after 1500, also in the Americas and other overseas territories. In the Spanish dominions, they enjoyed the benefits of regular employment in cathedrals and collegiate churches, yet they also did free-lance work for secular patrons.
These groups prominently featured recorders, even though their members could also play other woodwinds (traversos, shawms, curtals, racketts, crumhorns, etc.) whenever necessary. Little written music survives for these groups, yet they performed very often. Some of their repertory consisted of contrapuntal improvisations; another part was made up of dances of different kinds, often necessary for the many balls at which they worked. Yet the bulk of their programs were comprised of vocal pieces, borrowed and adapted with the frequent addition of melodic decoration or diminutions. No genre was spared the instrumentalists’ voraciousness: they appropriated secular chansons and madrigals, but also motets and even the most sacred of all types of music, namely the Mass.
The Royal Wind Music is an unusual early music ensemble: their members specialize in recorders only, and the group is almost three times as large as a similar group from the past would have been. However this program follows sixteenth-century practices in the selection of the pieces. The ensemble performs a Spanish instrumental program of the kind that would have been entirely possible to hear toward the beginning of the seventeenth century. As in the past, the individual compositions were selected from a large variety of sources, and the main criterion for choice lies in their ability to sound well when played on recorders. Only one piece, Cotes’s Canción [track 9], appears without text in a manuscript from Granada, a clear signal that it originally served as repertory for instruments—although both its serious character and its liturgical assignment reveal its origin as a vocal motet. Music for the organ by Antonio de Cabezón, his brother Juan, his son Hernando, Tomás de Santa María, Francisco Peraza, and Francisco Correa de Araujo, coexists here with instrumental performances of vocal pieces: romances and villancicos (by Encina, Flecha, and Arañés), a chanson by Josquin, and a few vocal instrumental renderings of Josquin, Guerrero, and Morales. This program is completed with equivalent music for the vihuela: seven excerpts from Franco-Flemish Masses and two Italian songs, or sonetos, as adapted by Enríquez de Valderrábano.