Los doce Músicos de Iriarte
Musicians in the poem of an Enlightenment poet
In order to understand the taste of Tomás de Iriarte, it is possible to start with his admiration of Anton Raphael Mengs work. Maybe, the most representative painting of this artist is Jupiter and Ganymede, the fake that made history, pretending to be an antique painting and convincing the art theorist Winckelmann that the technique of fresco painting was perfected during the Classical Era. What is interesting of this painting is that it does not depict the exact moment of the kiss between the god and his beloved, but the intention of the kiss. Classical Art was based on suggesting, in persuading, and to subtly invite to reflect (“engage”, Iriarte would say), through insinuation, unlike Baroque Art and its need to show in the raw every scene. This was the key to Classical aesthetics and the taste of the XVIII century for the antique. For Iriarte, Mengs was to painting as Horace was to literature and Haydn to music. These names sum up the ideal of the Enlightenment taste in the didactic poem The Music finished in 1779 and published a year later.
The twelve protagonists Spanish composers of this record are mentioned in the Chant III of the poem, the central one, the keystone, called «dignity and the use of music and specially the one at the temple». The first two Chants (besides the inexcusable prologue with the justification of the poem) are meant, respectively, to a didactic explanation of the elements of musical language and to the musical expression of the affections, while the fourth and fifth Chants are centered in theatrical music and instrument music practiced in society. And so, the third Chant is centered in sacred music, the genre most identified with the technical fundaments: the polyphony and the counterpoint. The twelve musicians were probably chosen by Iriarte for standing out in their command over those «elements of the music art» explained in the first Chant and which, in painting, are the perspective, the design and the color.
If we order the twelve by death date, we have a chain of three centuries of polyphonic culture that dates back to Cristóbal de Morales (ca. 1500-1553), whose importance as a composer is marked by the fact that his work remained in the Papal Chapel ́s repertoire and in many Spanish and American cathedrals as well, up until the XVIII century. His importance as a model was not a minor one. As a matter of fact, the work chosen here, Exaltata est sancta Dei genitrix, inspired the second musician chosen by Iriarte in this collection, Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), in at least three motets, as Owen Rees has demonstrated. The interest of Morales’ motet resides in the use of a kind of soggetto ostinato, the melody of the antiphon of the Magnificat Virgo prudentissima, that can be heard several times in the upper voices (although at different ranges) during the second part of the work. Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) closes the polyphonic triad born in Spain during the XVI century that have always remained in the canon of sacred vocal music.
With Vicente García Velcaire (1593-1650) we go in full into the XVII century, from which Iriarte chooses five composers who shared a significant biographical element: being maestro de capilla, in different moments, at the Incarnation Monastery in Madrid. The other four were: Juan Pérez Roldán (1604-1672), Carlos Patiño (1600-1675), probably the most famous and known of them all, Matías Juan Veana (1656-1708), and Matías Ruiz (dead in 1708). It is reasonable to think that Antonio Rodríguez de Hita, maestro de capilla of the Incarnation between 1757 and 1787, and Iriarte ́s music professor, would give him an edge in the selection of these five names. Another biographical trait shared by all of them is the characteristic mobility of the cursus honorum of any teacher. The most representative case is that of Roldan who during his life served at the Cathedrals of Calahorra, Sigüenza, Toledo, Málaga, Segovia, León and Zaragoza, besides the Monastery in Madrid.
Related to this, we find another shared characteristic by the five: the great spreading of their works which are today still conserved in numerous Spanish and Ameri- can cathedral’s archives; the works arrived to the archives through the network of correspondence among the maestros de capilla. The command of counterpoint, the good musical base and the meticulous union between music and text guaranteed such wide circulation of their works. It is worth of attention the fact that Velcaire, Roldán and Patiño were related to the King Joao IV from Portugal, either because he possessed some of their works, or because he received information about them. Patiño had epistolary contact with the monarch during the decade of 1630, before he came to the throne.