Notes and Editorial Reviews
Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela
Claudio Astronio (org, hpd, regal, cond); Harmonices Mundi; La Moranda; Quartetto Italiano di Viole da Gamba
BRILLIANT 94346 (7 CDs: 454:45)
Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566) was the first Spanish composer of international stature, and a member of the extraordinary historical lineage of blind organ virtuosos. Born to a noble family in Castrillo de Matajudio, he studied in Palencia with Garcia de Baeza, organist of the cathedral in nearby Burgos, and lived with a relative who was a canon at that cathedral. In 1526 he was employed as principal organist in the royal chapel of Queen Isabella, who had married Emperor Charles V the previous year, and remained in the service of the royal family throughout his life. In 1538 he was elevated to the position of chamber musician to the emperor, and upon the early death of Isabella in 1539 was entrusted with the musical education of their three children, Philip (Felipe), Maria (who would later become a major patron of Tomás Luis de Victoria), and Joan. When Philip became regent of Spain in 1543, he made Cabezón the court organist, and in 1546 also appointed the composer’s brother, Juan, as a musician to the royal chapel. In these capacities the two brothers accompanied Philip (later Philip II of Spain, 1555–1598) on the travels of the royal entourage to Milan, Naples, Germany, the Netherlands, and England, where Cabezón met other important composers of the era and influenced them through the compositions he brought with him. Upon his death in Madrid he left a widow and five children, one of whom, Hernando de Cabezón (1541–1602), also a composer, was primarily responsible for the preservation of his father’s works. Most of these were published in the 1578
Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela
(Works of Music for Keyboard, Harp, and Vihuela) that is presented in this set; virtually all of the others previously appeared in a 1557 collection of some 200 pieces compiled by the composer Luis Venegas de Henestrosa (c.1510–1570), the
Libro de cifra nueva para tecla, harpa y vihuela
(Book of New Numbers for Keyboard, Harp, and Vihuela).
With the exception of a single vocal piece (not forming part of this collection), Cabezón’s surviving original works are all instrumental, mostly for keyboard. They are classified into four different types: liturgical pieces, tientos, variations (glosados), and intabulations of sacred and secular works by Crequillon, Desprez, Gombert, Clemens non Papa, Richafort, and Verdelot, among others. The liturgical works consist of brief settings of the Kyrie, Magnificat, psalm excerpts, and hymns. The tiento is a form of polyphonic instrumental music that is the Spanish counterpart to the Italian ricercar; originally derived from liturgical plainchant, it is highly improvisatory in style but highly structured in layout, with sections of imitative counterpoint alternating with non-imitative ones. Of Cabezón’s 29 surviving examples of the genre, 12 were published in the
, in two sets of six believed to date respectively from earlier and later in the composer’s career. By contrast, the
preserves all nine sets of Cabezon’s variations, which display some of the composer’s most original work; his distinctive practice of shifting the
to different voices from variation to variation would later be utilized by William Byrd. As transcriptions of works by other composers, the intabulations are necessarily not original in content, but they do demonstrate the composer’s formidable keyboard skills and resourcefulness in making the adaptations.
Regarding this edition, I will first note that while it is advertised as being “complete,” various sources I have consulted state that the
comprises about 275 works, whereas this set contains 127 tracks, with the titles seldom indicating any multiple items combined on a single track. Obviously, without access to the extremely rare original volume, I have no way to account for this discrepancy. Second, the performances here variously feature organ, harpsichord, a brass ensemble (La Moranda), a viol ensemble (Quartetto Italiano), and an early violin ensemble (Harmonices Mundi)—a variety which is all to the good—but somewhat puzzlingly no harp or vihuela. I’m naïve enough to suppose that a collection specifically mentioning those instruments should have some of its pieces performed on them.
Despite his great historical importance to 16th-century music, Cabezón has had very few previous releases devoted solely or primarily to his art, and so this set is most welcome indeed. (A side note for those seeking out recordings: On the ArkivMusic website, the composer is listed under “D” as “de Cabezón,” but his son Hernando is listed under “C” as “Cabezón.”) The first four discs in this set are from a series originally recorded for the Stradivarius label as far back as 1995, though the actual release dates I find for them are from about a decade later. (Brilliant provides absolutely no information on this point except for a single minuscule line of type on the back of the box: “Licensed from Stradivarius (CDs 1-4)”.) The final three discs are original recordings made in 2012 for Brilliant Classics to complete the series.
Previous releases on other labels that are still in print include:
- a Naxos CD from 2001 of tientos and glosados with Thomas Wimmer and the Accentus ensemble;
- a Naxos two-CD set from 2011 of the complete tientos and variations with harpsichordist Glen Wilson;
- a two-CD Motette release from 1998 of organ works with Jose Luis González Uriol;
- a Discantica CD from 2010 of organ works, also with Uriol;
- a Glossa disc from 1998 of keyboard works with Enrico Bassano;
- a Lindoro CD from 2009 of organ works with Andres Cea;
- an Arcana CD from 2012 with harpsichordist Paola Erdas, reviewed in 34:3 by Barry Brenesal (the only review of a disc devoted to Cabezón that appears in the
Older items, all originally issued on LPs and long out of print, include:
- an MHS release of keyboard works with Hans Kann and Leo Witoszy?skyi;
- a Harmonia Mundi disc of organ works with Gertrud Mersiovsky;
- a Hispavox release of organ works with Paulino Ortiz;
- a Hispavox series of 15 discs of the composer’s complete organ works with Antonio Baciero;
- an EMI release in its Reflexe series of instrumental pieces performed by Jordi Savall and fellow instrumentalists.
Regarding the caliber of the performances presented here, my reaction is one of qualified approbation. In his review of the Arcana disc, Brenesal rightly observed: “If Cabezón’s music may be said to embody any expressive characteristic, it is the somber magnificence of Spanish theater, not just literally from the stage, but from the drama embedded in its music.” There is throughout an almost severe degree of stateliness and emotional restraint, reflecting a culture very self-conscious of the qualities of dignity and elegance. While these performances are technically faultless and stylistically conscientious, they tend to be somewhat cautious and short on character, particularly those by the brass ensemble La Moranda. When I turn instead to the aforementioned Naxos and Motette recordings, the spirit and colorfulness of these pieces is captured to a palpably greater degree (and the arrangements by Thomas Wimmer and Accentus are far more varied and brilliant). However, I don’t wish to look a gift horse in the mouth; the performances are still estimable overall, and at the Brilliant Classics super-budget price, anyone interested in the music of Cabezón should snatch up this set without delay before it disappears. All the discs are well filled (though I cannot discern a particular order to the contents of the set); the recorded sound is perfectly fine if not exceptional; and the accompanying booklet provides a detailed table of contents, list of all the performers, and extensive and informative notes on the composer, music, and keyboardist Claudio Astronio (though not the various ensembles). Despite my caveat, definitely recommended.
FANFARE: James A. Altena