Lope, olé! Music from the Theatre of Lope de Vega (1562–1635)
No son todos ruyseñores Gaspar Fernández (c. 1570-1629)
De pechos sobre una torre Anonymous
En el campo florid Anonymous
Hermosas alamedas Anonymous
Este niño se lleva la flor Fernández
Oy la música del cielo Fernández
Gigante cristalino Anonymous
Tan triste vivo en mi aldea Juan Blas de Castro (c. 1560-1631)
Mañanicas floridas Anonymous
¡Ay amargas soledades Anonymous
Coraçon ¿dónde estuviste? Mateo Romero (1575/6-1647)
¿A quién contaré mis quejas Capitán
Ya es tiempo de recoger Anonymous
En una playa amena Capitán
Si tus penas no pruebo Francisco Guerrero (1528 -1599)
Arrojóme las naranjicas Anonymous
Hoy se viste de alegría Francisco Morales
Shannon Canavin, soprano
Thea Lobo, alto
Jason McStoots & Eric Rice, tenor
Douglas Williams, bass
Sunday, May 30, 2004 at 3 PM
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston
Notes on the Program
Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562-1635) was one of Spain’s most prolific and influential playwrights, penning as many as 1800 works of which approximately 350 survive. A prodigious personality, he began composing verses at an early age and at twelve he wrote his first play. His life was as dramatic as his plays: he took holy orders, was a volunteer on the Invincible Armada, and his many love affairs brought him both notoriety and problems with the law, resulting in prison terms and exile. While his effect on Spain’s literary history are vast and varied, one of his most important contributions was establishing music as a vital and functional element of the dramatic content of staged works.
Born at Madrid on November 25, 1562 (fifteen years after Cervantes), Lope’s parents were poverty-stricken nobles from the mountain region of Santander in northern Spain. Lope’s elementary training was under the Jesuits in Madrid, and after attending the University of Alcalá, he joined the army in 1583. He then returned to Madrid, becoming the leader of the literary circles. But when Lope attacked a mistress, Elena Osorio, the married daughter of a leading theatre manager, in his poems, he was expelled from Castile for two years. In 1588 he married Isabela de Urbina, whose aristocratic family opposed the marriage with the lowborn Lope, and just a few weeks later he joined the Invincible Armada and returned home penniless after the defeat of Spain. In 1590 he entered the service of the Duke of Alba, and remained in Toledo until 1595. Isabela died that spring, after which Lope returned to Madrid, where he was prosecuted for an illicit relationship with Antonia Trillo. Also during this time Lope became involved with a mysterious beauty named Micaela de Luxán, with whom he had several children. In 1598 Lope married Doña Juana de Guardo, daughter of a wealthy butcher, and became the secretary to the Marqués de Malpica and Marqués de Sarría. For the next few years Lope divided his time between Seville, where Micaela and their children lived, and Madrid. His fame as a dramatist had been established by the turn of the century, and in 1605 he became friends with the Duke of Sessa and his confidential secretary. In 1613 Doña Juana died, after which Lope had affairs with Jerónima de Burgos and Doña Marta de Nevares Santoyo; his indiscretions with her were criticized even by Cervantes. In 1614 Lope entered a religious order and was appointed an officer of the Inquisition. Although his work as a playwright was not approved by the church, Lope wrote many of his comedias during his priesthood and was even made a Knight of Malta and doctor of theology by Pope Urban VIII in 1627 despite his literary activity. By 1632, three of his children had died and a daughter was abducted, which caused Lope to turn more and more to religious contemplation and exercises, scourging himself so furiously that he bloodied the walls of his room. He died in Madrid on August 26, 1635, and though he died more or less a pauper, his funeral was observed like a king’s and the city observed a three-day period of mourning.
Lope was a poet of great versatility and at some time or other composed in nearly every literary form, but it is as a dramatist that his genius stands out. While Cervantes did much for the Spanish drama, it was by Lope de Vega that its national forms were permanently established: his Arte Nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609) offered a timely codification of the theoretical and practical elements that defined the new comedia genre—“to imitate the actions of men and portray the customs of that century.” The old-fashioned comedia antigua was usually written in prose or irregular verse in four to six acts and generally were monothematic and restricted in genre. The comedia nueva differed from the comedia antigua in that it was a three-act play in polymetric verse and was freed from the restraint of the Aristotelian unities of time, place and action—tragedy and comedy were mixed and balanced in order to recreate the natural balance of human existence. It could embrace all types of theatrical writing from pure farce to deep tragedy and the author was free to choose topics and characters as he pleased as long as the story was credible. The important function of theatre became at this time to create an accurate representation of the real world and the comedia nueva, freed from the restrictions of the comedia antigua, served as an instrument of political hegemony and social criticism. Lope is also attributed with writing the first Spanish opera; while Lucas Fernández claims the title of originator of the first diálogo para cantar (1514), Lope’s opera La selva sin amor, with music believed to have been composed by the Italian Filippo Piccinini, was performed in 1629. Unfortunately, the music has not yet been discovered.
While Spanish theatre had traditionally included music (“Music and poetry—these we play on the same lyre” wrote the 18th-century Spanish poet Iriarte), it was in Lope’s works that music was incorporated as an essential element of the drama. Previously, music was often heard only at the beginning and end of plays and between acts, and musicians stayed behind the backdrop. In Lope’s plays, the pervasive influence of music in the daily lives of 17th-century Spaniards is vividly reflected—songs are often heard accompanying baptisms, weddings, and receptions and are called for by characters to dispel sadness and melancholy and establish harmony between the humors of the body, a common attribution to music’s power in Renaissance theory. Both instrumental and vocal music punctuate the action of the plot and unify individual scenes and musicians appear both on- and offstage and take part in the drama. Song-texts are always linked to the thematic content of the scene in which they occur so that they contribute to the unfolding of the plot, often serving many dramatic functions.
While the songs used in Lope’s plays have a direct influence on the dramatic action, they do not actually become an intrinsic part of it. Songs introduce main themes, hasten or slow dramatic development, sketch a character’s personality, underscore a plotline of the play, illuminate characters’ motives and intents, facilitate changes in the mood of a scene, create dramatic irony, reflect characters’ emotions, suggest a time or place, crystallize moments of decision, and foreshadow impending events. They are very often associated with a celebration, and in particular, the religious holiday of St. John’s Day, which appears quite often in Lope’s plays. Instrumental music nearly always occurs in relation to the entrance of socially significant figures, such as Kings and Queens, or of supernatural beings, such as ghosts and angels. Lope often introduces himself and associates (especially mistresses) into his plays and poems under pseudonyms, “Belardo” being his favorite for himself and “Lucinda” referring to Micaela de Luján. He also takes advantage of music’s ability to make social commentary by praising associates such as Juan Blas de Castro and vilifying his courtesan adversaries.
Although Lope’s dramatic works yield a considerable number of lyric texts, there are very few extant musical settings. Some of these songs were drawn from an older repertory, while others were probably composed especially for their respective plays, although they seem to have been based on borrowed material, including fashionable sayings, poetic images, and popular tunes and refrains. Lope had two principal sources for borrowed material: an existing repertory of orally transmitted traditional songs referred to as cancionero popular, some of which were collected and published, and from existing romances or well-known courtly ballads. Most of the works on this program are preserved in a compendious manuscript, now located in Turin, with works by such preeminent “Golden Age” composers as Francisco Guerrero, Juan Blas de Castro, Mateo Romero, and Álvaro de los Ríos. While most of the surviving songs for Lope’s plays were not composed especially for the theatre, and it is doubtful that the exact settings preserved today were performed onstage, the existing repertory can be assumed to be representative of the music that would have been included in Lope’s plays.
Lope’s inclusion of music for dramatic purposes makes excellent use of music’s power and ability to synthesize and illuminate essential elements of a theme. The finely wrought integration that has been found to exist between the songs he includes and his dramatic texts show a careful consideration and skillful ability of a true innovator and master.
© 2004 Shannon Canavin