The Elvas Songbook: Portuguese and Spanish Songs of the Renaissance
Ya cantan los gallos Anonymous
Aquella voluntad que se á rendido Anonymous
Senhora bem poderey Anonymous
Beatus es Pedro de Escobar (ca. 1465–after 1535)
In te, Domine, speravi Pedro de Pastrana (ca. 1480–after 1559)
Se do mal que me queries Anonymous
Mas deveis a quien os sirve Anonymous
Quien te traxo el cavallero Anonymous
O vos omnes Francisco Martins (ca. 1620–1680)
Stabat mater de Escobar
Tu gitana que adevinas Anonymous
Passame por Dios barquero Anonymous
Perdido polos meus olhos Anonymous
Mirad que negro amor, y que nonada Anonymous
Domare cordis impetus Martins
Shannon Canavin, soprano
Mary Gerbi, mezzo-soprano
Eric Rice, tenor
Brian Church, baritone
Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 7:30pm
St. Anthony’s Church, 839 Central Street, Lowell
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 7:30pm
St. Anthony’s Parish, 400 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue, Cambridge
Friday, June 5, 2009 at 8pm
First Lutheran Church, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston
Notes on the Program
The “Elvas Songbook” (Cancioneiro de Elvas, in Portuguese) is the name given to a small manuscript, discovered in the library of the town of Elvas, in 1928. It was the first source of secular Renaissance music found in Portugal, and it remains as one of the most relevant and important of the Iberian Peninsula. The Songbook is divided in two parts: the first one contains music pieces and the second one contains poems. The musical part comprises 65 3-part small songs; most of them are vilancetes and cantigas (comparable to Italian frottolas or French chansons).
The songbook was compiled in the third quarter of the 16th century (ca. 1570), within a context of great flourishing of the Renaissance and humanist culture in Portugal. In fact, during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal had become one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Europe, thanks to the discovery of new lands and new trade routes. This stimulated the development of arts and culture, which was according to recent European tendencies of Renaissance and also led to the creation of unique styles.
Music too met an unprecedented development, not only that music dedicated to liturgical activities, but also “profane” music of courtly origin. Music—among dancing, riding, and hunting—was a fundamental part of a nobleman’s education and everyday life; therefore, the Court employed countless musicians, with various levels of technical and artistic skill, thus making the Portuguese Royal Chapel rise above the standards of its European congeners, according to chronicler Damião de Góis. Despite presenting a very small percentage of the music these courtiers composed and sang, the Elvas Songbook gives a general overview of the development of the secular polyphonic song in Portugal throughout the 16th century.
Out of the 65 songs included in the Songbook, 59 are vilancetes and cantigas, the predominant lyric genres in the Iberian Peninsula (villancico and canción, in Spanish). These are based on an alternation between a refrain and stanzas, of popular origin and with a simple ABBA form. At the end of the songbook, we find some compositions based on more “modern” poems, tercets of Italian influence. The typically Renaissance theme, that of Petrarchian “courtly love”—a chivalrous unrequited love, and the suffering it provokes—is common to the whole set. The use of idioms such as cuidados (“pangs of love”), pesar (“sorrow”), morrer de amor (“dying of love”) or esperança perdida (“lost hope”) is recurrent; and so is the use of linguistic puns around their diverse meanings (“to die living” or “to live dying”; “to see” as to perceive, to feel, etc). This is the main theme found in songs of both a pensive, distressed nature (as in “Mas deveis a quien os sirve”), and a resigned, spirited one (as in “Senhora bem poderey”).
Musically, there’s a predominance of a simple “vertical” and homorhythmical texture, also originating in Italy in the end of the 15th century, where the musicality of pieces comes upon the harmonic simultaneity of the different parts, and not on an accompanied melodic line. Thus, the lyrics are given primacy over an elaborated counterpoint, also stimulating the establishment of a humanist declamatory ideal that was becoming common in the Peninsula around 1530. This textural simplicity not only emphasizes the expressivity of the emotional content of the sung poem, but also confers additional strength and charm to those little, delicious ornamentations that punctuate the melodies, characterising a very unique style of Iberian secular song.
Unfortunately, there is no indication of authorship in the manuscript. The predominance of the Spanish language (only 17 of the 65 songs are written in Portuguese) is not elucidative, given that Spanish was a fashionable language among the Portuguese court at the time. By establishing concordances with other Spanish songbooks of the same period, it was possible to identify but three composers from those who are represented in the Elvas Songbook. Those composers are also represented in this concert with some of their sacred works:
Pedro de Escobar (1465–after 1535), Portuguese composer, one of the most skilful of his period. Until ca. 1500 he was at the service of the Spanish Catholic King’s court, together with Juan de Anchieta and Francisco de Peñalosa. He shares with them a sober yet intense style, well evident in the examples presented in this concert. He composed the first Requiem mass in the Iberian Peninsula, besides popular motets and hymns. He is attributed 18 profane songs, from which 3 have been copied in the Elvas Songbook.
Juan del Encina (1468–1529/30), Spanish playwright, poet, and composer, considered the father of theatre in Spain. He is the author of a vast lyrical and musical work, cultivating the most popular genres of his time (the villancico, the canción, and the écloga). He achieved great notoriety, proven by the fact he is represented in many poetic and musical 18th-century songbooks of the Iberian Peninsula. The Elvas Songbook includes 4 of his songs.
Pedro de Pastrana (ca. 1480–after 1559), Spanish composer. He served the Spanish royal court as a singer, composer and chapelmaster until at least 1555. His known works include one mass, four Magnificats, motets, and some villancicos—among these, only one is found in the Elvas Songbook.
Finally, a quick note on Francisco Martins (1625–1680), composer and chapelmaster in the Cathedral of Elvas. The inclusion of some of his pungent, highly expressive works in this concert conveys a general notion about how music evolved within the Portuguese context, in the transition of the Renaissance polyphonic tradition to a new Baroque aesthetics. This proves the importance of the musical heritage of the town of Elvas.
— Nuno Raimundo