Las Ensaladas of Mateo Flecha
La Bomba Mateo Flecha (1481–1553)
Missa de Bomba Pedro Bermúdez (1558–1605)
El Fuego Flecha
Por amores lo madixo Juan Vázquez (ca. 1500–1560)
Quien amores tiene
Yo sé que mi mal es honra
De los alamos vengo, madre
Huyd, huyd Francisco Guerrero (1528–1599)
La Negrina Flecha
Martin Near, countertenor
Owen McIntosh, tenor
Bradford Gleim, baritone
John Proft, bass
Tom Zajac, percussion
Shannon Canavin, General Director
Martin Near, Music Director
Friday, May 14, 2010 at 8pm
Union Church of Waban
Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 8pm
University Lutheran Church in Cambridge
Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 3pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston
Notes on the Program
The term “Ensaladas” refers just to what you think it does. It is literally a salad—a musical salad—to be enjoyed both for its parts and for the whole. As defined by Juan Diaz Rengifo in 1592:
Ensalada is a composition made of quatrains, into which all kinds of meters are mixed, not only in Spanish but from other languages as well, without any kind of order and at the free will of the poet; and the music changes in accord with the variety of words. And this is the reason it is called ensalada, because of the mixture of meters and tunes it contains.
A sub-category of the quodlibet, the Ensalada was as much a literary genre as a musical one, fashionable in sixteenth-century Spain. Perhaps the most striking feature of the performance of an Ensalada is its overt dramatic nature. Some question whether the genre was considered to have a theatrical component, making Ensaladas into sort of “madrigalesque operas”. The prominent element of dialogue between incidental characters certainly goes some distance to support that case. There is even evidence that suggests that some Ensaladas were directly involved in the performance of larger dramatic pieces, but it is not clear what role, if any, that they played within the drama itself.
In whatever manner these Ensaladas impacted Spanish audiences, it is clear that the genre was designed in large part to appeal to people in many ways that any popular form of music would. Perhaps no one was as effective at this as was Mateo Flecha the elder, whose Ensaladas are considered the culmination of the genre. Flecha composed at least 11 Ensaladas, and 8 of them were published after his death, by his nephew, Mateo Flecha the younger. Flecha’s Ensaladas share certain characteristics. The largely humerous texts are based on Spanish poetry in irregular meters, but also contain quotations and refrains in various regional languages, as well as biblical and classical Latin, which always appears as somewhat of a moral at the end. Despite the pervasive humorous nature to the texts, there is always a sort of allegorical backdrop of affirmation in the Roman Catholic faith. They almost always contain some reference to the birth of Christ, and the invoking of patron saints and reverence to the Virgin Mary is common.
Musically, Flecha constructs his highly refined sense of drama by taking every opportunity to set the quickly-changing irregular poetry and dialogue with equally quickly-changing musical style, employing rapid changes of meter and texture. Flecha finds himself equally at home in crafting melody and dance figure as he is as a skilled contrapuntist.
Among the best-known examples of Mateo Flecha’s Ensaladas is La Bomba. The audience is immediately confronted with the dialogue-laden drama of a storm-wrecked ship on the open sea. The prayers of the sailors are answered, and they are saved. As the singing praises to God turns into celebratory songs, a guitar is called for. Perhaps damaged in the storm, the guitar turns out to be a bit more difficult to bring up to pitch than planned. Flecha uses onomatopoeic representations for the sound of the guitar, and quite literally makes use of a harmony that would sound out-of-tune to any listener of this style of music. After the sailors further rejoice, the audience is left with somewhat of a curious mini-motet at the end: “For great perils are not only on the sea; great perils are on earth and great perils in false brethren.”
Pedro Bermúdez spent much of his personally rather up-and-down career in Spain, but after being invited to Cusco, Peru by the bishop there in 1597, he settled soon after that in present-day Antigua Guatemala. His Misa de Bomba was almost certainly composed there, as was most of his music. Misa de Bomba is a lively example of a parody mass, owing to its lively influence, Flecha’s La Bomba, from which no fewer than 27 excerpts are quoted or elaborated. As a composite of preexisting materials formed into a new piece, a parody mass is itself a sort of musical salad. That is to say, Bermúdez’s Misa de Bomba is a musical salad of a musical salad!
Much of Flecha’s El Fuego invokes imagery of the fire-and-brimstone biblical passages that are quoted in the text. Blazing buildings, firefighters, and bell-alarms are described and imitated, alongside calls for repentance. When the fires are finally extinguished, the source (and identity) of the water is explored in song, accompanied by a bagpipe. The bass notes of the of the bagpipe are set in the Bass voice with the onomatopoeic syllable, “Zon”. The song begins: “From the Virgin without blemish has sprung forth pure water,” indicating the identity of the saving water.
Juan Vázquez dedicated his collection of secular songs, Villancicos i canciones, to the Sevillian nobleman Don Antonio de Zuñiga, by whom he was employed, in 1551. Vazquez clearly enjoyed making his art a clever combination of the utilization of contemporary popular styles and the skilled counterpoint of a well-trained polyphonist.
Francisco Guerrero was truly one of the giants of sixteenth century Spanish composition. Unlike Victoria and Morales, though, his output is represented as much by secular music as by sacred. His Spanish collection, Canciones y Villanescas Espirituales, was published in 1589, around the time of his rather noteworthy pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While much of the music of this collection is set to secular texts, some of the texts are sacred, taking the form of a sort of vernacular motet-song. Guerrero also revised some of his secular villancicos toward the end of his life, retrofitting them with sacred texts.
Mateo Flecha’s La Negrina opens in the style of an elegant motet for the observance of Christmas. Upon the description of Christ as “the Lamb who kills the wolf,” a joyous popular Cataloian song is offered, followed by a delicate hymn to the Virgin, set in a Gallician dialect. In the context of a rather raucous folk song, sung in a partially unintelligible faux-Afro-Castillian stage dialect, an excited dialogue ensues, as it is decided that the newborn Christ should be visited. This is a joyous time, and the singing of Alleluias ends the piece.