Cantigas de Santa Maria and Cantigas d'Amigo
Cantiga de Santa Maria 423: Como podemos a Deus gradecer
Cantiga de Santa Maria 10: Rosa das rosas
Cantiga d’Amigo 2: Mandad’ei comigo
Cantiga d’Amigo 1: Ondas do mar de Vigo
Cantiga de Santa Maria 427: Todo los benes que nos Deus
Cantiga d’Amigo 6: Eno sagrado en Vigo
Cantiga de Santa Maria 426: Subiu ao ceo o Fillo de Deus
Cantiga de Santa Maria 159: Non sofre Santa Maria
Shannon Canavin, Elise Groves &Thea Lobo, voices
with guest artists
Laura Jeppesen, rebec & Vielle
Matthew Wright, citole
Daniel Meyers, Medieval winds & percussion
Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 7:30pm
St. Anthony's Church, 400 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue, Cambridge, MA
presented with the Boston Portuguese Festival
Notes on the Program
As legend has it, the 13th-century Castilian king Alfonso X was inspired to compose these songs praising Holy Mary after being healed by her. While he surely did compose some of the Cantigas, in all likelihood he commissioned and oversaw the production of the volumes and did not himself write all of them. Alfonso was a prolific ruler, and had luck been more on his side, we might have learned about the Castilian Empire in school instead of the Holy Roman Empire. Known as “El Sabio,” or the wise, Alfonso authored and oversaw the compilation of over one hundred manuscripts on the subject of law, which were in some part a model for our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution. He also oversaw the compilation of a general history of the whole world, considered to be the greatest historiographic undertaking of the Middle Ages. Written in Castilian, it was the first scholastic work Western Europe in written in a language other than Latin, and Alfonso was instrumental in establishing Castilian as the primary language of higher learning.
The Cantigas then can be considered Spanish on the one hand, since they were commissioned and composed by the Castilian king, but as they are in the Galician Portuguese language, they are as much Portuguese in their nature and are directly tied to the long tradition of popular Galician Portuguese cantigas of the Middle Ages. There are over 400 Cantigas de Santa Maria, surviving in 4 manuscript codices, two of which contain brilliant illustrations that offer amazing insight into life in and out of the court, as well as providing a wealth of iconographic evidence for musical performance practice of the time; you’ll see in your programs just a handful of these beautiful illuminations. The texts of the first batch of songs depict miracles performed by the Virgin Mary, while the final songs praise her good works and benevolence.
I have a colleague who insists that most medieval music is not early music, but rather new music. This is because so much of the medieval music we perform today is in fact improvised. The only music provided in the Cantigas manuscripts is the vocal line, and even that is the subject of great debate among musical scholars, particularly when it comes to rhythmic values, the underlay of the texts, since only the first verse is set to music, and the pronunciation of the texts. We are quite certain that the Cantigas were accompanied by instruments, if only because of the hundreds of depictions of instruments included in the manuscripts, but we must rely on evidence contained in a variety of other sources in order to come up with an understanding of what that accompaniment might have been. So everything you hear the instruments playing tonight, they are basically composing themselves, based on the melody they are accompanying and what they know about modal, melodic, rhythmic, and stylistic elements of music from the time. In the end, what we strive to offer is a glimpse into how this music might have been performed at the time, but more importantly, to allow our listeners to be moved by the beautiful melodies, gorgeous sound world, and incredible storytelling of these fascinating songs.
We’ll begin our program with Cantigas 423 which tells how God created the world, but which reminds us that despite the miracles of his creations, they are all eclipsed by the Virgin Mary’s gift of her son Jesus and his sacrifice for us.
The next piece we’ll perform is Cantiga 10, Rosa das Rosas. Every tenth song in the collection is a Cantiga de Loor, or a song praising Mary, and this particular cantiga may well be one of the songs composed by Alfonso himself; the final verse says “I am her troubadour,” something Alfonso himself is known to have claimed.
Our next two pieces come from the shorter and simpler Cantigas d’Amigo, or songs about a boyfriend, and are from a song tradition rooted in the northwest quadrant of the Iberian Peninsula. What makes the Cantigas d’Amigo unique is that they are all from the female perspective, although debate over their authorship, either by men or women, remains unresolved. While the rhythmic interpretation of the Cantigas de Santa Maria is somewhat speculative, the Cantigas d’Amigo are more clearly composed using modal rhythms, somewhat like the combinations of shorts and longs you find when scanning lines of poetry.
Our next piece, Todos los benes, tells of God’s power over the physical world and how the disciples learned to convey Jesus’s message. You’ll hear about a third of the way through Dan beating his drum to represent the earth trembling, which is one wonderful way the instruments can add to the powerful storytelling of the Cantigas. We’ll follow that with our third Cantiga d’Amigo, Eno sagrado en Vigo. You’ll notice that Vigo plays a large part in each of the Cantigas d’Amigo. Situated in the southwest corner of Galicia, the bay at Vigo was clearly a favorite and inspirational spot of the time.
Our next Cantiga de Santa Maria tells of the ascension of Jesus. The Cantigas are often described as hypnotic, and this one definitely falls into that category. Despite some of the vividly harsh descriptions in the verses, the melody is incredibly uplifting and its repetitive nature is truly entrancing.
This brings us to the end of our program, and I would like to thank you again for enjoying these wonderful songs with us tonight. I’d like to invite you to join us for a reception afterwards, hosted by the Boston Portuguese Festival, and I’d like to again thank Fr. Walter Carreira and St. Anthony’s Church again for hosting us tonight, Fatima Soares and the Boston Portuguese Festival, and the consul general of Portugal in Boston, José Rui Velez Caroço, for all of their support. I’d also like to thank my incredibly talented and generous colleagues for taking this journey with me to bring the Cantigas to life all these centuries later.
Our final piece may be one of the most famous Cantigas, known as the pork chop cantiga. It’s one of the miracle cantigas, and it tells the story of pilgrims who ordered nine pork chops for their supper, but who found only eight upon arrival, as one of the servant girls had stolen one and hidden it in a chest. They called upon Holy Mary to help them find their missing pork chop, when suddenly they heard something rattling around in the chest. When they opened it, they saw the pork chop jumping around, and ran out into the streets declaring the miracle. As you can see in the illustrations in your program, they decided not to eat the pork chop, but to hang it above the altar in thanks to Mary for performing such a wonderful miracle. And as we find the pork chop, you’ll hear another example of how fantastically the instruments can add to the storytelling.
-- Shannon Canavin