John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Gonzalo de Baena: Arte novamente inventda pera aprender a tãger

Title:Gonzalo de Baena Arte novamente inventda pera aprender a tãger

Editor: Bruno Forst.

Publisher: Dairea Ediciones, Madrid, 20 Euros.

Reviewed by John Collins

This is the first modern edition of the book published in Lisbon in 1540 in which Gonzalo de Baena, at the age of around 60, sets out the principles for learning to play keyboard instruments without the assistance of a teacher. It uses a system not of numbers which became so popular in Spain but of letters with various diacritical marks identifying the pitch; rhythmic determinants are rather more difficult to notate which may well explain the lack of fantasias, although such pieces would be, technically, beyond the reach of beginners for whom the book was intended. There is even the expectation that the beginner will cut out a table of these letters and glue them to the leys of his or her instrument. In the pròlogo Baena makes the interesting comment that this system of tablature was developed by “the Moors and the negros”.

Bruno Forst’s introduction covers the history of this long-forgotten volume (the object of an indispensable article by Tess Knighton published in 1996 in Plainsong and Medieval Music) brought to light in 1992 and wrongly catalogued by the Biblioteca del Palacio Real de Madrid under arithmetic books. There follows an extensive introduction to the letter notation, the criteria for the commentaries, reasons for choosing Bermudo for advice on interpretation, comments on modality, semitonal inflections, tactus and tempo, glosas and ornamentation, the latter being covered only scantily in the original, (paraphrased as “it remains for every one to add whichever grace or glosa that seems best”). Baena describes only the one figure in the pròlogo, which, when the following notes is included, equates to Santa Marìa’s redoble (ie c-b-c-d-c). This is a far cry from the highly complex system described in minute detail by Santa Marìa, but leaving today’s player in no doubt that his or her 16th century predecessor was most certainly expected to add ornaments. Finally there is a brief discussion about instruments on which these pieces could have been, and, of course, still can be, performed. Bruno Forst gives the complete Pròlogo to the original (albeit with a few orthographical changes) and with copious footnotes to explain further some of the problematic passages and difficulties.

The music comprises 66 pieces, of which nos. 1-22 are in two voices, nos. 23- 41in three voices and nos. 42-65 are in four, hence in a graduated order suited to the beginner to make progress. Named French and Franco-Flemish composers include Josquin (represented by 14 pieces), Compère (6) Ockeghem and Obrecht (3 each), Brumel, Agricola, Caron, Fevin and Gascon with one each, and of the Iberian composers Antonio de Baena, (Gonzalo’s son) is represented by 12, others including Peñalosa with 5, Escobar with 3, Gonzalo himself and Urreda with 2 and Anchieta, Badajoz, Basurto and Morales with one each. The final piece, by Antonio de Baena, is set out in one voice only but with the instruction that it is to be completed as a four-voice work, a solution of which is given in the critical notes. The great majority are settings of sections from the Mass or of Motets, with only four two-voice pieces having no title; such a repertoire looks old fashioned even for the time of compilation. The smallest note value used is a crotchet, giving the pieces a somewhat austere look, but with the appropriate ornamentation these pieces will come to life. The original score has been transcribed into a two-stave format, with original note-values being retained. Barlines are placed between the staves based on a semibreve as unit, the notes being held until the succeeding note regardless of collocation of other moving parts - this layout may take a while to get used to.

The critical commentary is extensive and for each piece gives details of composers where known, the title of the piece, the Tone in which it is written, suggestion for tactus, sources of the vocal originals which have been consulted together with the vocal line, and suggestions for editorial amendments. There follow tables, the first being one of publications of instrumental music in the Iberian peninsular during the 16th century, the second a list of instrumental works published in Europe from 1500-1540, thirdly a table of comparative data about Baena, the composers whose works are included in the Arte and developments in Iberian and European keyboard music from 1440 –1541. An alphabetic index of the works will be most useful in looking up a specific piece, there is also an index of the pieces by their number in the Arte, brief biographies of the composers, an index by the different specific sections of the Mass which have been set and of the Motets set, and finally an index by Tones enabling the player to find a piece in a specifically required Tone quickly.

Bruno Forst has provided us with a remarkable work here in the detail of his research and analysis which is intended primarily for practical performance. A good working knowledge of Spanish is required to get the most from the highly detailed notes, but the brief summary available as a download from the publisher’s website will serve as a starting point. Although intended primarily for clavichord, there is much here to interest organists, (it is a great pity that the frontispiece to the original, which shows the letters placed on the keyboard with organ pipes above it is not included in this edition, but it can be seen on p.98 of Tess Knighton’s article) and a line can be traced from these pieces to the pieces written for beginners by de Cabezòn. The printing with six systems to the page is clear if a little on the small size, and at almost 250 pages for the modest outlay of 20 Euros this volume is a real bargain. Bruno Forst and Dairea Ediciones deserve our fullest thanks for making it available at such a reasonable price.

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© John Collins 2015