John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

A. de Cabezón: Selected works for keyboard. Edited by Gerhard Doderer and Miguel Bernal Ripoll

Title:A. de Cabezón: Selected works for keyboard.

Editor: Gerhard Doderer and Miguel Bernal Ripoll

Publisher: Published by Bärenreiter in four volumes BA9261-9264

Reviewed by John Collins

Antonio de Cabezón, ca1510-66, is considered to be the greatest Spanish composer for keyboard of the 16ä century ; his duties as organist to the court of Charles V took him across Europe and into contact with some of the leading musicians, including two visits to England. He lost his eyesight when still a young child, leading to the nickname of el ciego, the blind man. One of his major contributions to the Iberian keyboard literature was the development of the variation set, initiated by some of the vihuela players in their publications, other works included liturgical hymn settings and the usual sets of versos on each of the eight Tones, as well as some 30 or so Tientos or Fugas, contrapuntal works usually with multiple subjects.

His surviving keyboard music is found in two prints from Spain and two MSS now in Coimbra; he is also mentioned in the Arte de tañer fantasia published by Tomas de Sancta Marìa in 1565 as having approved the contents of this seminal treatise on performance practice including ornamentation, improvisation of glosas or divisions and fingering. To the Libro de cifra nueva, an anthology of 138 works compiled by Venegas de Henestrosa and published in 1557 he contributed a number of pieces, mainly Tientos and hymn settings transmitted either anonymously or under the name of Antonio, and in 1578 his son Hernando published the Obras de Musica, a compilation of keyboard works by his father, which includes 9 pieces for beginners, 11 Hymns, 44 highly glossed Canciones and Motets in from four to six voices, 10 Variation sets, 14 Tientos and Fugas and many sets of Versos. These were described as mere crumbs from his fatherís table and mainly suitable for his pupils rather than being a celebration of his art. Two MSS at Coimbra contain some 10 Tientos that can be attributed to Cabezón either with certainty or conjecturally, but some pieces assigned to CA in the MS may well be by the slightly later Portuguese Antonio Carreira.

In these four volumes Gerhard Doderer and Miguel Bernal Ripoll, two renowned authorities on the early Spanish repertoire, present a broad conspectus of the different compositional genres represented in Cabezónís corpus of works drawn from printed and manuscript sources. In total 67 pieces are presented, of which 13 are taken from the Libro de cifra nueva, edited by Venegas de Henestrosa and published in 1557, the rest from the Obras de Musica, including three of the five pieces attributed to Hernando himself. Volume 1 contains 20 pieces; nos 1-10 are taken from the Henegas print, including four simple Hymn settings, a short Sequence Dic nobis Maria and five multithematic Tientos (contrapuntal pieces) moving predominatly in minims and crotchets, of which no. 6 is based on the chanson Malheur me bat. Notable is no. 7 with its isolated alternate-bar treble semibreves in bars 61-67 and the repetition of a phrase in the treble in bars 72-104. Nos. 11-20 include six pieces in just two parts intended “for beginners” which will be excellent material for learning the incorporation of ornaments and divisions, these being followed by two sets of four four-part Versos and two of four four-part Fabordones. In each Verso the cantus firmus is presented in a specific voice, the Fabordones open with a theme in four-part harmony which is then glossed in soprano, bass and middle voices, the final one of no. 20 including minims divided into quintuple quavers.

Volume 2 offers 14 pieces from the Obras of 1578 including two Hymn settings and four sets of Versos (two for the Magnificat with seven verses and two for the Kyrie with four verses each); these show a considerable compositional and technical advance on the settings in volume 1. A further eight Tientos follow, outstanding in their varied treatment of the subjects are those on the first and the sixth tone, the latter being in two sections, the second opening with a triple-time version of the first (in C time) that leads into a return to C time.

Volumes 3 (nos. 38-51) and 4 (52-67) contain a generous selection of pieces representing Cabezónís art of variation and intabulation/glossing. Nos. 35-37 are from the Henestrosa anthology and are much simpler in style; the Pavana no. 37 (unusually in triple time) in particular with its added Glosa gives clear hints to beginners on how glossing could be practised. Nos. 38-59 (with the exception of nos. 47-48 which are two Hymn settings) comprise a good choice from the over 40 glossed Chansons and Motets published in the Obras, these settings being closer to contemporary Polish sources than to Italian and French settings of the same songs. Nos. 38-46 and 49 are in four parts, 50-58 in five and 59 in six; those in five and six parts will need great care in fingering, (indeed, Hernando writes that the player will have to cope as best he can since the difficulty of the passagework admits of no system that can be followed) as well as some flexibility in treatment of note values; they also offer much guidance in the art of ornamentation and deserve to be much better known. Volume four concludes with seven sets of variations and the glosa on Dont vient cela; the variations cover three dances (two settings of La Pavana Italiana, and La Galliarda Milanesa) the ground bass song Las Vacas and three popular songs, including the lovely La dama le demanda. All are written in beautifully flowing four-part counterpoint and are probably the most accessible of Cabezónís pieces to todayís player and listener.

Each volume contains the general introduction, which includes a brief biography, description of the printed and manuscript tradition and corpus of the works, information on the Spanish number tablature, and Cabezónís tradition. There are comprehensive notes on the complexities of meter and proportional notation, and on fingering as given in the two printed sources. The descriptions of how to play the ornaments, taken from the theorist Tomas de Santa Maria, as well as from Venegas and Hernando Cabezónís publications, and regarded universally as absolutely essential to add grace and style to the music, is the one area which could have been expanded, as well, perhaps as hints on adding glosses between long value notes Ė this, along with the application of rhythmic inequality described by Santa Maria, is a subject of and with which all too many players still have relatively little knowledge or familiarity. The concepts of the “semitonia subintelecta” and musica ficta are discussed, and to conclude there is some most interesting information on contemporary keyboard instruments, with specifications of two organs from the mid-16th century to assist the player of today. Facsimiles of two pages from prints in Spanish cifra notation will enable those who are sufficiently interested to compare the editorsí transcription and see the many problems inherent in this type of notation. The print size is very clear, with 4-5 systems a page. A full critical report gives the sources and original headings for each piece along with editorial interventions and an extensive bibliography gives much scope for further reading and research into specific and general aspects; a list of modern partial and complete editions is included. Full plainchant melodies for the Liturgical works, along with the openings of the original vocal models for the glossed works and the variations are provided after the pieces in question; comparison of these with the keyboard setting will prove instructive.

As with all of the great composers, it is only by playing and immersing oneself thoroughly in this wonderful music over many years that one becomes more adept at playing Cabezónís pieces with the appropriate “buen ayre” incorporating the manifold aspects of Spanish performance practice not immediately apparent from the somewhat austere and bare looking scores, particularly in the Tientos, but which are essential to bring them to life and remove a still prevailing notion in some quarters of simplicity and even dullness. Particularly important is the inclusion of over half of the intabulations, pieces which are very well-suited to the clavichord. There are a few impossible stretches for the LH in a few pieces, where bass notes will have to be taken by the pedals on the organ, but on stringed keyboard instruments they can be moved up an octave in most cases; these volumes offer a wide variety of pieces that can be played on all manner of keyboard instruments. The editors have made an excellent selection from the large number of pieces available and have probably made the better choice in keeping the intabulations in two volumes separate from the Tientos and liturgical pieces. This highly recommended edition goes a long way in offering such a representative selection, and will perhaps lead the enthusiast from the selected works to exploring the complete works, and will remain the standard anthology for many years. This review is an expanded version of one that appeared in Clavichord International in May 2011.

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© John Collins 2015