Konstantin Bozhinov - lute, Corrine Byrne - soprano, Lidia Chang - flute,
Laura Osterlund - recorder and vielle, Sheila Heady - percussion.
From our vantage point in the twenty-first century, armed with five hundred years of hindsight, the history of the Iberian Peninsula is, indeed, an uncomfortable one. Often it is the "Westernness" of Spain that is called into question by the rest of Europe who, for many centuries, considered the culture and very genealogy of Spain to have been "contaminated" by Jews and Moors. Contamination is not, we should hope, the word that any enlightened mind would choose to describe the impact of eight centuries of Arab presence on the peninsula. We hope to demonstrate through these recordings the unique beauty of this music conceived, paradoxically, against a backdrop of religious and ethnic turmoil yet simultaneously, within two warring cultures, whose legacies now are inextricably linked. These songs and dances from the late 15th and early 16th centuries reflect the unintended symbiosis that flowered between Spanish and Islamic aesthetics.
Diego Ortiz (c. 1510-70) was born in Toledo, Spain, and later appointed maestro di capella of the Royal Chapel by Fernando Álvarez, third duke of Alba. His collection of glosas (or musical “glosses”) on monophonic melodies and polyphonic works alike was published in Rome in 1553. The Trattado de glossas sobre clausulas y otros generos de punctos en la musica de violones nuevamente puestos en luz featured a number of virtuosic recercadas on popular ground basses such as La Folia and the passamezzo antico. Although originally intended for the viola da gamba, then a popular instrument among “amateur” musicians, it is likely that other skilled instrumentalists had access to Ortiz’s work. It is just as likely that they were already ornamenting preexisting musical pieces in a style similar to Ortiz. Like Ortiz, vihuelist Luis de Narváez (c. 1526-49) was celebrated for his ability to compose and perform glosses on well-known melodies. Narváez is perhaps best known for his Los seys libros del Delphín de música: six volumes containing music for voice and the vihuela. Within are the earliest preserved variations on popular melodies and ground basses. The origins of many are obscure and may lie in the Middle Ages. Narváez’s setting of Paseavase el rey moro stands out as a testament to centuries of turmoil amid Spain’s divided religions. It is recorded that the singing of Paseavase el rey moro was prohibited, due to its purported tendency to incite Spain’s Muslim converts to righteous anger and acts of violence. Di, perra mora, a villancico by Pedro Guerrero (c. 1520) makes reference to Spain’s Moorish inhabitants, this time employing a bitter and satirical tone, while the infectious melodies and vivid texts by Juan del Encina (c. 1468-1530) highlight prevalent political tensions, voice human pathos, and cast everyday scenes in a brand new light. Mas vale trocar touches upon themes of unfulfilled, chivalrous love; Una sañosa porfía rails against the cruelties faced by the ill-fated and bereft. ¿Qu'es de ti, desconsolado? remembers the fall of the city of Granada in 1492, the subsequent expulsion of Spain’s Jews, and forced conversions of Moors by the thousands.
In addition to compositions attributed to known Spanish composers, nearly five hundred polyphonic works preserved in the Cancionero de Palacio, speak to myriad moods and aesthetic tendencies that have survived the test of time. The villancico predominates throughout the Cancionero, alongside its counterparts: the romance and canción. Al alba venid offers gentle summons for a lover at dawn, while La tricotea, another villancico, accompanies the story of a rowdy, drunken soldier with a volley of nonsense syllables: orli, cerli, niqi, and so forth.
Ensemble Musica Humana is a vibrant, young ensemble specializing in imaginative performances of Medieval and Renaissance music. Drawing from primary sources we seek to shed new light on music from this volatile time in human history, and breathe life into the multitude of music from these eras that has yet to be performed or recorded.
The ensemble takes its name from the Pythagorean concept of the Music of the Spheres as presented in the seminal work of Boethius, De Musica, which describes the three branches of music. Musica Mundana, the divine harmony created by the movements of the stars and planets; Musica Instrumentalis, the sounds made by instruments and singers; and Musica Humana, the music that resonates within the human body when it is in harmony with the music of the spheres.