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Spanish Medieval Music

As a geographic crossroads between North Africa, the Mediterranean and Europe, Spain developed its own unique musical style combining French and Italian European forms with African and Arab rhythms, and Sephardic and Arab melodic gestures. During the first centuries of the Christian era, Spain was part of the Roman Empire and came under the influence of Greek and Roman music, as well as Christian chant. From 400-711, various Germanic tribes ruled over sections of Spain, providing another set of influences. Under Moorish rule, which began with the invasion in 711, religious tolerance prevailed. The music and rituals of Christianity and Judaism flourished alongside Arab traditions, though it is thought that the popular music of the time was stylistically similar to Moorish music. These three streams became known as the “three cultures of Spain.”

Zorzal performs several songs from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, the largest collection of medieval music from Spain. This illustrated codex includes more than 400 Marian antiphons that combine secular Galician-Portuguese poetic forms with a religious and moral message with music drawn from both sacred and secular sources.  It was compiled by King Alfonso X (1221-1284), who encouraged intellectuals from all three cultures to work together on collaborative projects. We also perform pieces from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, a collection of Latin-language pilgrimage songs from Compostela de Santiago.

Zorzal repertoire:

Belial vocatur (Codex las Huelgas, 13th century)

This Marian motet tells of the presentation of Jesus at the temple (traditionally considered to be on Candlemas, February 2), where he was seen as the fulfillment of prophecies by Simeon the righteous and Anna the prophetess. Apparently some of the text is missing in the original manuscript, which explains the somewhat confusing nature of the text. The Las Huelgas Codex is a collection of music from the Cistercian convent of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas in Burgos, Spain. This collection is unique because it was written for performance by nuns, who were ordinarily proscribed from performing polyphonic music by the rules of the order.

Cantiga #200 Santa Maria loei (Cantigas de Santa Maria, 14th cent.)

Cantiga #79

Cantiga #303

Mariam matrem and Stella splendens (Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, 14th cent.)

The Llibre Vermell of Montserrat is a codex that includes 10 pieces of music designed for use by pilgrims travelling to the shrine of Black Virgin at the Benedictine monastery in Montserrat, outside of Barcelona, Spain. Many pilgrims went there because they believed they could receive miracles. They lodged in the church itself, and these songs were designed to give them something to sing instead of rowdy popular songs. It was an internationally famous pilgrimage site, and shrines to the Virgin of Montserrat were built in Mexico, Chile, and Peru. The songs are in a mixture of Latin and Catalan.

Qalbī bi-qalbī/Don Alonso (traditional Arab & Spanish)

 Despite the banishment of its practitioners, Arabic culture was strongly influential in the development of the Spanish “Golden Age” (1492–mid 1600s). Spanish vernacular poetry drew on Arabic poetic forms, while Spanish Renaissance music inherited asymmetrical rhythms and Arabic melodic gestures, as well as the genre’s affinity for plucked instruments. The Arab poetic form muwashshah was adopted by both Sephardic and Spanish writers; this form had five stanzas alternating with a refrain, and ended with a couplet called a kharja. Qalbī bi-qalbī is the oldest kharja for which the music is preserved, having been cited by Francisco Salinas (1513-1590) in his treatise, De musica libri septem. This kharja, which uses Arabic asymmetrical meter, was popularized through the theatrical works of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).  The melody was used for the popular Spanish folk song Rey don Alonso.

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