Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Escapades in Early Music, Writing, and Editing

Composer Biography: Maddalena Casulana (c1540-c1590)

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Also known as Signor Maddalena Casaulana de Mezari or Maddelena Mezari dette Casulana.

Maddalena Casulana was a composer, lutenist, and singer of some repute, and was probably the first woman to declare herself a professional musician and composer.

By 1568, when her piece was conducted at a royal wedding by Orlando di Lasso (c1530-1594), she was already known to be a woman of notable pride and confidence. In the same year, Antonio Molino (c1495-1571), a Venetian merchant, actor, and whimsical writer thought to be one of the founding fathers of the commedia dell’arte movement, dedicated his book of four-part madrigals to Casulana. He said that the work was a product of old age and of studying music with her.

In 1569, the Vicentine poet Giambattista Maganza (c1513-1586) dedicated a canzone to her. In the following year, Maddalena dedicated her second book of madrigals to Dom Antonio Londonio (dates unavailable), a highly placed official in Milan, whose wife, Isabella (dates unavailable), was a noted singer.

She was probably born in Casole d’Elsa near Sienna. Her name implies origin in Casole, but no one knows for sure. Author and astronomer Alessandro Piccolmini (1508-1579) claims her for Sienna, but tells us nothing else about her.

She trained in Casole and then moved to Florence, where her patrons were the first to hear her own compositions. From there, she went on to Venice, where she gave private lessons in singing and composition from around 1568. She was also known to play the lute for private entertainments. She visited Verona, Milan, and Florence, and probably met her husband as she traveled. Nothing is known about her husband. (Isn’t that a switch? Usually nothing is known about the wives!)

In 1568, she published her first collection of madrigals for four voices in Venice. The next two collections were published in 1570 and 1583, and her last was published in 1586. Her works also appeared in anthologies in 1566 and 1567.

As I mentioned at the start, one of her secular Latin pieces was played by Orlando di Lasso (c1532-1594) at the marriage of Archduke Wilhelm V of Bavaria in 1568, along with that of another female composer, Caterina Willaert, a relative (but not offspring) of the famous master, Adriano Willaert (c1490-1562). Sadly, the music hasn’t survived, but it was called Nil mage incundum. It was a five-part madrigal.

Her personal writings indicate that in her early 20s, Casulana set out to be a professional musician, and to support herself with her art. Despite this unusual assertion, she was regarded well by the upper echelons of society.

Not much is known about her activities after 1570, but the poet Giambattista Crispolti (dates unavailable) describes a banquet in Perugia where Casulana sang for her supper in 1582. In that same year, publisher Angelo Gardano (1540-1611) dedicated his collection of madrigals to her, begging her to favor him with her own contributions to the neglected genre.

She performed at a meeting of the Acadamia Olimpica in Vincenza in 1583, which, at one time, owned a portrait of her. In her 1583 publication, her name was Madalena Mezari detta Casulana Vicentina, which suggests that she married at some time after 1570 and settled in Vicenza. Perhaps it was her marriage that kept her out of the public eye. It isn’t known whether she had children or not.

Compositions

Casulana wrote three books of madrigals, the first published musical works ever by a woman. The first collection, printed in 1566, was called Il Primo libro di madrigal.

In total, there are 66 madrigals, of which five previously appeared in anthologies. Another is found only in an anthology (Primo libra de madrigal a Quattro voci, Venice 1568). It was dedicated to Isabella de’ Medici Orsina (1542-1576), a noted patron of the arts and an amateur musician. Casulana made a comment in her dedication to the effect that men don’t hold a monopoly on efforts of intellect.

Her madrigals reveal originality and personal style, but they suffer from being a kind of catalogue of word-painting devices. She doesn’t seem to have had a specific teacher, and some of the stock elements are missing, or are over- or underused. For instance, there are few examples of imitation, and themes are repeated at too close an interval to contrast with the generally homophonic texture. She overuses chromatic alteration and uses such mannerisms as excessive voice crossing (where a low voice ends up higher than a high voice), awkward ranges, strange chord inversions, and too-frequent parallel fifths and octaves.

These weaknesses are eclipsed by original and stunning effects. Textures, sometimes monotonous and cramped, at other times provide effective contrast, such as in passages with dramatic opposition between high and low registers, or passages in the fauxbourdon style (parallel fifths, sixths, or octaves). Her harmonic effects are often striking.

Sometimes, a long melodic line is created where one voice makes a slow and dramatic chromatic rise, culminating at the climax of the piece. Her use of dissonance is also masterful and modern, often sprinkled with dominant seventh chords, approached and resolved in the usual way, at a time when this chord could hardly be found elsewhere, except in the music of such composers as Cipriano Rore (c1515-1565), Adrian Willaert (c1490-1562), or Orlando di Lasso (c1530-1594).

Her texts include some of her own poetry and some by Petrarch (1304-1374), Annibale Caro (1507-1566), Luigi Tansillo (1510-1568), Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530), Serafino Aquilano (1466-1500), Vincenzo Quirino (dates unavailable), Bernardo Tasso (1493-1569) and Giulio Strozzi (dates unavailable, but adoptive—and probably natural—father of Barbara Strozzi).

Composer Philippus de Monte (1521-1603) tried to enlist her help in reviving the three-part madrigal, and referred to her as “the muse and siren of our age.” But then she disappeared.

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1995.

“Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northwestern University Press, Boston, 1996.

“The History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

“Women & Music, A History,” by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.

“Women Making Music, The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1959,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1997.

Composer Biography: Trobairitz, The Female Troubadours

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Only a few women are known to have produced troubadour music. As a species, they’re called the trobairitz, and there are probably more women among the unattributed troubadour music that haven’t yet been identified. The truth is, we don’t know who wrote most of the poems and songs.

There are 2100 troubadour pieces preserved, only 1400 of which include the music. Only 460 troubadours have been identified, and so far, the one who produced the most music (45 pieces) is Bernart de Ventadorn. That means that loads of the remaining pieces could have been written by women; we just haven’t identified them yet. Certainly, most of the pieces are ABOUT women. Which doesn’t preclude women from having written them.

The term trobairitz wasn’t used by these female troubadours themselves, but came up in 13th century Flamenca, which is now in Spain. Trobairitz comes from the same word as troubadour, “trobar,” which means “to compose” or “to find.”

The trobairitz composed, wrote poetry, and performed for the Occitan noble courts. They were part of courtly society—some of the troubadours, such as Bernart de Ventadorn, were of lower class, but the trobairitz weren’t. They were all nobility. They were also the first known female composers of western secular music.

Women at court were expected to sing, play instruments, and write poetical debates. And noblewomen in southern France had more control than elsewhere regarding land ownership because so many of the men were away on the Crusades. That led to the existence of the (somewhat) free-spirited trobairitz—educated, monied, and uncommitted.

We have records of their lives from something called vidas, which were loosely based the hagiographies called vitas. It’s interesting that most of these vidas were produced after the troubadour period ended. They’re pretty unreliable sources, as they often consisted of romanticized extrapolations from the poetry that the trobairitz (and troubadours) produced. But they name 23 female poets with 32 works attributed to them, so we have to be grateful for that.

The number of songs attributed to trobairitz is somewhere between 23 and 46, depending on your sources. There are many reasons for the discrepancy. It’s hard to know from the poetry itself whether or not it was written by a woman, a man speaking as a woman, or a woman speaking as a man. Some songs were presumed to be written by a certain person regardless of whether they were or not. Others were part of an exchange where two people wrote back and forth and perhaps only one got credit, or credit was given to two men when one of the writers was female. Some modern editors attribute the exchange only to the originator, male or female. And of course, many were anonymous.

The most famous trobairitz was Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, but you should know some other names, too.

Alamanda (fl. late 12th century)

Not much is known about Alamanda, but it’s thought that she was from Castelnau (near Montpelier).

She exchanged a tenso (argument song) with with Giraut (or Giraut) de Bornelh (c1138-1215) called S’ieus quier cossella bel ami Alamanda. The music survives in one manuscript and is the only example of her work that exists. Giraut wrote love songs to her.

Alamanda was considered fictitious until recent efforts revealed three other troubadours’ mention of her, including the trobaritz Lombarda (see below) from Toulouse.

Azalais de Porcairages (fl. mid12th century)

Also Alasais de Porcaragues

Nothing is known of Azalaiz’s dates but it’s thought that she came from the village of Portiragnes, just east of Beziers and about six miles south of Montpellier, close to the territories owned by the man she loved and his brothers.

Only one of her poems survives. The music is lost. The poem has 52 lines but the text varies considerably between manuscripts, so we only know for sure about the subject matter. The poem is nominally about the 1173 death of Raimbaut of Orange (c1147-1173). Raimbaut was the son of William VII and Tibors, who are going to come up again in a minute, in the Tibors discussion.

At any rate, the poem mentions Ermengarde of Narbonne (1143-1197), a well known patroness of troubadour poetry. The third strophe of the poem contributes to an ongoing debate begun by Guilhem de Saint-Leidier (c1150-c1200). The question was whether a lady was dishonored by taking a lover who was wealthier than herself. According to her vida, she was the lover of Gui Guerrejat (1135-1178), brother of Guillaume VII of Montpellier (1158-1202). Gui Guerrejat (1135-1178) returned her affections, but then he fell ill, became a monk, and died within the same year.

Castelloza (fl. early 13th century)

Castelloza was a noblewoman from Auvergne. She was the wife of Turc de Mairona (dates unavailable), probably the lord of Meyronne. Turc’s family participated in a Crusade sometime between 1210 or 1220, which was the origin of his name (meaning “Turk”). Castelloza was thought to be in love with Arman de Brion (dates unavailable), a member of the house of Breon and of greater social rank than her. She wrote several songs about him.

Castelloza’s vida says that she was very cheerful and fun as well as learned and beautiful. Three, possibly four, of her songs survive, all about courtly love, and all without the music. This number makes her the second most prolific of the trobairitz after Beatriz de Dia. Castelloza is a more conservative poet than Beatriz, and although she remained committed to absolute fidelity, she talks at length about conditional and unconditional love.

Garsenda de Proença (c1180-c1242)

Garsenda was Countess of Provence and Countess of Forcalquier. She was the daughter of Rainou (or Renier), who was Lord of Caylar (dates unavailable), and Garsenda (dates unavailable), daughter of William IV of Forcalquier (1130-1208). After her mother died, Garsenda inherited Forcalquier from her grandfather. The Crusades had eaten away at the males in the family.

Garsenda was only 13 years old when William IV and Alfonso II (1157-1209) signed the Treaty of Aix in 1193, which allowed Garsenda to inherit William’s whole county. They also agreed that Garsenda would marry Alfonso II, who was in line to become Count of Provence. They married at Aix-en-Provence the same year and had at least two children, Raymond Berengar IV (1198-1245) and Garsenda (dates unknown).

In 1209, both Garsenda’s father and her husband died, and Garsenda became the guardian of their son and heir. Her brother in law, Peter II of Aragon (1178-1213), assigned the regency of Provence to his own brother Sancho (dates unavailable), but when Peter II died in 1213, Sancho became regent of Aragon and passed Provence and Forcalquier to his son Nuno Sanchez (c1185-1242).

Dissension broke out between the Catalans and the partisans of the Countess, who accused Nuno of trying to supplant Garsenda’s son, Raymond Berengar (1198-1245). The Provencal aristocracy allied themselves with Garsenda. Overwhelmed, Nuno high-tailed it back to Catalonia. The regency passed to Garsenda and a regency council was established from among the local nobles. She brought Forcalquier to the House of Barcelona and united it to Provence.

During her tenure as regent (c1209-c1220), Garsenda became the focus of a literary circle. The vida of troubadour Elias de Barjols (fl.1191-1230) refers to his patron as Alfonso, but Alfonso was long dead, so it was likely Garsenda.

There’s a tenso (an argument or debate in song) between Garsenda and an anonymous troubadour. In the poem, the lady declares her love for her interlocutor, who responds rather carefully. Some experts think that the unidentified troubadour is Gui de Cavailon (fl.1200-1229), whose vida includes the rumor that he was the countess’ lover. Gui was at the Provençal court between 1200 and 1209, so it’s possible.

Garsenda was a patron of Occitan literature, especially the troubadours, as well as writing her own poetry and songs. One of Garsenda’s poems survives in two different manuscripts, without music.

She was also the subject of a few songs. Aquitainian troubadour Elias de Barjois (fl. 1191-1230) fell in love with her during her widowhood, and for the rest of his public life, wrote songs about her. He entered a monastery with his love unfulfilled. Raimon Vidal (c1196-1252) also praised Garsenda’s patronage of troubadours.

In 1217 or 1220, Garsenda ceded Forcalquier to her son and retired to the monastery of La Celle (about 140 miles northeast of Limoges and about 75 miles from Forcalquier) in 1225. In 1242, she left the monastery to visit her newly born great granddaughter, Beatrice of England (1242-1275) in Bordeaux. Beatrice’s father, Henry III of England (1207-1282) was engaged in a war in France, and Garsenda brought 60 knights to help his cause.

She may have lived until 1257, when someone named Garsenda made a significant donation to a church in St. Jean (in the Pyrenees) on the condition that three priests pray for her soul and that of her long-dead husband.

Gormonda de Monpeslier (fl. 1226-1229)

Gormonda was from Montpelier in Languedoc. Only one piece has been attributed to her, but it was called the first French political poem by a woman.

She wrote a response to the famous anti-papal songs of Guilhem Figueira (c1208-after 1244), called Greu m’es a durar, imitating Guilhem’s poem in meter and rhyme for about 20 stanzas. Instead of blaming the papal legate Pelagius of Albano (c1165-1230) for the failure of the Fifth Crusade, she laid the blame on the foolishness of wicked people. She approved of the Crusade against the heretics at home, saying that heresy was more dangerous than Islam, and that the hearts of the heretics were false. She expressed an interest in watching Guilhem being tortured to death; she was probably not as fun to be around as Garsenda or Castellosa.

Little else is known about her, but it seems likely that she was closely associated with the orthodox clergy of southern France, Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), the French monarchy, and many other troubadours because of her political stance.

Lombarda (c1190-1262)

Lombarda is known only from her vida and a short tenso (argument song). She was probably from a banking or merchant family, and possibly from Gascony. According to her vida, she was noble, beautiful, charming, learned, and skilled at composing songs about fin’amors.

She was probably married and in her early 20s at the time of her poetic activity. Before 1217, when Bernart Arnaut (d.1226) claimed Armagnac, Bernart’s brother Geraud V (d.1219) visited and befriended Lombarda. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye when he left and sent a short poem to her house. Lombarda’s response is her only surviving work.

Her one attributed poem is in the trobar clus style (a “closed” style enjoyed by a scant few and perfected by Marcabru c1099-1150), one of the few women to do so. Her only surviving work is included in her vida.

Maria de Ventadorn (c. 1165-1222)

Also Maria Ventedorn, Marie de Ventadour, Marie de Turenne, Marguerite de Turenne.

Maria was the daughter of Raimon II Viscount of Turenne (1143-1191), and the wife of Eble V (d. after 1236), Viscount of Ventadorn. Along with her two sisters, she, according to Bertran de Born (c1140-before 1215), possessed “all earthly beauty.” She was the beloved patron of many troubadours.

She had a son, Elbe VI (dates unknown), who married Dauphine de la Tour d’Auvergne (1220-1299), and a daughter, called Alix or Alasia. Elbe V, Maria’s husband, was the grandson of Eble III (d.1170), who’d been a patron of the early troubadour Bernat de Ventadorn, and he was the great-grandson of Eble le chanteur (after 1086-1155), believed to have been among the creators of the troubadour genre.

Maria exchanged a tenso (debate song) with Gui d’Ussel (fl.1195-1209). This one poem is the only surviving example of her work, and no music survives. The song dates from around 1197. She and Gui alternated verses, debating whether becoming a lady’s lover elevates a man to be her social equal or whether he remains her servant. Maria argued the servant side.

She was mentioned in the works of several troubadours, including those of Gaucelm Faidit (c1170-c1202), the Monk of Mantaudon (fl 1193-1210), Gausbert de Puicibot (fl.1220-1231), Pons de Capduelh (fl. 1160-1220), Guiraut de Calanso (fl.1202-1212), Bertran de Born (1140s-c1215), and Gui d’Ussel (fl.1195-1209). She may also have had her own knight, Hugh IX of Lusignan (c1163-1219).

Tibors de Sarenom (c1130-after 1198)

Tibors was the sister and guardian of the troubadour Raimbaut d’Orange (c1147-1173) and the wife of the troubadour Bertrand des Baux (c1137-c1183). She was the earliest known trobairitz during the classical period of medieval Occitan literature, at the height of troubadour activity.

Only one poem and no music of hers survives. It’s the earliest surviving trobairitz poem, from 1150, called Beis dous amics and is included in her vida. Her name is in an anonymous ballad dated between 1220-1245, wherein she acts as the judge of a game of poetry.

She was a lady of Provence, from a castle of En Blacatz, called Sarenom, about 110 miles northeast of Marseille, and 40 miles from Forcalquier, where Garsenda (see above) lived near the end of Tibor’s life. Tibor was courtly and accomplished, gracious, and very wise. She knew how to write poems, and she fell in love frequently and had suitors. She was greatly honored by all the men in her circle, and she was admired and respected by all the worthy ladies, according to her vida.

Her history is hard to parse. Most of the vidas were more hypothetical than factual, and Tibors was a very common name in Occitania. Her mother (Tibors d’Aurenga, dates unavailable), and her two daughters (yes, both of them) were also named Tibors.

Her father was Guilhem d’Omelas (d.c1156), and he came to own the castle of Sarenom (possibly present-day Serignan-du-Comtat in Provence or maybe Serignan in the Roussillon) through his marriage to Tibors d’Aurenga. Tibors d’Aurenga’s minor son (our Tibors’ brother) Raimbaut d’Orange (c1147-1173) inherited the castle when Tibors d’Aurenga died, so Tibors (our Tibors) and her second husband Bertran dels Baus (c1137-c1183) took it over.

Tibors had three sons by Bertran, Uc, Bertran, and Guilhem, also a troubadour. Tibor died shortly after Bertran. Documents about her are confusing (for obvious reasons).

Sources:

“Music in the Medieval West; Western Music in Context,” by Margot Fassler. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014.

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1995.

“Women Writers of the Middle Ages,” by Peter Dronke. Cambridge University Press, New York, 1984.

Composer Biography: Bernart de Ventadorn (c1130-c1200)

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Also Bernard de Ventadour, Bernat dei Ventadorn, and, in our times, the Master Singer.

Bernart de Ventadorn was one of the best-known troubadour composers, partly because so many of his works survive intact, partly because of his influence on the music of both troubadours (southern France) and trouvères (northern France), and partly because of the company he kept.

About 2600 troubadour poems survive, and only a tenth of those have music. Trouvère numbers are better—2100 poems with 1400 pieces of music. We have 45 of Bernart’s works, 18 of which have music, which is the largest number from a single (identified) composer.

The origins of troubadour music are unclear, although it seems possible that sources or influences include Arabic songs, which was known in France as early as the 9th century. Bernart is often credited with being the most important influence in the development of the trouvère tradition in northern France as well as that of the troubadours. He was well-known there and his melodies were widely circulated.

Bernart also had some impact on Latin literature. Boncampagno (c1165-after 1240), an Italian scholar, wrote about him in Antiqua metorica in 1215. Some of his songs survived in German texts, translated by Minnesingers such as Friedrich von Hüsen (c1150-c1190) and Dietmar von Aist (c1115-c1191). Some must also have been in English, because some of his best works were written at Eleanor of Aquitaine’s husband’s court, Henry II of England (1133-1189), during Bernart’s short visit there in the 1150s.

Troubadours flourished until the horrors of the Albigensian Crusade of 1209-1229, which ferociously extinguished the high culture of Provence and Languedoc, destroying most of the troubadour music and poetry, and scattering the troubadours northward. Troubadour art had already spread north, thanks in part to the influence of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), who took Bernart with her, first to the French court and then to England (from 1154-1155). Eleanor’s son, Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199), was a trouvère, which simply means that he was a troubadour who wrote in French rather than Provençal.

There are many stories about where Bernart came from, and the most likely is that he was born to a servant at the court of the Viscount of Ventadorn (now called Correze). Other stories are that he was the son of a kitchen scullion or a baker, that he was the son of a soldier rather than a nobleman.

He first worked for Viscount Eble II of Ventadorn (c1086-1155), from whom he learned the art of singing and writing, and then for the Duchess of Normandy (1105-1152).

Bernart composed his first poems to Eble II’s wife, Marguerite de Turenne (c1120-c1201). He declared his love for Marguerite and was forced to leave Ventadorn. He traveled first to Montluçon (about 90 miles northeast of Limoges, and perhaps 120 miles from Ventadorn) and then to Toulouse, another 30 miles west.

In Toulouse, he met Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), who hired him. He followed her to England, staying in England only a year. He then returned to Toulouse, where he was employed by Raimon V (c1134-c1194), the Count of Toulouse.

Bernart ‘s preserved work dates from 1147 to 1180. There are 45 poems attributed to him, 18 of them with complete melodies, which is more than any other 12th century poet. Some of his songs, including his most famous, Quan vei l’aloete, show the melodic influence of Gregorian chant.

The fame of Quan vei l’aloete is what brought that same song change and mutilation—more than it might have suffered had it been obscure. But we have to be grateful because it’s due to these variations that modern scholars can piece together how the original might have sounded. For instance, we know that it originated in Occitan and there was also a version in Old French. A later generation knew it by its melody with another text, Plaine d’ire et de desconfort.

The initial melodic phrase of the song recalls the opening of a Kyrie (from the Vatican IX Mass Cum Jubilo). That’s interesting because the tune was given Latin words by Chancellor Philippe (c1160-1236) of Paris under the title Quisquis cordis et oculi, and the words change to detail the famous argument between the heart and the eye. This Latin version was sung all over Europe in monasteries.

There was also a French translation of the Latin text, Li cuers se vait de l’uiel plaignant, and a sacred version in the Mystery of St. Agnes, Seyner mil gracias ti rent. So many legends grew up around this song that Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) mentioned it in the 20th canto of Paradiso.

The song’s lyrics from Bernart are about love’s despair in the guise of a lark:

I see the lark in joy rise on its wings in the rays of the sun and then, oblivious, let itself fall. Because of the gladness that fills its heart, such great envy comes upon me to see it so joyful, and I wonder then that I do not rave and that my heart does not melt with desire.

Bernart formalized the chanson song form to allow sudden changes and ornaments. He popularized the trobar leu style, which was a delicate and cheerful style of song popular among troubadours. It defined the genre of courtly love poetry, and was imitated and reproduced throughout the 150 years of troubadour activity.

Bernart was known for portraying his idealized woman first as a divine agent and then suddenly as Eve, the original cause of mankind’s downfall. He often portrays this woman as clever and witty along with wicked. Remember how he got kicked out of Ventadorn? It’s nice that he was able to romanticize his experience. It could have gone rather badly wrong had he been less talented.

Bernart’s popularity has persisted into our times. There was a BBC television series called The Devil’s Crown in the late 70s that featured Bernart. Ezra Pound (1885-1972), the American expatriate poet, had a lifelong fascination with the trouvères and troubadours of Provence and southern France, and quoted from Bernart’s Can vei la lauzeta.

Late in his life, Bernart went to Dordogne (about 180 miles north of Toulouse, perhaps 90 miles east of Bordeaux), where he entered a monastery. He probably died there.

Sources:

“A History of Western Music,” by J.Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2010.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1981.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” edited by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1960.

“Early Medieval Music up to 1300,” edited by Dom Anselm Hughes. Geoffrey Cumberledge imprint of Oxford University Press, London, 1954.

“Medieval Music,” by Richard H. Hoppin. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1978.

Composer Biography: Comtessa Beatriz de Dia (c1140-c1200)

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Also Countess of Dia, Comtess de Dia, and Beatritz

Pretty much all the press goes to male composers during the Middle Ages, but every now and then, a woman sneaks through their defenses. One of these was Comtessa Beatriz de Dia. She was a troubadour—or rather a trobairitz, which is the name for a female troubadour.

Troubadours were, for the most part, of noble blood, but were perhaps third (or fourth, etc.) sons (or a daughter) and not expected to inherit the family castle or join the priesthood. This left them with considerable funding and a lot of free time on their hands. Playing a musical instrument was considered suitable employment for the long and languorous hours, and a few found themselves wandering among various estates, entertaining as they went.

It was also popular at the time (12th through 14th centuries) to woo the mistress –married or otherwise—of the castle you were visiting, and the vast majority of troubadour songs are about this kind of courtly—and unrequited—love. Every now and then, like there were women troubadours, there were married noblewomen willing to stray for the sake of a little romantic poetry. Husbands looked the other way just as the wives were expected to look the other way about their own dalliances.

Beatriz was the wife of Guillem of Poitiers (dates unavailable, but possibly the grandson or great-grandson of Guillem IX, 1071-1176, the earliest of the troubadours whose works survive). Beatriz was also the lover of the famous troubadour Raimbaut d’Orange (1146-1173).

In most contemporary documents, Beatriz is known only as the Comtessa de Dia, but she was likely the daughter of Count Isoard II of Dia (dates unavailable), which is north of Montellmar in southern France. The names of these towns seem to have changed, but if Montellmar is the same place as Montelimar, it’s about 90 miles south of Lyon and halfway between Toulouse and Turin (Italy). A town called Die is about 60 miles east of Montelimar. These could just be towns with similar names and in about the same place as the troubadours hung out, though. I’m totally guessing.

It was fashionable at the time to write the lives of saints in biographies called vitas. Troubadours found that appealing and wrote secular versions called vidas. Some friend or relative wrote these things, and the details can’t be verified. This makes it entirely possible that Beatriz is a fictional character, according to one source. Or just embellished a bit. It’s hard to know.

Regardless of whether she was real or fantasy or whether anything known about her is true, her shadow reveals a lot about the women troubadours and their lovers through her poetry.

There are five pieces attributed to Beatriz, one of which is a tenso (debate). Incidentally, most of the songs attributed to trobairitz are argumentative. (History is written by the victors, and men have been the ones documenting music until the 20th century, for the most part. If you could slough off all your bad moods to the losers in a battle, wouldn’t you?)

At any rate, of the five pieces, only one has music associated with it, A chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria. This is a canso of five strophes plus a tornado, with each strophe having the musical form ABABCDB. The music was preserved in Le Manuscrit du Roi, collected by Charles of Anjou (1226-1285), the brother of Louis IX (1214-1270). Le Manuscrit du Roi contains over 600 songs, most composed between the 12th and 13th centuries.

Music notation was a slippery thing (for more about this, read The History of Music Notation) at the time, and whoever wrote down Beatriz’ surviving piece wrote it in tenor clef, as if a man would sing it, even though the pronouns that reveal gender are unequivocal. Let’s look at it!

A Chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria (translation by Meg Bogin)

Of things I’d rather keep in silence I must sing:

So bitter do I feel toward him

Whom I love more than anything.

With him my mercy and fine manners are in vain,

My beauty, virtue and intelligence.

For I’ve been tricked and cheated as if I were loathsome.

 

There’s one thing, though, that brings me recompense:

I’ve never wronged you under any circumstance,

And I love you more than Seguin loved Valensa [hero and heroine of a lost romance]

At least in love I have my victory,

Since I surpass the worthiest of men.

With me you always act so cold,

But with everyone else you’re so charming.

 

I have good reason to lament

When I feel your heart turn adamant

Toward me, my friend: it’s not right another love

Take you away from me, no matter what she says.

Remember how it was with us in the beginning

Of our love! May God not bring to pass

That I should be the one to bring it to an end.

 

The great renown that in your heart resides

And your great worth disquiet me,

For there’s no woman near or far

Who wouldn’t fall for you if love were on her mind.

But you, my friend, should have the acumen

To tell which one stands out above the rest.

And don’t forget the stanzas we exchanged.

 

My worth and noble birth should have some weight,

By beauty and especially my noble thoughts,

So I send you, there on your estate,

This song as messenger and delegate.

I want to know, my handsome noble friend,

Why I deserve so savage and cruel a fate.

I can’t tell whether it’s pride or malice you intend.

 

But above all, messenger, make him comprehend

That too much pride has undone many men.

 

There are recordings of this:

  • Studio der Frühen Musik on the album “Chansons der Troubadours”
  • Hesperion XX on “Cansos de Trobairitz”
  • Clemencic Consort on “Troubadours, volume 2”
  • French Anonymous on “Medieaval Banquet”
  • Montserrat Figueras on “Demina Nova: Canco—Estat Ai En Greu Cossirier”
  • Elizabethan Conversation, Andrea Folan, and Susan Sandman on “The Medieval Lady”
  • Giraut de Bornelh on “Troubarouds/Trouveres/Minstrels”
  • Catherine Bott on “Sweet is the Song: Music of the Troubadours & Trouvères”
  • Martin Codax on “Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman—Lover, Poet, Patroness, and Saint”

It’s important to note that this isn’t just the only piece to survive by Beatriz. It’s the only piece by a trobairitz to survive with the musical notes.

The rest of her poems were set to flute music, according to the vida. Her usual subject matter includes optimism, praise of herself and her true love, and betrayal. In one poem, Fin ioi me don’alegranssa, she makes fun of the alusengier, a person known for gossiping, comparing those who gossip to “a cloud that obscures the sun.”

East-German Irmtraud Morgner (1933-1990) uses Beatriz as the subject of a whole historical novel series. Some are available in English, but most are in German.

I find it interesting that only one of my sources written by men mentioned Beatriz. When there are only a few handfuls of music from a particular time and culture, why would they choose to leave one individual out, especially as she is the exception (being female) and not the rule?

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. The Macmillan Press Limited, New York, 1995.

“Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996.

“Women Making Music, The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987.

“Women & Music, A History,” edited by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.

“Music in the Medieval West,” by Margot Fassler. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

Composer Biography: Francesco Guerrero (1528-1599)

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Also Francisco Guerrero

Francesco Guerrero was often called El Cantor de Maria because his Marian compositions figure prominently among his works. Guerrero’s style is more tender and graceful than that of his teacher, the dour Cristóbal Morales (c1500-1553). His diatonic, singable melodies made his music popular throughout Spain and his works were sung in the New World, along with those of Cristóbal Morales (c1500-1553), Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611), and the Italian Guillermo Pierluigi da Palestrina (c1525-1594).

Guerrero was born in Seville, Spain, and his first teacher was his older brother Pedro (c1520-after 1560). Pedro was also a composer, but he didn’t gain the same kind of following as his younger brother. Francesco taught himself to play the vihuela (a six stringed guitar-shaped instrument popular in 15th and 16th century Spain, Portugal, and Italy), harp, cornetto, and organ. Francesco was talented enough to earn the attention of Cristóbal Morales, and soon became his student.

When he was 15 years old, Guerrero was a choirboy at Seville Cathedral under Pedro Fernandez de Castilleha (1485-1574), who was a composer himself. In 1545 at the ripe old age of 17, Francesco was appointed maestro de capilla at Jaen Cathedral, about 150 miles northeast of Seville. He stayed until 1549.

Guerrero was much in demand as both a singer and a composer, and established quite a reputation well before his 30th birthday. He returned to Seville Cathedral as vice-maestro in 1551, and in 1554, he succeeded Cristóbal Morales as choirmaster at Malaga Cathedral. When Castilleha retired in 1574, Guerrero became maestro at Seville Cathedral. He held that position until 1590.

At Seville, one of the posts he occupied was master of the boys, succeeding Castilleha in the position. The group of boys was popularly known as the seises (meaning the six), and were officially designated as the boy choristers. This group was organized at Seville in the 15th century, and was sanctioned by Pope Eugene IV in 1439. The sieses were a group of six boys, all under 10 years of age, to be set apart from the main body of choristers, with the duty of reciting and singing certain prayers for the Divine Office. They also performed ceremonial dances on certain feast days, notably that of Corpus Christi.

A master of the boys, including Guerrero, had the responsibility of lodging the children in his home, educating them, instructing them in music, feeding, and clothing them. This last was a rather troublesome and expensive item, because they wore elaborate costumes, which had to be frequently altered for the growing boys. It’s said that Guerrero gave away most of his money to the poor, and there were complaints that he didn’t spend enough to keep the boys dressed properly.

It’s curious that the number of dancers, despite the name, is not known ever to have been only six. At first there were eight, then 11, 12, 16, until in 1565, the number was fixed at ten by Guerrero’s predecessor and mentor Castilleha.

The history of the seises goes back to Visigothic times (5th through 8th centuries), and Toledo probably set the precedent that Seville and other places followed. In the Mozarabic rite, the role of the boys was an active one, including the Song and Dance of the Sybil and the Dance of the Shepherds. In the 15th century, Cardinal Ximenez de Cisneros (1436-1517) revived the old rites, having the dancers perform before communion was taken. The dancing of the seises was reformed by Cardinal Palafox in 1699, suppressed in 1780, and later restored again. A Toledo school for seises was opened by Cardinal Siliceo (1486-1557) in 1545.

But I digress. Despite his responsibilities, Guerrero’s popularity allowed him to do some traveling and he published several collections of music while abroad. He worked for Austrian Maximilian II (1527-1576) and traveled with him, visiting Lisbon in 1556 to present his first book of Masses to John III (1502-1557) of Portugal.

John III was a liberal patron of the arts, and, inspired by Guerrero, a long list of Portuguese composers resulted. Antonio Pinheiro (d. 1617), director of the chapel of the Dukes of Braganza, was one of Guerrero’s students and became one of the most famous. John IV of Portugal (1604-1656) would also be a staunch patron of the arts, writing music himself and defending Palestrina’s artistry in print.

Between 1581 and 1582, Guerrero visited Rome, where he published two books of his own music, returned to Spain for a while, and then went on to Venice and the Holy Land between 1588 and 1589.

During this last trip, he stopped off in Damascus, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. He was having a pretty good time, but on the return trip, his ship was attacked by pirates twice. They threatened his life, stole his money, and held him for ransom, which must have been paid, because he returned to Spain alive but penniless.

It wasn’t all peaches and cream back in Spain, and he suffered a sequence of unfortunate events that led to doing time in debtor’s prison. Finally, his old mentor from Seville Cathedral, Castilleha, rescued him, and he began to work for the Cathedral again. He published a memoir about his travels in 1590. It was a popular book, and there’s a theory that Cervantes knew it well and perhaps borrowed a detail or two. Guerrero planned another trip to the Holy Land in 1599, but died of the plague before he could go.

Compositions

Guerrero’s style was less intense than that of Morales or Victoria, but he displays a superb mastery of counterpoint with a gentle lyricism that makes him the equal of those great Spanish polyphonists. He created a wide array of moods in his music, from ecstasy to despair, through longing, joy, and devotional stillness. His music remained popular for hundreds of years, especially in cathedrals in Latin America. Happily, the resurgence of interest in early music in the late 20th century brought him to the attention of performers and audiences all over again.

He produced homophonic music (one melodic line with the other voices providing supporting chords rather than their own interesting melodies, as in polyphony), which was the fashion in Spain at the time. His melodies were particularly singable.

Unlike Victoria or Morales, he wrote both sacred and secular music.

He published 18 Masses and about 150 motets in 1555 and 1559 and a collection of spiritual secular songs in 1589. Because of their singable, diatonic lines (using a do-re-mi scale), his works were performed in Spanish and Spanish-American cathedrals for more than two centuries after his death.

Two of his Masses were Requiems, both dedicated to Mary. Their gravity is in sharp contrast with the somber terror of Morales’ Requiem. Two of his Masses are based on secular music (parodies), and five are on Marian chant themes. He inserted the name of Mary into all three sections of the Kyrie (traditionally, Kyrie eleison is repeated three times, then Christe eleison is repeated three times, and the Kyrie eleison is repeated three more times). He dedicated his Book II of Masses (published in 1582) to the Virgin Mary.

He produced four books of motets, several volumes of psalms, a volume of eight Magnificats, music for Vespers, and two Passions, one each to St. John and St. Matthew. He wrote an Office for the Dead that he published in 1589.

His volume of Magnificat settings (1563) contains one in each of the eight modes (for more about the modes, see Musical Modes, Part 1: Church Modes). The even-numbered verses were in four-part polyphony—the mode appears in each of the four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), with a second alto in verse 12 singing the tone in canon with the first alto.

His reputation for writing Marian works is not only because he wrote them, but also because they’re lovely. In his Ave Virgo sanctissima for five voices (printed 1570), he uses familiar melodies from the chant to highlight certain words, such as Ave Maris stella. There’s considerable use of imitation in the piece, and the upper voices form a canon.

A minor but interesting part of Guerrero’s works is somewhat or completely secular. He wrote some spiritual madrigals meant to be used in a secular context, set to Spanish texts that reflect Counter-Reformation fervor. (Luther’s Reformation had taken hold of Northern Europe by the end of the 16th century, and Rome took strong measures to counteract them.) In 1589, he published a collection of canciones and spiritual villancicos to Spanish texts, some of which are religious parodies. They illustrate his ability to be elegant without being pretentious.

Some of his secular compositions were printed in instrumental transcriptions by vihuelists Miguel de Fuenllana (c1500-1579), Esteban Daza (c1537-1596), and Alonso Mudurra (1510-1580), as well as in purely vocal form.

Francesco Guerrero died of the plague in Seville in 1599.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W> Norton & Co., New York., 2010.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.

Composer Biography: Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611)

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Also Tommaso Ludovico da Vittoria (the Italian version of his name)

When people think about the 16th century, there are three names that come to mind: Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c1525-1594), Orlando de Lassus (1532-1594), and Tomas Luis de Victoria. It’s interesting to note that the other two are Italians—Victoria was a Spaniard, although he spent time in Italy and may have studied under Palestrina.

Sometimes called the “Spanish Palestrina,” Victoria had a very polished style, and his Masses, along with those of Cristobal de Morales (c1500-1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1589, biography coming shortly), and Palestrina, were popular in the recently colonized New World. It’s no coincidence that three of those four composers were Spanish.

Victoria was born into a distinguished family in the province of Avila, possibly in the town of Sanchidrian. His parents, Francisco Luis de Victoria and Francisca Suarez de la Concha, married in 1540. He was the seventh child of eleven children.

There were important relatives on both sides of the family, including three cousins on his mother’s side—Cristobal was a naval commander, Hernando was a Jesuit pioneer in Mexico, and Baltazar was a merchant in Florence who became a nobleman when he married Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici’s sister-in-law. An uncle on Victoria’s father’s side (and after whom Tomas was named) was a lawyer who pled cases before the royal chancery at Valladolid. This uncle entered the priesthood after his wife’s death and in 1577 was installed as a canon of Avila Cathedral. Avila Cathedral is going to come up frequently in this story.

Victoria’s father died in 1557, and another priest uncle, Juan Luis, took charge of the orphaned family.

Victoria’s classical education took place at Saint Gil, a school for boys in Avila that was founded by Jesuits. It was a school of such high reputation that St. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582) insisted that her own nephews attend the school

In Avila, Victoria was choirboy at the Cathedral. You’ll recall that his namesake uncle was a canon there. After his voice broke, Victoria was sent to the Jesuit Collegio Germanico in Rome, around 1563, although some sources suggest 1565. The school was a German seminary in Rome, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) to combat Lutheranism.

At the Collegio Germanico, there were two kinds of students: those in training for the German missionary priesthood, and a larger group of English, Spanish, and Italian boarders, whose fees helped to maintain the college. Victoria was among the latter and was specifically enrolled as a singer.

At the college, young Victoria achieved fluency in Latin, and had a very rewarding time there. In his first collection of motets in 1572, he acknowledged his debt to one of the chief benefactors of the college. Victoria surely knew Palestrina, who was maestro di cappella of the nearby Seminario Romano, and may have been taught by him. He succeeded Palestrina there as choirmaster in 1571 and held the same post at the Collegio Germanico from 1573 to 1578.

He was a singer and organist at Saint Maria di Monserrato from 1569 until at least 1574 and he joined a chaplaincy at Saint Giralamo della Carita in 1578 and stayed until 1585. During those years, he published five sumptuous volumes containing hymns, Magnificat settings, Masses, an Office for Holy Week with 37 pieces in it, and an anthology of motets. In the last of these five collections, there were also two motets by Guerrero and another by the Italian Francesco Soriano (c1548-1621).

By the time he was 20, it was time for Victoria to start earning a living. From 1568 until 1571, he may have been maestro at the private chapel of Prince-Bishop of Augsburg, Otto Truchsess von Waldburg (1514-1573).

From 1569 until 1574, Victoria was a singer and organist at Saint Maria di Monserrato, the Aragonese church in which the two Spanish popes are buried. He earned a single scudo (worth about $0.06) for one month’s salary.

In 1571, he was engaged to teach music at the Collegio Germanico to interested boarders at a salary of 15 giulios (a giulio was about 1/100th of a scudo). In 1573, college authorities decided to separate the Italian boarders from the German seminarians, and there was a parting ceremony. Victoria composed a piece for it, Super flumina Babylonis, and Victoria’s pupils and others sang the eight-part psalm. (The psalm, number 137, speaks of the sadness of Jews exiled from Jerusalem.) After the separation, Victoria taught the German seminarians, with Latin as their mutual language. He was appointed maestro di cappella and paid two scudi a month, increasing to three in 1574 (from $0.12 to $0.18).

In 1574, the college was given the Apollinare and the adjoining church as their new home, on the condition that the student body sing the entire Office on at least 20 days of the church year. Victoria stayed until the end of 1576. He graduated into the priesthood and was ordained deacon by the last pre-Reformation English bishop, Thomas Goldwell (d.1585).

From 1579 until 1585, his income came largely from five Spanish benefaces conferred by Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), which earned him 307 ducats a year (a ducat is worth 1.09 scudi, so $20.08). He further increased his income by occasionally serving at Saint Giacomo degli Spagnoli, who gave him four scudi ($0.24) for Corpus Christi services. In 1579, he received six scudi ($0.36), and 60 baiocchi (not quite $0.04) and in 1580, nine scudie and 60 biaocchi (about $0.58). In 1582, he and a number of choristers received nine scudi ($0.54) for singing at the celebration of the victory by Spanish naval forces at the Battle of Terceira in the Azores.

In 1577, he was ordained as a priest and joined the Oratory of Saint Filippo Neri. He also took up a chaplaincy at San Girolamo della Carita. In the dedication to Philip II in his Missarum libri duo (1583), Victoria expressed a desire to return to Spain and lead a quiet life as a priest. In response, the king named him chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress Maria, daughter of Charles V, wife of Maximilian II, and mother of two other emperors, and who, from 1581, lived in retirement with her daughter, Princess Margarita at the Monasterio de las Descalzas de Sainte Clara, in Madrid.

The convent was established in 1564 by Juana de la Cruz, sister of Saint Francisco de Borja, and was liberally endowed by Charles V’s daughter Juana, who married John III of Portugal. The 33 cloistered nuns there heard Mass daily in an elegant small chapel, attended by priests who were required to be accomplished singers of plainchant and polyphony. Victoria served the dowager empress at the convent from 1585 until her death in 1603, with an annual salary of 120 ducats ($7.20). He stayed on, serving the Empress’ daughter and as maestro of the convent choir until 1604.

Life at the convent was pretty good and no cathedral job could tempt him. In 1587, he turned down invitations to Seville and Saragossa. But that doesn’t mean that he lived in ignominy. The elite in Madrid often went to services at the convent, where Victoria’s works were a regular feature.

In 1591, he became godfather to his niece, Isabel de Victoria, his brother’s child.

In 1592, he was granted an extended leave to supervise the printing of his Missae liber secundis in Rome, which he dedicated to Empress Maria’s son Cardinal Alberto.

In 1593, his motet Surge Debora et loquere canticum was performed by his alma mater, the Collegio Germanico, in his presence during Mass and Vespers at Saint Apollinare to celebrate the defeat of the Turks at Sisak. He joined the cortege at Palastrina’s funeral in 1594 and returned to Madrid in 1595.

In 1598, he engaged a man to produce 200 copies of a collection of polychoral Masses, Magnificat settings, motets and psalms in partbooks, all of which eventually appeared in 1600. The printer was paid 2500 reales (about $188 in today’s money—a reale was a “piece of eight” and worth roughly the equivalent of a Colonial dollar), in three installments, was allowed an additional 100 copies to sell, 12 months after publication. The Masses of this collection were very popular at the time, but are rarely performed today. The nine-part Missa pro Victoria was a favorite work of Philip III, the eight-part Missa Ave regina coelorum and Missa Alma Redemptoris mater were so popular in Mexico City that, by 1640, they had to be recopied by hand because the original part books had worn out.

When Empress Maria died, she bequeathed three chaplaincies to the convent, one of which went to Victoria. Most of his income derived from numerous simple benefices, which had grown, by 1605, to 1227 ducats ($73.62) through the addition of pensions from the dioceses of Cordoba, Segovia, Siguenza, Toledo, and Zamora.

From 1601 until his death, Victoria held the less arduous post of organist at the convent chapel. As a chaplain, he enjoyed a luxurious life, including a personal servant, meals served in his private quarters adjacent to the convent, and a month’s holiday every year. Chaplains were required to participate in the daily singing of two Masses. When Victoria first arrived, the choir had 12 priests (three to a part) and four boys. Instrumentalists were engaged for special celebrations, like Easter and Corpus Christi. In 1604, a royal decree provided for a bassoonist, who was to play in all musical services, and for two clergymen chosen for their excellent voices and to replace three of the foundation’s 12 chaplains. At the same time, the number of choirboys increased to six. They were required to practice daily and to learn plainsong, polyphony and counterpoint from the maestro–Victoria.

Victoria or his agents sent sets of his music to such distant places as Graz, Austria, Urbino, Italy, and Bogota, Columbia. In accompanying letters, he asked for contributions to cover printing costs and in at least one instance, solicited money to secure the release of a younger brother from prison! His strong family ties were especially evident during the last years of his life when two of his brothers and two of his sisters also lived in Madrid. One of the brothers, Agustin, had one of the three chaplaincies of the Descalzas convent.

Victoria wrote 20 Masses, of which 11 are parody Masses on his own motets. He didn’t write any parodies on secular motets, not even the very popular L’Homme arme, like most of his contemporaries. There are 16 Magnificat settings, eight that begin with Anima mea and include only the odd-numbered verses, and eight beginning with Et exultavit and include only the even-numbered verses—the other verses are to be performed in their plainchant form. Six of the 16 Magnificats were in print by 1576 and the rest by 1581.

He wrote 32 hymns in four voices, in which, the opposite of in Palestrina’s works, he leaves the odd-numbered stanzas in plainsong and writes polyphony for the even-numbered ones. Although he didn’t write any madrigals (secular motets), his motets show the influence of them. He also wrote about 50 motets (sacred madrigals), 13 antiphons, eight psalms, and three sequences. (Antiphons, psalms, and sequences are movements of the Ordinary of the Mass—not the Kyrie, Sanctus, etc., which are the Propers of the Mass—that are sung to punctuate various activities during the Mass service, such as before and after the Gospel readings.)

Victoria wrote exclusively Latin sacred music. Most was printed in his lifetime. In 1600, a sumptuous collection of 32 of Victoria’s most popular Masses, Magnificats, psalms, and motets was printed in Madrid.

When Mendelssohn sang Victoria’s St. John’s Passion on Good Friday in 1831, he wrote to his teacher and complained. He really didn’t like the scene where the crowd calls for Christ’s execution, thinking it not energetic enough. This same music has been criticized more recently as being too dramatic.

Like Palestrina, Victoria wrote in a serious, devotional style, often responding emotionally in the texts with dramatic word-painting. Some of his more poignant pieces are characterized by a sort of mystical fervor. Also like Palestrina, Victoria strove to write religious music that truly served the purpose of the liturgy, providing a stimulus to prayer and an accompaniment to ritual while remembering that music was not the most important part of worship. This attitude endured in Rome long after the rest of the Catholic world yielded to the brilliance of Baroque church music in the next century.

His hymns often use soaring contrapuntal lines against a plainsong cantus firmus (where the chant melody is produced by the tenor line in a long drawn-out manner while the other parts flutter around), while the Masses are mostly of the parody type. (For more on parody, see Composer Biography: Bartolomeo da Balogna.)

Victoria was less prolific than Palestrina or Lassus, with a habit of reissuing works that he’d already published. He succeeded in publishing the entirety of his work, unlike Palestrina and most other composers of the period.

Poignancy and mystical fervor weren’t the only hallmarks of Victoria’s work, although they are the predominant ones. He was the master at overlapping and dividing choirs with multiple parts and a gradual lessening of rhythmic distance. Not only does he incorporate the voices in an intricate way, but the organ is treated like a soloist rather than accompaniment or support. King John IV of Portugal (1604-1666) mentioned Victoria’s liberal use of instruments doubling vocal parts, and confirmed that the practice was widespread in Spain.

Victoria claimed that he composed his most creative works under his patron Otto, Cardinal von Truchsess (1514-1573). During his years with King of Spain Philip II (1527-1598), Victoria expressed exhaustion from composing. Most of the works he dedicated to Cardinal Michele Bonelli (1541-1598), Philip II, or Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585) weren’t properly paid for. All of these may account for his somewhat small output.

Victoria doesn’t use counterpoint, like many of his contemporaries, keeping his lines simple and with homophonic textures (the melody predominantly in one line), but still including rhythmic variety and occasional intense and surprising contrasts. He uses dissonance more freely than Palestrina, sometimes using intervals that are prohibited by the strict application of 16th century counterpoint, such as ascending sixths or diminished fourths. He sometimes uses dramatic word painting, like that usually found in madrigals.

His use of chromatic harmonies lies in the direction of what later periods called passing modulations (changing from one key or modality to another by using notes common to both) rather than sudden chordal contrasts. Another striking characteristic is his use of repeated notes, which was a quasi-dramatic device used effectively much later, by early 17th century composers, particularly Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), to stress the importance of a word. Victoria’s best-known motet O vos omnes contains many examples of this practice.

His music moves by step more often than leaps, and he uses spaced harmonic euphony that produces a sense of timelessness by only gentle dissonance and the absence of marked rhythm. Joquin dez Pres’ (c1440-1521) Mass Pange lingua used this too, but in Victoria’s work (and Palestrina’s), it’s all-pervading, incantatory—some might say it is the ideal music of mystical faith, totally purged of human emotions and vanity.

There are 20 authenticated Masses by Victoria, all published in his lifetime. Fifteen of these are parodies and four are paraphrases (Ave maris stella, De Beata Maria, Pro defunctis of 1583, and the Mass sections of the Officium defunctorum). He modeled eight Masses on his own motets, but sparsely, rather than treating it as a theme. He also based Masses on his own antiphons and psalms.

His most famous work is the Office of Holy Week (1585), which includes polyphonic settings of all the Proper chant texts from Palm Sunday to Easter. Much of this music displays a mystical passion that has been compared with the writings of St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).

Victoria wrote three Masses based on his own Marian antiphons, Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris, and Ave Regina, and he wrote the Missa Laetatus sum based on his own psalm.

Three other parody Masses were based on works by Guerrero, Morales, and Palestrina. Probably his most famous Mass, the Missa pro Victoria is one of several Spanish battle Masses based on Frenchman Clement Janequin’s (c1485-1558) motet La guerre (The War). Victoria wrote the piece in 1600, breaking from traditional church music by using an organ as one of the voices.

The remainder of his masses are imitation masses, based on his own motets, including Missa O magnum mysterium’s Kyrie, which is based on his own O magnum mysterium motet. At the opening of the Kyrie, Victoria preserves the paired entrances of the motet but changes them from almost exact imitation into a dialog between two subjects. Compared to Palestrina’s work, Victoria’s Kyrie is remarkably brief. In the other movements of the Mass, Victoria reworks material from his motet in a new way, exemplifying the high value placed on variety that was a consistent feature of polyphonic Mass cycles.

Victoria’s “swan song” as he himself termed it, was a six-voice Officium defunctorum, written for the funeral of the Empress Maria in 1603 and published in Madrid in 1605 with a dedication to Princess Margaret.

Victoria’s Passions were performed in the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week for over 300 years. They’re probably the most known polyphonic settings of the Latin words. (I can hear you screaming “What about Bach’s settings????” You have to remember that Bach was a Lutheran. Things might have relaxed a little nowadays, but back then, it was a very clearly drawn line. Only music written by Catholics were performed in Catholic churches and at the Vatican.)

Victoria is considered the first Spanish composer to master Palestrina’s style of polyphony, but his music departs from it in several respects: Victoria’s tends to be shorter, with fewer florid melodies, more frequent cadences, more chromatic alterations, and more contrasting passages in homophony and triple meter. All of these characteristics are evident in his best known work, the Magnificat, O magnum mysterium.

Despite their perfection, Victoria’s Magnificat settings never found as much favor in Spain or its colonies as did those of Morales or Guerrero. They were, however, quite popular in Italy long after their printed copies were exhausted.

Victoria’s Lamentations are aptly sorrowful, and reveal his Spanish sensibilities. In accordance with both Spanish and Roman traditions, they’re mainly chordal, but Victoria varied the textures and contrasted high and low voices with great ingenuity. The responsories are mainly homophonic (with a single voice carrying the melody and the rest providing supporting chords), but the St. Matthew Passion, for Palm Sunday contains some contrapuntal writing, including canon.

His Holy Week Offices contain the famous Tenebrae Responsories that have heartrending and intense melodies while the text repeats.

Victoria’s posthumous reputation has largely rested on some of his earliest motets, and on the Officium defunctorum, composed on the death of Empress Maria. O vos omnes and Vere languores nostros have a poignancy rarely encountered in other music of the period.

Despite his ability to create a somber mood, his reputation was sunny. Victoria reveals his cheery disposition in the parody Masses that he based on his own motets. There were seven like this: Ascendens Christus, Dum complerentur, O magnum mysterium, O quam gloriosum, Quam pulchri sunt, Trahe me post te, and Vidi speciosam. The Masses are parodies of the motets for Ascension, Pentecost, the Circumcision, All Saints, the Conception, any Lady feast, and the Assumption. Five of these end with joyful Alleluias.

He composed four settings of Salve Regina (two for four voices, one for six voices, and one for eight), and two each of Alma Redemptoris, Ave Regina, and Regina caeli (one on five and one in eight voices for each). Yay! I love the Marian plainchant antiphons the best, and it’s clear that Victoria did too. How different the four settings of the Salve Regina are from each other is also noteworthy because they are all in the same mode, based on the same plainsong. They were popular in their own day and continued to be popular into the 17th century. They were also popular in Italy in his own lifetime.

Like his Magnificats, Victoria’s hymns have been less popular than they deserve to be. He provided polyphony for the even-numbered strophes where Palestrina did the same for the odd ones. Victoria, unlike Guerrero and Palestrina, never used canon. In fact, sometimes, he’d reduce the number of voices from four to three, and then bring the fourth voice back for a full sound at the conclusion.

Victoria didn’t begin the development of psalm settings or antiphons for two choirs, but he certainly furthered its popularity. All of Victoria’s published psalms are polychoral. The Laetatus sum is for three choirs and is also unique in that it begins in triple meter, where other psalms only end with triple. His Liber primus of 1576 contains Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126) and Super flumina Babylonis (Psalm 136), two of his most often-performed works. He set all the verses in polyphony (the fashion of the time was to alternate with plainchant), and to avoid any monotony in these through-composed pieces, he also alternated choirs. In the longer psalms, he included some verses for a single choir of soloists.

When he reprinted his psalms in 1600, he added an organ part that duplicates, and on occasion simplifies, the vocal parts for the first choir. The substitution of the organ for the first choir made it possible for smaller musical establishments to perform it. For larger venues, the organ added an extra bit of flavor.

Victoria died near the convent in the chaplains’ residence in 1611. He was buried at the convent, but his tomb has not been identified.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Encyclopedia of Music,” by Max Wade Matthews and Wendy Thompson. Lorenz Books, Leicestershire, 2012.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W> Norton & Co., New York, 2010.

“The Pelican History of Music, Part 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“The Pelican History of Music, Part 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” edited by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1960.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“The New Grove High Renaissance Masters,” by Jeremy Noble, Gustave Reese, Lewis Lockwood, Jessie Anne Owens, James Haar, Joseph Kerman, and Robert Stevenson. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1984.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.

Composer Biography: Cristóbal de Morales (c1500-1553)

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Cristóbal de Morales is considered by many to be the greatest Spanish composer before Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611, biography coming soon). In fact, if you only know two Spanish composers’ names, those are likely to be the two.

Morales’ music has a strong Franco-Flemish flavor to it (for composers of this ilk, check out those listed on my website). That’s because, until his abdication in 1555, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), King of Spain, kept a Flemish chapel. Apart from 10 years in Papal service where Morales would also have been exposed to the Flemish traditions, he spent his whole professional life in Andalusa, where the Franco-Flemish influence was strong (Andalusa is the region that covers nearly the whole bottom third of the Iberian Peninsula.)

Like the other court musicians, Morales followed the Netherlandish style. Of his 22 Masses, two are based on the French motet L’homme arme (anonymous) and others are modeled on motets by Franco-Flemish composers Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560), Jean Mouton (c1459-1522), Jean Richafort (c1480-c1547), Philippe Verdelot (c1480-c1530), and Josquin des Prez (c1440-1521). Only two of Morales’ Masses are based on Spanish villancicos. (More about those later.)

Morales is perhaps most Spanish in his use of mystical emotions at the heart of such motets as Emendemus in melius (one of my very favorite motets) and O crux, ave. He didn’t write much secular music; only a handful of pieces with Italian and Spanish text survive.

In 1526, Charles V’s wife, Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539), organized a chapel of Spanish and Portuguese musicians, and Morales was among the instrumentalists of this group. Philip II (1527-1598) supported the group when he became regent of Spain in 1543. These musicians were the real innovators of the time and included blind organist Antonio de Cabezon (c1500-1566), who was one of its original members; clavichordist Francisco de Soto (c1500-1563), who arrived shortly after Cabezon; and Luis de Narvaez (d. after 1555), who played the vihuela de mano (a Spanish lute) and was recruited by Philip II.

Morales’ works were among the first European compositions performed in the New World (which had only been “discovered” a decade before his birth), along with those of his student Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), Tomas Victoria (c1548-1611), and Palestrina (c1525-1594).

Other musicians liked Morales’ music and made him famous across Europe and in Mexico. His work stayed popular all the way to the 18th century, when he was praised as the papal chapel’s most important composer after Josquin and Palestrina by music biographer Andrea Adami da Bolsena (1663-1772), who was a castrato and master of the papal choir in 1700.

Morales was born in Seville, the largest city and capital of Andalusia, a region in southern Spain. He received his education in the classics and in music there, studying with some of the foremost composers of his time.

There is another Cristobal de Morales (dates unavailable), perhaps Morales’ father, who sang for the third Duke of Medina Sidonia (Juan Alfonso Perez de Guzman, 1464-1507) in 1504, when Morales would have been a young child. Morales had a sister who married in 1530, by which time, their father had died. I didn’t find any information about his mother.

It’s possible that Morales had siblings and uncles all around him. Alonso de Morales (dates unavailable) was treasurer of the Seville Cathedral in 1503; Francisco de Morales (d.1505), was canon of the Cathedral; and Diego de Morales (dates unavailable) was the Cathedral notary in 1525. Some of these gentlemen could be his father, uncles, or cousins and others might be siblings.

Earlier Spanish popes (Calixtus III of the 15th century and Alexander VI of the 16th) from the notorious Borja family employed Spanish singers in their chapel choirs, so it’s not surprising that Morales found his way to Rome. There were quite a few non-Italian musicians and composers there at the time. (There were few Italian composers during this period, as it happens.)

In 1522, Morales went to Rome three times to be the papal organist. In 1526, he was appointed maestro de capilla of both Avila and Plasencia Cathedrals and he stayed at both until 1531. In 1531, he resigned and went twice more to Rome in 1534. By 1535, he’d moved to Rome to be a singer in the papal chapel choir under the Italian Pope Paul III (1458-1549), who was particularly partial to Spanish singers. Morales stayed in Rome until 1545. It’s thought that he was a tenor.

Morales obtained leave to return to Spain in 1540, although it isn’t known why. He came right back to Rome, and in 1545, when he sought employment outside the papal choir but still in Italy, he had no luck. He tried the emperor (Charles V) and Cosimo I de Medici (1519-1574) without a nibble. So he returned to Spain, where he finagled a series of posts. He alienated employers. There was always something not-quite-right about the positions he held and he had difficulty keeping them. He’s said to have been egotistical and short-tempered and he made severe demands on the singers in his employ.

Finally, in 1545, he became maestro de capilla at Toledo and left the employ of the pope for good. He stayed until 1547 when he fell ill and renounced his position. The next year, he went to Marchena (near Seville), back in Andalusa, where he served the Dukes of Aros and Malaga until 1551.

In 1551, he became maestro de capilla at Malaga Cathedral. In 1553, he applied for the maestro de capilla position at the Toledo Cathedral, but he died in Marchena before an offer could be made.

Morales was the first Spanish composer who reached international renown. His works were widely distributed in Europe and the New World. Music writers and theorists in the following hundred years considered his to be among the most perfect music of the time.

Morales’ works are almost all liturgical, including over 22 Masses, 18 Magnificats, 11 hymns, at least five Lamentations (one of which survives in a single manuscript in Mexico), and over 100 motets. Two of his Masses are Requiems. All of his music is vocal, although instruments might have been used as accompaniment. He probably wrote Spanish secular songs and intabulations (a kind of notation specific to stringed instruments), but few remain.

He himself regarded his own Masses highly, supervising their publication personally and writing more of them than any other Spaniard of the period or any other polyphonist of his generation. The Masses illustrate his superb contrapuntal technique. His works are more refined than Josquin des Prez’s (c1440-1521) and look ahead to Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c1525-1594), who based a Mass on Morales’ motet O sacrum convivium.

Morales is the only Spanish composer who didn’t write predominantly parody Masses (basing them on a motet) although his other work included parodies. He had his own discerning parody technique, wherein he enriched and transformed his own motet models.

His 22 Masses include both cantus firmus (with the chant melody sung slowly in the tenor line) and parody styles. Six are based on Gregorian chant and eight are parodies, including one for six voices based on the famous chanson Mille regrets, which is attributed to Josquin. This melody is arranged so that it’s clearly audible in every movement, usually in the highest voice, and giving the work considerable stylistic and motivic unity.

He also wrote two Masses, one for four voices and one for five, on the famous L’homme arme tune, which was frequently set by composers in the late 15th and 16th century. The four-voice Mass uses the tune as a cantus firmus, keeping the melody in the tenor line, and the five-voice Mass treats it more freely, moving it from one voice to another.

He also wrote a Missa pro defunctis, which is a requiem Mass. It may have been his last work, as it seems to be unfinished. It’s written through to the end, but the editing aspect is incomplete.

Masses from this period are often based on motets and Gregorian melodies. Morales offers eight exceptions based them on Spanish songs. In one, he has the Spanish words sung to the main melody and liturgical (Latin) text in the other voices. Some of his other Masses incorporate extraneous texts in the way followed by Guillaume Dufay (c1400-1474) and other composers from the same period and after. He also follows the old style of leaving the cantus firmus intact and lets it permeate all of the voices.

Morales treats Gregorian melodies with an almost severe regard for the preservation of their essential contours. He embellishes sparingly, providing the melodies with rather grave settings that reveal his personality. He often omits the melismatic passages from the chant, which emphasizes his sober style. He nearly always ends his themes on the same note as the Gregorian version, which wasn’t the fashion of the period but had music theory historical context. Rather than writing a polyphonic line of melody, he occasionally gave the bass line a progression in fourths and fifths, which sounds like a chordal bass line to modern ears.

His two Masses for the dead and Officium defunctorum are the most extreme examples of Morales’ sober style. He had a thorough command of early 16th century continental techniques and his style is better compared to Franco-Flemish composers Josquin, Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560), and Jacob Clemens non Papa (c1510-1556) than to his Spanish contemporaries. He favored cross-rhythms, conflicting rhythms, melodic (but not harmonic) sequence and repetition, harmonic cross-relations, systematic use of consecutives and occasionally daring use of harmony.

The Magnificats may be his master works and are the most frequently performed of his compositions today. They’re permeated throughout by Gregorian cantus firmus.

His motets are intense and personal, often using a cantus firmus with a separate text that glosses or alludes to the principal one. He often used a Gregorian chant associated with the text as a melodic point of departure (such as in Puer natus est) or as an ostinato figure (a phrase frequently repeated in the same voice) such as the five-voice Tu es petrus, but he seldom borrowed entire melodies.

The texture of the motets is characterized by free imitation and with exceptional use of homophonic sections (where one voice predominates) to stress important words or portions of text. He uses alternation of chant verses with polyphonic verses, like those found in a collection of his Magnificats published in 1545 in Venice. You can also find this alternation in his Salve Regina motet, developed by means of imitation in pairs.

An early motet for six voices, Jubilate Deo, was written for the peace conference arranged by Pope Paul III (1468-1549) and held in 1538 between Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain (1500-1558) and King Francis I of France (1494-1547). In it, the high voice sings “gaudeamus” over and over to the notes of the Gregorian introit Gaudeamus omnes. He lets one part comment on the text of the other parts in another ceremonial motet, composed to celebrate the elevation of Ippolito d’Este (1479-1520) to the cardinalate in 1539.

He uses this same device with striking dramatic effect in Emendemus in melius, which combines the four-part setting of a responsory for Ash Wednesday with six statements of a modified chant to the words used by the priest while sprinkling ashes on the penitents. “Remember man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return.” This is one of my favorite motets, not only my favorite of Morales’.

His style has a lot in common with other middle Renaissance works from the Iberian Peninsula, such as a preference for harmony in the form of fourths or fifths in the lower voices, and free use of harmonic cross-relations. These techniques were also popular during the same period in England with composers like Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585).

Distinctive Morales characteristics include rhythmic freedom, such as occasional three-against-four polyrhythms and cross-rhythms, where a voice sings in a rhythm that adheres to the text but ignores the meter prevailing in other voices. Late in life, he wrote in a sober, more heavily homophonic style (where one voice predominates, like in modern SATB music where most of the voices provide supporting harmonies to the main melody), but he was always a careful craftsman who considered the expression and understandability of the text to be his highest artistic goal.

Another thing Morales does that’s interesting is to use silence to create a dramatic moment. This is especially obvious in his Parce milo Domine (part of his Office for the Dead in four voices).

There are too many excellent recordings to enumerate here, and I recommend that you do a little looking for some of them, at least.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W> Norton & Co., New York., 2010.

“The Pelican History of Music, Part 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.

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