"Through very developed
forms of an extreme contrapuntal density,
he gave birth to a learnèd style
that was compact, granite-like and monumental,
though very ornamented. Exploiting to
the fullest all the resources of 17th
century (...) organ art, he was guiding
that art towards a completion that was
also a culmination."
This does sound familiar,
doesn't it? But it is not about Johann
Sebastian Bach, but rather about the
Spanish composer Juan Cabanilles. These
lines come from the booklet, and are
written by Luis Antonio González,
and the word I left out in the quotation
was 'Spanish'. But the similarity between
Cabanilles and Bach is striking. Bach
was generally considered an exponent
of the 'learnèd' style, and his
works, like those of Cabanilles, are
There are more similarities.
An important feature of both composers'
output is a strong rhythmic pulse, and
the use of dissonance for expressive
reasons. Both absorbed influences from
other musical traditions, in particular
the Italian, and incorporated them into
their own compositions without compromising
their personal style.
Cabanilles began his
musical career as a choirboy at Valencia
cathedral. It is likely he received
lessons from the cathedral's organist,
Jerónimo de la Torre. When in
1665 de la Torre had to retire due to
an injury of one of his hands in an
accident Cabanilles succeeded him at
the age of just 21, which is evidence
of his skills. Precondition for his
job was to be ordained as a priest.
The fact that he retained this post
until his death in 1712 proves that
he was held in high esteem by the ecclesiastical
authorities. There are also stories
about him playing regularly in France,
although there is no objective evidence
Cabanilles has written
a large number of keyboard works which
are generally much longer and more elaborated
than those by other composers. He particularly
excelled in the genre of the tiento,
the general term for a kind of fantasia.
Some are called 'tiento lleno', containing
an alternation of imitative sections
and passagework. A specific kind of
tiento is the 'tiento de falças'
(or 'falsas'), which distinguishes itself
by sharp dissonances and an unusual
harmonic structure. He also composed
passacallas and gallardas, consisting
of variations over a bass pattern.
Jan Willem Jansen has
made a selection from Cabanilles's keyboard
works, consisting of tientos in different
forms as well as passacalles and gallardas.
He has avoided the showpieces some organists
can't resist playing, like the batallas,
in which a military battle is illustrated
and in which the organist can use the
characteristic reed stops of Spanish
organs. Of course these stops can -
and should - be used in the pieces on
this disc as well. Jan Willem Jansen
plays a historical organ, restored in
1992, which has a number of reed stops,
like the 'corneta', the 'trompeta real'
and the 'bajoncillo'. The programme
is well put together and played brilliantly.
Very little vocal music
is known to be written by Cabanilles.
As an organist he didn't have an obligation
to compose for the voice. The two pieces
on this disc are villancicos, comprising
a refrain and a number of verses. Both
pieces were composed for the procession
on the Feast of the Holy Sacrament.
The four-part 'Mortales que amás'
contains some very sharp dissonances,
which are realised well in this performance.
It is a shame that the balance between
the high and low voices isn't satisfying,
as the sopranos overpower the contraltos
and tenors most of the time.
This is an interesting
and musically impressive recording of
music by a composer who is not that
well-known. The booklet contains informative
programme notes and a disposition of
the organ. Unfortunately the lyrics
of the two villancicos are only printed
in Spanish and the notes on the organ
only in French.
Johan van Veen
see also review
by Paul Shoemaker