The harp has been one of the most distinguished instruments
in Western history from early times until the late 17th century.
Part of its high stature derived from its connection with the
biblical King David. In the Middle Ages the harp was a rather
simple instrument which was only able to play diatonic scales.
In the 16th century it was considered not suitable to play the
more complicated pieces which were written at that time. In
1555 the Spanish theorist Juan Bermudo described various ways
in which the harp could be adapted to modern requirements. Over
the ensuing decades a second rank of strings was added, comparable
to the black keys of the keyboard. The chromatic notes were
played by poking a finger between the two strings in the main
row to reach a chromatic string beyond.
There is relatively little repertoire from the 16th and early
17th centuries which was specifically intended for the harp.
The main reason was that there were few amateurs who played
it. There was therefore no market for collections of harp music.
That said, both in Spain and in Italy there were some highly-skilled
professional harpists. The Spanish played solo music, mostly
improvised, and accompanied singers in secular songs (todos
humanos). Their Italian colleagues also participated in
performances of oratorios and operas in the basso continuo section.
Broadly speaking the music the harpists played was also suitable
to be performed at the keyboard or on plucked instruments, like
the vihuela in Spain and the chitarrone in Italy. In the liner-notes
for his recording "Harp Music of the Italian Renaissance"
(Hyperion) Andrew Lawrence-King refers to a "hidden repertoire"
of pieces which were published as keyboard music but were in
fact not that well suited for it. Such pieces included, for
instance, intervals which were too wide for the harpsichord
or elements which explored specific features of the harp.
The present disc brings us music from the Spanish renaissance.
In large part it was written either for the vihuela or the keyboard;
not specifically for the harp. There were few harp players in
Spain: the most famous was Ludovico (or Luduvico), from the
early 16th-century. None of his compositions is known, but the
vihuelist Alonso Mudarra portrayed his playing in the Fantasía
que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico (included
in Lawrence-King's disc devoted to his art: "The
Harp of Luduvico", Hyperion). Mudarra also composed the
only piece on this disc which mentions the harp as one of the
instruments for which it is intended: the Tiento para harpa
Most of the pieces were written by Antonio de Cabezón, the leading
composer of keyboard music in Spain in the 16th century. He
was blind from his birth and became the favourite of King Philip
II. Although the large collection of his music which was printed
in 1578 comprised music "for keyboard, harp and vihuela",
it was primarily intended for the keyboard. This in turn means
that the harp’s peculiar characteristics are not exploited.
This disc shows, though, that these pieces do very well on the
harp. A prerequisite is the exploration of those dynamic possibilities
which the harpsichord or the organ lack. That is exactly how
Véronique Musson-Gonneaud plays them. That way these performances
are true alternatives to interpretations on keyboard instruments.
This is especially important as these pieces belong amongst
Cabezón's most frequently played. We hear the Diferencias
sobre el canto llano del Caballero and the Diferencias
sobre la gallarda milanesa. These represent two of the
main then contemporary forms of music for solo instrument.
This kind of music had its origin in improvisation. It could
take the form of free invention (in Spain known as tiento),
variations over a ground bass (canto llano) and divisions
over vocal music (diferencias). All three genres are
represented here. The various titles refer to the kind of music
which was popular at the time, which was largely from the pen
of representatives of the Franco-Flemish school: Crecquillon,
Pour un plaisir or De Rore, Anchor che col partire.
As far as the less well-known composers are concerned: Francisco
Fernández Palero served for forty years as the organist of the
royal chapel at Granada. He was a famous organ expert. Hernando
de Cabezón was Antonio's son who also was responsible
for the publication of a large part of his father's oeuvre
in 1578. In the track-list Quien llamo al partir partir
is attributed to Juan de Cabezón, Antonio’s brother. I haven't
been able to find any confirmation of this andsuspect it may
be an error.
At the end of the 16th century there were two kind of chromatic
harp. In Spain an instrument, known as arpa de dos órdenes,
had crossed strings, whereas the Italian arpa doppia
had parallel rows. In her notes in the booklet Véronique Musson-Gonneaud
writes that "it is impossible to say whether or not the
harp played here (based on the double harp conserved in Bologna)
would have been used in Spain at the time. But the aim is also
to build a repertoire for this relatively unknown instrument,
and this cannot be achieved without experimentation". It
seems a little exaggerated to describe the arpa doppia
as a "relatively unknown instrument". It is used pretty
frequently these days as a basso continuo instrument in 17th
century music. There are various recordings on the market with
solo music for the harp. Moreover I would like to point out
that Andrew Lawrence-King, on his disc "The Harp of Luduvico",
played the Spanish items on a Spanish arpa doblada.
That would have been the most appropriate instrument for the
repertoire on this disc. Ms Musson-Gonneaud has selected those
pieces which she considered to be suitable for the harp she
chose to play.
These considerations apart I have nothing but praise for the
performances. Ms Musson-Gonneaud's playing is differentiated
and tasteful. She uses the dynamic possibilities of her instrument
well. This way, even works which are quite familiar sound different
from the way I have heard them before. Moreover, this disc includes
plenty of pieces which are not well-known. The playing time
is very short, but as Brilliant Classics discs are very cheap,
we have no right to complain.
Johan van Veen
Antonio DE CABEZÓN
Canción Francesca (after Clemens non Papa) [2:06]
Tiento primo tomo [1:28]
Diferencias sobre el canto llano del Caballero [2:56]
Tiento del quarto tono sobre Malheur me bat (after Ockeghem)
Diferencias sobre la gallarda milanesa [2:19]
Alonso MUDARRA (c.1510-1580)
Tiento para harpa ó organo [0:59]
Antonio DE CABEZÓN
Anchor che col partire (after De Rore) [2:56]
Pavana (con su glosa) [2:39]
Quien llamo al partir partir [2:06]
Francisco Fernández PALERO
Mort m'a privé par se cruelle envie [2:30]
Antonio DE CABEZÓN
Tres sobre el canto llano de la alta [2:32]
Tiento cuarto tono [3:16]
Pour un plaisir (after Crecquillon) [2:23]
Romance Para quien crie yo cabellos [1:38]
Tiento secondo tono [1:35]
Antonio DE CABEZÓN
Je suis ayme de la plus belle (after Crecquillon) [2:47]
Cinque diferencias sobre Las Vacas [2:01]
Hernando DE CABEZÓN (1541-1602)
Doulce mémoire (after Sandrin) [3:55]