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Milano Spagnola
Maurizio Croci (harpsichord, organ)
Evangelina Mascardi (vihuela)
rec. January 2020, RSI Auditorio Stelia Melo, Lugano, Switzerland
ARCANA A481 [61:21]

Having committed my fair share of howlers over the years, I can’t resist (and feel entitled!) to point out a nice example in the November 2020 issue of the Gramophone. In the section (pp.110-11) headed New Releases Index, the entry for one of three releases (between discs of music by “Bach, JS” and “Stradella”) from Arcana reads thus: “Spagnola, Par tecla y vihuela A481”. The accidental invention of a composer called Spagnola (presumably ‘Milano Spagnola’) is delightful – but, of course, the Italian title of this disc means “Spanish Milan”. Still, I look forward to signor Spagnola turning up in some future April Fool jape.

Possession of the Duchy of Milan was hotly contested (often on the battlefield) by the Holy Roman Empire and France, during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries. However, when the so-called Italian War of 1551-59 was brought to a close at the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, the French formally renounced their claims on Milan. The Duchy of Milan remained a Spanish possession until, at the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701, Austria invaded the Duchy. Spanish influence had, however, been strong there even before 1559, notably after the Battle of Pavia (February 1525) with the victory of Habsburg troops over those of France, bringing to a temporary end a war that had begun in 1521. Under the ensuing Treaty of Madrid (1526) France agreed to give up its claim on Milan, though Francis I of France soon resumed hostilities in the hope of overthrowing the treaty.

It is in the context of the Battle of Pavia that this CD begins. The opening work (or, more precisely part-work, since only one section of it is played here) is the Bataglia Taliana (Italian Battle) by Milan-based Flemish composer Hermann Matthias Werrecore. The composition has an interesting history. It is a revision of an earlier composition by Werrecore – a villotta (a folksong vocal form from Northern Italy) called La bataglia tagliana, which was written to celebrate an earlier, but less decisive, victory over the French at the battle of Bicocca in April, 1522. Werrecore’s composition owes much – in a parodic sense – to Clement Jannequin’s chanson La guerre, which had ‘portrayed’ a French victory over Swiss forces, a victory which briefly gave them control of Milan. Werrecore neatly turns Jannequin’s celebration of a French victory against France, by mockingly rewriting it in celebration of a major defeat of the French. It seems Werrecore’s villotta was not published until 1544 (in Nuremburg) under the title ‘Die Schlacht vor Pavia’ (The Battle of Pavia). But it became well-known around Europe and according to Christine Getz (‘The Milanese Cathedral Choir under Hermann Matthias Werrecore, Maestro di Cappella 1522-1550’, Musica Disciplina 46, 1992. pp. 169-222) it “spawned numerous intabulations and imitations during the sixteenth century”. I can’t see that the documentation with Milano Spagnola details a specific source played here by Maurizio Croci and Evangelina Mascardi, but they presumably drew on one of the versions alluded to by Getz. It makes a fitting and lively opening to this entertaining disc.

Some tracks (2, 6, 8, 18 and 20) are played on the harpsicord; some on the vihuela (4, 9, 17 and 19), one on the organ (14); several by the duo of harpsichord and vihuela (1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, 15 and 21) and a few by the duo of organ and vihuela (12, 13 and 16). As a result, the listening experience is enhanced by frequent changes of instrumental colour; however, the way the instruments are used on this recording is not influenced merely by such considerations. In his booklet essay (‘Tecla y vilhuela: two instruments, one music’), Maurizio Croci makes two significantly relevant points. One is that “in Spanish-influenced music dating from the reigns of Charles V and Philip II, it was common to attribute the same music to different instruments such as the tecla (keyboard instrument), vihuela and harp. The printed works of Cabezón, Henestrosa, Bermudo, Mudarra and others were conceived for these instruments, all of which are capable of approaching the most refined polyphonic style.” In support of this point Croci refers to the fact that in 1557 Venegas de Henestrosa published his Libro de cifra nueva para tecla, Arpa y Vihuela, in a new form of notation which made the repertoire written for the vihuela accessible to keyboard players. Croci’s second point relates to the “simultaneous participation” of both keyboard instruments and the vihuela in the same piece of music. He cites a passage from Marcos de Obregon, a picaresque novel of 1618 by Vicente Espinel (1550-1624), a Spanish musician and writer. In the novel the ‘hero’ attends a concert in the house of the Spanish governor of Milan: “I came to hear the master himself [Bernardo] Clavijo [del Castillo] on the keyboard and Lucas de Matos on the vihuela, imitating each other with most impressive and novel movements. It was the best that I have heard in my life.” (The booklet provides both the Spanish original and this translation).

The sound of harpsichord and vihuela working together is very attractive in Cabezón’s ‘Au joli bois’, an example of what was known as a glosa, an instrumental version – usually for keyboard – of a song, the song here being by Johannes Lupi (c.1506-c.1539), a Franco-Flemish composer, primarily of vocal works and sometimes referred to by his original French name, Jean Leleu. This particular song begins thus: “Au joly bois sur la verdure, / de mon amy je fus troussée”. The instrumental interplay is strikingly beautiful and both Croci (playing a 2020 copy – made in Milan by Andrea Restelli – of a Venetian instrument of 1531) and Masnardi respond poetically to the piece. I feel sure that both had the words of the song in mind as they played this instrumental version of it. Cabezón was, justly, particularly famous as a composer of diferencias (cycles of variations) and we are treated here to two such works – ‘Diferencias sobre la Gallarda milanese’ and ‘Diferencias sobre el canto “La dama le demanda”’. Both are played by the duo of harpsichord and vihuela. Both are dance forms, the second being a pavan, and both are here interpreted in invitingly danceable fashion. The third ‘genre’ for which Cabezón was most famous was the tiento (a name derived from the Spanish verb tentar, which can mean either ‘to touch’ or ‘to ‘attempt’). Some of Cabezón’s tientos were rapid and virtuosic, but the example on this disc, ‘Tiento del quinto tono’ is played slowly and in thoughtfully introspective fashion. Taking advantage of the choices implicit in the title of the collection from which the piece is taken – Cabezón’s 1578 collection Obras de musica para Tecla, harpa y vihuela – it is here played on the unaccompanied vihuela by Evangelina Mascardi, and very beautiful it is.

Blind from birth, Cabezón was a highly accomplished player of the organ and the harpsichord, and a sophisticated and influential composer. As G.B. Sharp rightly observes (The Musical Times, no. 1485, November 1966, p.955) Cabezón’s “reputation resounded through the length and breadth of 16th -Century Europe, ‘otro Orfeo de nuestros tiempos’ as his master Philip II of Spain called him.” Most of the other composers represented on this disc are, confessedly, figures of lesser stature, but far from negligible.

Of the five other named composers on the disc, three (Luis Milán, Enriquez de Valderrábano and Alonso Mudarra) were born in Spain and two (Pietro Paolo Borrono and Francesco da Milano) in Italy. Enriquez de Valderrábano and Alonso Mudarra were important members of the Spanish school of vihuelist/composers which flourished in the Sixteenth Century. Like Cabezón, Mudarra benefited from the patronage of Charles V. As well as composing pieces for solo vihuela, Mudarra, like Luis Milan was also well known as a writer of songs, as discussed in J[ohn] Griffiths, ‘Luis Milán, Alonso Mudarra y la cancion accompańada’, Edad de Oro, 22 (2003) pp.7-28. I am inclined to think that although less well-known than the other two, Enriquez de Valderrábano may actually be the most interesting composer of the three. His ‘Cuatro diferencias sobre la Pavana’ (published in the composer’s Libro de Musica de Vihuela, intitulado Silva de sirenas of 1547) is an impressively lucid work, related to the Folia which was to become so fashionable in the Sixteenth Century. Also related to the Folia, incidentally, is the anonymous ‘La cara cossa del Berdolin’, found in a Venetian manuscript of c.1530, which Croci describes as “a primitive version of the Folia”. I have heard quite a lot of individual pieces by Enriquez de Valderrábano on various recorded anthologies of Renaissance music from Spain (such as those by Shirley Rumsey on Naxos, Paolo Cherici on Vermeer and Toshiko Satoh on Channel Classics) and have always been favourably impressed. I know of (but haven’t heard) only one recording wholly devoted to his work - Armoniosi Concerti’s Valderrábano:Silva de Sirenas (Harmonia Mundi Ibérica HMI 987059). Valderrábano deserves more attention; his attractively subtle ‘Soneto lombardo’ (track 7), of which the full title is cited thus by Croci – “‘Este Soneto es Lombardo y es a manera de dança’ (‘This Sonnet is from Lombardy and is like a dance’)” – is presumably related to an Italian song setting a sonnet, since its rhythms and phrasing imply a series of hendecasyllabic lines of verse. Again, the connection with Milan (which is, of course, in Lombardy) is clear.

Of the two Italian-born composers, Francesco da Milano will be a familiar name to anyone with the even slightest interest in the lute music of the Renaissance. He seems to have been born in Monza, a few miles from Milan, but he largely made his reputation while employed at the Papal Court. The piece by which he is represented on this disc (track 18) is a fantasy (based on the opening of the cantus firmus of ‘Ave maris stella’), in a version printed – as ‘Tiento de vihuela 1’ – in Henestrosa’s Libro de cifra nueva para tecla, Arpa y Vihuela (see above). Pietro Paolo Borrono, born in Milan, is a figure whose reputation is a great deal less impressive than that of da Milano (whose contemporaries often referred to him as ‘Il divino’); still when a volume of pieces by the two men was published in Venice in 1546 – Intabulatura di lauto del divino Francesco da Milano et dell’eccellente Pietro Paulo Borrono da Milano - Borrono was distingusihed by the epithet “eccellente”, to balance the description of Francesco as “divino”, even if he gets second place in the billing! Borrono seems, while in the service of the (mostly Spanish) Imperial governors of Milan, to have been, in the words of Maurizio Croci “involved in various conspiracies, attacks and assassinations nagainst the Farnese family”. Still, it his music that concerns us here. Many of the works by Borrono with which I am familiar are lute versions of compositions, some of them songs, by other composers. Here he is represented by his ‘Pavana chiamata “La Gombertina”. I am not sufficiently familiar with work of Nicholas Gombert to know whether this piece makes use of a specific work by him (which seems likely) or whether it is in the nature of a more general ‘tribute’. The piece, like much of Borrono’s work, is competent without being either vry individual or particularly memorable.

It would, though, be unfortunate if this discussion of Milano Spagnola ended with a downbeat comment. Taken whole, this is an engaging CD, mixing familiar and unfamiliar in terms of composers and music. Much of this music is attractive and it is all played with perception, sensitivity and assurance. The idea of exploring the musical connections between Milan and Spain was a good one and it has been well realized by Maurizio Croci and Evangelina Mascardi.

Glyn Pursglove

Matthias WERRECORE (ante 1522-post 1574)
1.La Bataglia Taliana – second part (publ. 1552) [02:37]
ANONYMOUS (16th century)
2.La cara cossa del Berdolin [00:44]
Antonio de CABEZÓN (c.1510-1566)
3.Au joli bois (publ. 1578) [02:51]
Enriquez de VALDERRÁBANO (fl.1547)
4.Cuatro diferencias sobre la Pavana (publ. 1547) [03:20]
Antonio de CABEZÓN
5. Fabordones del premier tono llano (publ.1578) [02:55]
Luis MILÁN (ante c.1500 – post c.1560)
6.Fantasia de tento (publ.1536) [04:09]
7.Soneto lombardo (publ.1547) [04:00]
Antonio de CABEZÓN
8.Canción glosada ‘Triste départ’ (Nicholas Gombert) (publ.1578) [04:29]
Pietro Paolo BORRONE (c.1490/5-post 1563)
9.Pavana chiamata ‘La Gombertina’ (publ.1536) [02:52]
Antonio de CABEZÓN
10.Diferencias sobre la Galliarda milanesa (publ.1578) [02:15]
11.Benedicta es regina caelorum (Josquin Des Prez) (publ.1578) [06:29]
12.Benedicta es regina caelorum – duo [02:05]
13.Benedicta es regina caelorum – third part [01:10]
14.Fantasia (publ.1536) [02:58]
Antonio de CABEZÓN
15.Himno ‘Christe redemptory omnium’ (publ.1578) [02:53]
16.Ave maris stella (publ.1578) [02:19]
Alonso MUDARRA (c.1510-1580)
17.Fantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la maniera de Ludovico (publ.1546) [02:01]
Francesco da MILANO (1497-1543)
18.Tiento da vihuela 1 (publ.1557) [04:10]
Antonio de CABEZÓN
19.Tiento del quinto tono (publ.1578) [02:42]
20.Conde Claros (publ.1546) [01:31]
Antonio de CABEZÓN
21.Diferencias sobre el canto de ‘La dama le demanda’ (publ.1578) [02:53]

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