Friday, June 12, 2015

I'd like to be stubborn like that

This blog apparently got lost in the pipeline. It was meant for two weeks ago, but I'll give it to you now.

This year, for Pentecost, I treated the folks at the early service to some 17th century Spanish music, courtesy of one Antonio de Cabezon. This Sunday [May 31] the folks at the 10:30 service will get to hear him, too, by way of a piece he actually did write.

The thing that fascinates me about the piece I have for you, however, is that it is actually a transcription (and apparently not a very exact transcription) that Cabezon made of the music of another composer, a fellow by the name of Josquin des Prez (1450-1521).

You really have to be a specialist in early music to find that last part exciting, I suppose, but I am going to totally geek out here and confess that I found it very, very exciting. I never thought I would actually get to play the music of Josquin for you pianonoisians for the simple reason that the man never wrote anything for the keyboard. In fact the only thing that actually survives in his own hand is some graffiti he left in the choir stall at. St. Mark's where he sang the choir as a boy. If there is anybody from the Central Illinois Children's Choir, or The Chorale, or our church choir reading this, don't get any ideas.

Anyhow, it turns out Mr. des Prez's music was studied by another early composer of eminence, Mr. Cabezon (1510-66). Now, Martin Luther admired Josquin so much that he called him the "master of the notes." Apparently Cabezon encountered his music on a trip to Italy and made a copy of it to study. How he made the copy is a good question; we know that Cabezon was, for most of his life, blind. We also know that he spent most of his life working as organist for the king and queen of Spain. That's about all we know, and the details of his daily life are lost, as, probably, is a lot of his music.

Some of it was preserved and published by his son; and while most of it is original, there is a piece of a mass by Josquin; the phrase "with the Holy Spirit" that I'm going to play for you now.

Many people are under the impression that great composers are very original and that they just get their ideas from within themselves. On the contrary, the greatest tend to be the ones who study the most, who learn from the composers around them and those who came before with a particular energy. Out of that fund of ideas and learning spring their greatest pieces. So what Cabezon was doing is not at all uncommon for a composer of his stature. Bach made quite a large number of a transcriptions for the organ of the music of other composers also. So did Mozart. So did Brahms. Etc, etc. etc.

Cabezon, whose surname means "stubborn" in Spanish, was learning from one of the great masters of the generation before him. And he went on to become the first important composer of Spanish keyboard music.

Tiento is from the Spanish verb for "to try" which is a very humble name for a type of music. Here, then is an "attempt" by Josquin, courtesy of Antonio de Cabezon:

Josquin, arr. Cabezon: Tiento on "with the Holy Spirit"

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