Salinas, de Encina and me
The dull sound from the belfry scarcely reaches the interior of the Cathedral. The strokes sound rather unreal.
I notice that this time just one stroke was heard, consequently there’s just half an hour left before the guardian will return and let me out into the noisy real world of Salamanca.
What am I doing here, alone in the old romance cathedral? Or almost alone. The earthly remains of several great Spanish musicians lie buried here underneath the stone floor where I’m sitting; Francisco Salinas, Juan del Encina and several others I do not know the names of.
Recording in the cathedral
Yes, what am I doing here? It’s a good question, one I have asked myself several times in the past week. The simple answer is that I’m doing a recording of early Spanish organ music on the two renaissance positives that stand, side by side, here in the historic cathedral of Salamanca.
The organ from La Capilla Dorada
My story begins with an article published some years ago in ISO Journal, a time paper from The International Society of Organ builders. This interesting article was dealing with a restoration of a 16th century positive, a small organ, that formerly belonged to the The Golden Chapel, La Capilla Dorada, in the new cathedral in Salamanca, Central Spain.
As a musician with a particular interest in Spanish renaissance music, my first thought was almost predictable: This was an instrument I certainly should try to play! Fairly few preserved renaissance organs exist in the world and it’s tempting for any musician occupied with 16th century’s pulse, phrasing and three-finger-technique to test the theories on such an instrument, that in matters of timbre, tuning and mechanics, differs markedly from the organs we normally have access to.
A real impossibility
I consequently addressed the cathedral’s management encouraged by the foreigners naive sense of reality, drew on some acquaintances who owed me a favor and finally got - what my Spanish organ colleagues denote as a real impossibility - an agreement with El Cabildo, the cathedral’s top authority, allowing me to do some recordings during 4 evenings, alone in the fabulous acoustics of the historic cathedral, alone with Francisco Salinas and Juan del Encina.
Juan del Encina and duo playing
Now that you’ve got the license, what will you be recording on such two organs? What have they been used for at the time when they were built?
It’s indeed an open question.
The main part of the pieces I have chosen to record during these late evening hours in the cathedral are organum works that not necessarily composed for organs, but because of their 4-voice character likely may have been performed by choirs and/or organ.
“Juan del Encina played on an organ!”, I can hear someone say. “Isn’t that too hypothetical?” I am fairly convinced that several of Encinas canciones have been the played on the positive in The Golden Chapel.
Due to the two positives’ symmetrical placing on either side of the altar, I have also chosen to record a few pieces as duets using both instruments, well aware that I probably will get both musicologists and early music fundamentalists on my back.
One of the duets is the famous Pavana con su glosa, normally attributed to Antonio de Cabezón. By the way, quiet a few well-chosen word could be said about this supposed ownership and the piece itself and I will do that some other time. For now I will simply point out that the music almost suggests duo playing, but listen for yourself.
Another duet is a popular song, No me digays Madre, compiled in the latter half of the 16th century by the organist Francisco Salinas in his heavily theoretical work which he, on top of everything, wrote in Latin: De Musica libri septem.
Also in this case I quickly run into trouble of a music historical sort: Francisco Salinas deals in the sixth book with prosody in text and music and gives some examples of popular music to illustrate his theories. One of these examples is precisely the song No me digays Madre, but Salinas only offers us what seems to be the chorus! Luckily there’s an anonymous tune notated on the previous page that likely may have been the melody for the verse part. That, of course, we cannot know for sure, but I have chosen to use it as such, despite of the uncertainty of its relationship with Salinas melody line. Maybe not completely correct from a musicologists point of view, but absolutely in accordance with the musical traditions of the period.
Back to reality
The storks on the cathedral’s roof are clattering, the pigeons cooing and dull strokes of the bell have now reached 10.
It has become time to let Francisco Salinas and Juan del Encinas in peace and to pack up the recording equipment for today.
The recordings from the Cathedral in Salamanca were released on June 20th 2010 on the CD “El Arte de Tañer” (The Art of Touch), together with a number of recordings made on the renaissance organ at Sønderborg Castle, Denmark..
Read more at the Discography page: El Arte de Tañer - parla09001