Back to index
Torrente, Alvaro

The Sacred Villancico in Early Eighteenth-Century Spain:
The Repertory of Salamanca Cathedral

Ph.D. St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge, 1997
(ajt1006@cus.cam.ac.uk)

One of the most interesting periods in Spanish music history occurs between the last few years of the 17th century and the first decades of the 18th century. During this time Spanish music becomes open to the influence of the main stylistic streams in Europe, particularly Italian music, after nearly one century of political and cultural isolation. This fact results in a dramatic change in style, a change which has no equivalent in any other period of Spanish history. The process was observed earlier by Spanish musicologists but, since Italian music was rejected by nationalist movements during the 19th century, it was not studied properly and was consigned to oblivion and incomprehension. This legacy remained until modern times, and only in the last two decades has a new approach been applied to the study of this period.

The change of dynasty, from Habsburg to Bourbon, which took place in 1700, has repeatedly been pointed out as one of the causes of this opening up, although very little research has been done to understand the social and political circumstances which made this change possible. As regards the musical aspects, there is still a very limited knowledge about this period. It is commonly accepted that the main source of Italian influence turns up around the court musical theatre in Madrid. Nevertheless, the limited number of sources of theatrical music makes it very difficult to understand the process as a whole, particularly during the early phases. It is possible to know how music was before and after, but we scarcely have enough data to understand the flow of the process.

Besides theatrical and secular music in general, there is another repertory which, from the beginning, was also very susceptible to foreign influences: the sacred villancico. Secular in style but religious in function and content, this genre occupied a prominent role in religious celebrations throughout the country. What had started in the late 15th century (or perhaps earlier) as simple and short polyphonic pieces in the vernacular, borrowed from secular repertory and with an important folk content, became two centuries later very elaborate compositions with extensive use of large vocal and instrumental resources. Moreover, the villancico was the most important genre in the period both in number, geographic dissemination and temporal distribution. More than half of the extant music in religious archives is of this kind and it is hard to find any composer who did not write at least a few of them.

My study is focused on the music of Salamanca Cathedral, one of the wealthiest institutions in Spain at that time. Furthermore, members of the chapter occupied the main positions in the university which, although in decline since the late 16th century, still maintained part of its grandeur and influence in Spanish social and political life. The cathedral chapel was the main musical centre of the city, but other institutions, such as the university chapel or the church of San Martín, also maintained professional musicians.

The principal positions in the cathedral music chapel were greatly sought after and attracted musicians from all the country. Tomás Miciezes came from Zaragoza Cathedral in 1694 to occupy the position of maestro de capilla, where he remained until his death in 1718. His successor Antonio Yanguas came from the prominent cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and also remained in the position until his death, in 1754. Among the organists, the most important was Juan Francés de Iribarren, who came from Madrid in 1717 and remained until 1733, when he moved to Malaga Cathedral as maestro. He was succeeded by his pupil Juan Martín, the only one of these musicians to have been trained in Salamanca, who also succeeded Yanguas as maestro in 1754. This four musicians were highly regarded by their contemporaries, particularly Yanguas, and their music can be considered as representative of the period.

The music archive of Salamanca Cathedral preserves one of the largest and most interesting collections of villancicos. Most of the music written for this centre from 1690 to 1830 is extant, and the archive also contains a large number of pieces from other important centres in Spain, particularly Madrid, Zaragoza and Santiago de Compostela. This includes, apart from the above-mentioned composers, works by Hidalgo, Galán, Durón, Torres, Literes, Sanjuan, Serqueira and many other well-known musicians. Since the music of this period written for the Royal Chapel, undoubtedly the most important musical centre in Spain at that time, was destroyed during the fire in 1734, this source becomes all the more important to the understanding of the period.

The aim of my doctoral dissertation is to understand and describe the stylistic transformation that occurs in Spanish music in the first decades of the 18th century as mirrored in the villancico repertory of Salamanca Cathedral. This includes both the analysis of social and political circumstances which made this change possible and the systematic study of music itself, including the transcription to modern notation of an important number of manuscripts.