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Harmonia Early Music

Blind Composers

This week on Harmonia: the music of a small fraternity of Renaissance and baroque composers who were blind from childhood, plus a new release by La Serenissima.

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music with dutch words

Photo: Thiemo Wind

A page from Jacob van Eyck's "Der Fluyten Lust-hof."

History has a way of minimizing certain details from the lives of composers.  But when we move in for closer inspection, we find things that often give us a much greater appreciation for a composer who we know little about.

There is a small fraternity of composers from the Renaissance and Baroque periods who were blind from an early age.  These men, who lived and worked in Spain, Italy, England, and the Netherlands, share a common experience beyond the inability to see.  They were all successful keyboardists, with one exception, who mastered their chosen instrument and came to have their compositions published.

We’ll begin with late Renaissance Spain and the 2004 Alpha release from Guillemette Laurens and Unda Mars, Música espagñola del Siglo de Oro, which features the music of blind organist Antonio de Cabezón. Additionally, Michael Chance and Fretwork perform music of Miguel Fuenllana, blind vihuelist, on the 1988 album, Armada.

We move from Spain to the Netherlands where we meet Jacob van Eyck: recorder player, carilloneur, and expert in bells.  His most famous published work Der Fluyten Lust-hof consists of nearly 150 pieces for recorder, a good many which have become part of the instrument’s standard repertoire.  Music of Jacob van Eyck is performed by Anthonello and directed by Yoshimichi Hamada on the 2007 Enchiriadis release, Daphne: Music of Jacob van Eyck.

Our next stop is late Renaissance Italy where Antonio Valente lived and worked in the Spanish dominion of Naples, a city where he published the first book of solo music for the harpsichord titled Intavolatura di cimbalo.  Decades later in Venice and well into the early baroque, Martino Pesenti also achieved publishing success by composing collections of madrigals, arie, instrumental music and even a mass.  Sophie Yates performs Valente’s Tenore del passo e mezzo on the 1997 album Romanesca: Italian Music for Harpsichord.  Ensemble Aurora’s performance of Martino Pesenti’s Gagliarda Seconda is found on the 1998 Tactus release: Musica al Tempo del Guido Reni: Sonate, Canzoni e Madrigali dinimuti.

Our final composer has the distinction of having been admired by Geroge Frideric Handel, who would make his way down to Temple Church in order to hear Dr. John Stanley improvise at the organ.  Stanley’s catalog of works is large and includes compositions for the stage, court, church, and home. Among these we find two different collections of concertos for keyboard.  John Toll, harpsichord soloist, performs Stanley’s harpsichord concerto in C minor with London Baroque on the 1984 album, English Music of the 18th Century.

Our new release of the week features the vibrant English ensemble La Serenissima on the Avie label in a program of vocal and instrumental music by Antonio Vivaldi.

Here’s avideo of Dutch recorder virtuoso Erik Bosgraaf performing Jacob van Eyck’s “Comagain”:


Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for violin, strings and continuo in Bb major, RV 370
La Serenissima (Adrian Chandler, dir.) — The Rise of the North Italian Violin Concerto: 1690-1740, vol. 2 (AVIE , 2007)
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Antonio de Cabezón: Tiento del quarto tono and Pavana con su glosa
Guillemette Laurens and Unda Mars — Ay Luna: Música española del Siglo de Oro (ALPHA , 2004)
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Miguel de Fuenllana: Orphenica Lyra, 1554
Michael Chance and Fretwork — Armada (VC , 1988)
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See notes
Anthonello (Yoshimichi Hamada, dir.) — Daphne: Music of Jacob van Eyck (Enchiriadis [], 2007)
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Antonio Valente: See notes
Sophie Yates, harpsichord — Romanesca: Italian Music for Harpsichord (Chandos CHAN 0601, 1997)
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Martino Pesenti: Sonate, Canzoni e Madrigali diminuiti
Ensemble Aurora (Enrico Gatti, dir.) — Musica al Tempo del Guido Reni (Tactus , 1998)
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John Stanley: Harpsichord Concerto op. 10, no 4. In C minor
London Baroque (John Toll, harpsichord soloist) — English Music of the 18th Century (Amon , 1984)
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Aria from La fida ninfa, RV 714
La Serenissima (Adrian Chandler, dir.) — Antonio Vivaldi: Virtuoso Impresario -The Rise of the North Italian Violin Concerto: 1690-1740, vol. 2 (AVIE , 2007)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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