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Joyful and Content: Dances from Spain

A tunnel in a Spanish church.

This hour on Harmonia we'll explore the diverse musical influences in medieval and baroque Spain through the lens of some innovative performers who aren't afraid to let their big personalities and 21st-century musical sensibilities permeate the music. We'll also pay tribute to Washington, DC-based early music giant, J. Reilly Lewis, founder and artistic director of the Washington Bach Consort, who passed away on June 9, 2016.

We heard Andrea Falconieri's Folias echa para mi Señora Dona Tarolilla de Carallenos, performed by Pittsburgh-based ensemble Chatham Baroque, from their recording Españoleta.

The Medieval Fiddle

The bowed vielle with its cadences sweet,

Sometimes rousing and sometimes lulling us to sleep,

With sweet, delightful, clear and well-tuned notes,

Makes all who hear it joyful and content.

This description of the medieval fiddle from Spanish poet Juan Ruiz gives us some idea of the mystical sounds one might have heard in 14th-century Spain. The vielle was the favored instrument of medieval troubadours, minstrels, and nobility. Jordi Savall explores the expressive range of several early bowed stringed instruments in his recording La Lira d'Esperia II: Galicia, which features music from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a manuscript compiled by King Alfonso X in the 13th century. We'll hear two dances from that recording, an invocacao & ductia and a rousing saltarello.

We heard a saltarello performed by Jordi Savall, with percussionists Pedro Estevan and David Mayoral. Before that, an invocacao & ductia, all from the recording La Lira d'Esperia II: Galicia.

With so few Spanish baroque pieces written specifically for melodic treble instruments like the violin or recorder, many modern performers have been inspired to arrange pieces written for guitar, keyboard, or viola da gamba. Up next, a ricercada by Diego Ortiz, reimagined for flute and an eclectic ensemble of continuo and percussion instruments. In a surprise ending, the ensemble breaks out into a thoroughly modern merengue from the Dominican Republic. This is Boston-based Rumbarroco from their recording Latin-Baroque Fusion.Â

We've heard the Recercada Primera by Diego Ortiz, as reimagined by Boston-based ensemble Rumbarroco, from their recording Latin-Baroque Fusion.

Up next, more toe tapping dance music from baroque Spain. Ensemble Caprice, led by Mattias Maute, performs "Lanchas para baylar" from their recording Salsa Baroque. With so much guitar and keyboard music from the period, this piece is a rare example of a Spanish baroque work written specifically for violin, though in this case it is performed on recorder.

From Mattias Maute and Ensemble Caprice, we heard "Lanchas para baylar" from their 2010 recording Salsa Baroque.Â

Inspiration and Improvisation

Seventeenth-century guitarist and composer Gaspar Sanz is recognized for writing the most comprehensive guitar treatise of his time, full of examples of dances such as the folia, canario, and españoleta. The canario is a dance from the Canary Islands, described in one 18th-century source as "an instrumental piece of four measures, which one dances by producing the sound with one's feet by means of violent and quick movements." Baroque guitarist Scott Pauley has arranged a set of Canarios for Chatham Baroque in this track from their recording Españoleta, adding a pair of violins and percussion to this work, originally written for solo guitar.

A set of Canarios, arranged and performed by Chatham Baroque, from their recording Españoleta.

East Coast ensemble Harmonious Blacksmith, known for their virtuoso playing and an improvisatory style, uses melodies found in seventeenth and eighteenth century Spanish guitar treatises and spins out variations and improvisations all their own. The first of two tracks we're about to hear is an instrumental version of the song "No Piense Menguilla Ya" by Jose Martin. The lyrics of this song tell of a lover lamenting his foolish passion for a devilishly beautiful girl. The second track is a largely improvised jota. Both tracks are from Harmonious Blacksmith's album Españoletas.

Two tracks from Harmonious Blacksmith – a tale of foolish love, "No Piense Menguilla Ya," and a rousing improvised jota.Â

Sacred and Secular

Rose of roses, Flower of flowers, Dame of dames, Lady of ladies.

Rose of beauty and demeanor, Flower of joy and pleasure,

Dame in being merciful, Lady in relieving and suffering.

So begins "Rosa das rosas," an ode to the Virgin Mary from the medieval Cantigas de Santa Maria. Themes of spring flowers and pure sacred love abound in medieval songs to the Virgin Mary, and this work exemplifies these conceits perfectly. We'll hear Ensemble Gilles Binchois, with the "Rosa das rosas" from their album Cantigas de Santa Maria.Â

We heard "Rosa das rosas," performed by Ensemble Gilles Binchois, from the album Cantigas de Santa Maria.

In Castilian, gaita is frequently used to refer to a bagpipe, shawm, or hurdy-gurdy, but it was also the name of a type of comic dance accompanied by the bagpipe. In 1745, the Bishop of Tervel prohibited nocturnal dancing, claiming that the devil disguised himself as a bagpipe player! Ensemble Caprice presents a devilish arrangement of "Differenzias sobre la Gayta" from the Collection Flores de Musica, a vast assortment of over one hundred dances, originally written for organ. This dance begins with a long bagpipe-like drone, ornamented by a florid recorder line, before erupting into a raucous dance. From their album Salsa Baroque, we'll hear Ensemble Caprice.

We heard Ensemble Caprice, doing their best impression of a bagpipe, performing a Spanish gaita, from their album Salsa Baroque.Â

A Tribute to J. Reilly Lewis

On June 9, 2016, the world lost a passionate interpreter of the music of J. S. Bach, and Washington, DC, lost one of its most venerated choral conductors, J. Reilly Lewis. At the age of 71, he was still busy planning ambitious seasons with both the Washington Bach Consort and the Cathedral Choral Society.

Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette perhaps summed up Lewis the best:

Reilly retained some of his Wunderkind flair to the end of his life, with a boyish sense of puckishness that bled over into his performances. He also remained fiercely loyal to Washington in a world where many musicians measure themselves by international yardsticks. At the same time, he was a deeply warm and human man, with a childlike openness and caring that made him a kind and generous participant in the lives of his choristers.

We'll hear music from Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in F Major, performed by J. Reilly Lewis, with his beloved Washington Bach Consort, from their 2004 recording, The Bach Masses, Vol. 1.Â

Music from Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in F Major, BWV 233, performed by the Washington Bach Consort, under the direction of founding artistic director and conductor J. Reilly Lewis.

Break and theme music

:30, Españoleta, Chatham Baroque, Alliance 2000, Tr. 14 Sonata Settima: I. Preludio

:60, Españoleta, Chatham Baroque, Alliance 2000, Tr. 15 Sonata Settima: II. AllemandeÂ

:30, Españoleta, Chatham Baroque, Alliance 2000, Tr. 16 Sonata Settima: III. Tempo di Sarabanda

Theme:Â Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was David McCormick.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.

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