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Harmonia Early Music

Medieval Melting Pot

An exploration of medieval music inspired by Sephardic Jews, the Persian poet Ziryab, and Alfonso X, "El Sabio."

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For seven centuries medieval Spain enjoyed a peaceful intersection of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic cultures that brought about unique developments in the arts.

The Sephardim

This peaceful coexistence came to an end for Iberian Jews in 1492 when they were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, forcing them to relocate to places like North Africa, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. Yet their tradition had already inspired the composition of many songs.


On the Islamic side of Spanish culture, the name Ziryab comes to mind. Ziryab was a freed slave who emigrated to the west and held many titles including poet, musician, and singer (he is also said to have introduced asparagus to Spain).

Alfonso “El Sabio”

The 13th-century court of Alfonso X, King of Castile and León, was known as a meeting place for Christian, Jewish, and Islamic intellectuals—a kind of melting pot for thinkers. The Christian “Cantigas de Santa Maria” are perhaps the most well-known collection of medieval vernacular songs from this time.

Featured release

This week’s featured release is of the Spanish vocal sextet Musica Ficta (Raul Mallavibarrena, dir.) in a performance of the “Sanctus” from Alonso Lobo’s Missa Simile est Regnum Caelorum.

The music heard on this episode was performed by Les Fin’ Amoureuses, Les Aromates, and Antequera.

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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