Little known and unfamiliar music in Barcelona libraries

It’s the old adage about the buses: you wait ages for a bus and then two come at once. Last week saw two presentations on music in Barcelona libraries, both based on long-term research projects and both illustrated by musical interventions to illustrate the repertories being discussed by the Companya Musical directed by Josep Cabré.

full_inner_page The first took place in the Sala d’Assaig de l’Orfeó Català in the Palau de la Música and formed part of the on-going project known by the acronym IFMUC (‘Inventaris dels Fons Musicals de Catalunya’) led by Josep Maria Gregori at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. As its name suggests, this project aims to catalogue all the musical sources in Catalan archives—and not just those of the big cities. Nine catalogues have already appeared under Gregori’s supervision and the work continues apace. On this occasion (Monday 21 November 2016), the latest volume in a series of small-format music editions entitled Quaderns del Fons Musicals de Catalunya / Maestres Catalans Antics was presented, and several works performed from it by Companya Musical. Volume 8, edited by Bernat Cabré, presents works preserved in manuscript E-Boc 59 that forms part of the collection of music manuscripts at the Centre de Documentació de l’Orfeó Català (CEDOC). This manuscript was hitherto little known (it was rediscovered only in 2011), and has recently been restored (in 2013, under the aegis of CEDOC’s director, Marta Grassot) and studied by Cabré (2016). Happily it was on display for the presentation: it is not an excessively large book, nor highly decorated, but neatly notated to fulfill its function of a depository of polyphonic repertory, largely, but not exclusively, associated with Holy Week.

Manuscript 59 contains about 80 sacred works, added over the course of the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to an anthology that was begun in Vic in or around 1561. It was at one time connected with the parish church of St Miquel in Barcelona. Many of these works have no attribution, but the repertory is clearly largely that of local composers working in different churches in Vic and Barcelona and works by international composers that were known and performed in those institutional circles: it includes Morales’s Missa Super fa re et fa sol la as well as Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli. The selection of works edited by Cabré includes hymns, motets and responsories by the best-known composer of the period, Joan Pujol (570-1626), as well as the less familiar church musicians Pere Beuló (fl.1579-1584), Pere Riquet (fl.1598-1619), Joan Borgueres (fl.1612-1616) and Pere Egidi Fonseca (17th century). The works we heard performed by the Companyia Musical were largely homophonic, though Pujol’s brief five-voice setting of Benedicamus Domino has a more imitative texture. Indeed, on the basis of the fifteen works by local Catalan church musicians included in the edition, the repertory seems somewhat unadventurous, even allowing for the strictures of the Council of Trent, so famously embodied in Palestrina’s Mass. Nevertheless, it is extremely useful to have this small volume, and it is to be hoped that a more detailed study of MS 59 and its repertory will be forthcoming.

f_iiiiv1On Thursday 24 November 2016 the venue changed to the Biblioteca de Catalunya for a concert of anonymous polyphonic works from the much better known manuscript E-Bbc M454, again performed by Companya Musical in the Sala de Llevant as part of the important early music festival which has been establishing itself in the Barcelona concert calendar over the last few years under the energetic and clear-sighted direction of Xavier Alern: Ars Longa. III Cicle de Música Histórica i Patrimoni de Barcelona. This manuscript has already been studied in detail by Emilio Ros-Fábregas and offers a much more ambitious and international compilation, but its anonyma—as is usually the case—are rarely commented upon. Ros-Fábregas has studied these works anew as part of the research project under his direction at the Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC)—‘Libros de polifonía hispana (1450-1650): catálogo sistemático y contexto historico-cultural’—and he gave an interesting introduction to MS M454 that summarized its structure and the place of the anonymous works within it. With Josep Cabré he devised a programme that followed the structural outline of the Proper of the Mass, with some plainchant, and a selection of the anonymous polyphonic works. Much of the Mass music sounded pretty much late-fifteenth century Franco-Netherlandish, but the motet Ave Maria tu individur seemed to be going in a different direction, and could easily be by a Franco-Netherlander of the Josquin period, or even possibly by a Spanish composer with an international outlook such as Francisco de Peñalosa. The last work in the programme—and the only one with an attribution—was Anchieta’s setting of the Salve Regina, which brought out the most sustained singing from the vocal ensemble and made a strong impact. MS M454 is one of the most important manuscripts from the first half of the sixteenth century preserved in Barcelona, and, hopefully, Ros-Fábregas’s edition of the unica and anonyma will not be long in forthcoming: both the talk and the concert demonstrated their importance in any assessment of the musical repertory in circulation in sixteenth-century Barcelona.

TK  November 2016

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