by Joseph E. Romero
4 September 1997 — Eduardo Lopez Banzo left his native Zaragoza in
northern Spain at the age of eighteen to study in Amsterdam with the
baroque specialist Gustav Leonhardt. After two years with the Dutch
master, he returned home determined not to defend yet another version
of Bach's Goldberg Variations, but to explore the music of the
It was after a recent performance of
Antonio Literes' 80-minute allegorical interlude Los Elementos
at the prestigious Festival de Beaune in Burgundy, France (see
Operanet diary for a brief review), that the 36-year-old
harpsichordist and organist offered Klassiknet some insight into the
little known world of Spanish baroque music and the dark, rich and
spirited pulse of the jacara, zarzuela and villancico. The tall,
husky, blue-eyed Spaniard is especially voluble when he talks about
his ensemble Al Ayre Espanol and the music they perform.
recent performance of the music of Antonio Literes at this year's
Festival de Beaune in France and your recordings of Sebastian Duron
and José de Torres suggest that these three composers are key
to our understanding of the Spanish baroque. Why is their music
EDUARDO LOPEZ BANZO:
This music is part of a culture which is unknown at present. Al
Ayre Espanol attempts to breathe life into
this field. Spanish baroque music is the discovery of a completely
different language—as unique
and as different as the discovery of Charpentier and the French baroque.
Moreover, the musical culture we are exmaining should not be considered
Spanish music, but Ibero-Latin American music—
which musicologists and scholars are only just beginning to
KNET: What is so
different about this musical language?
ELB: Rhythm. It is
absolutely different from the rhythms of Italian, French and German
music and a major question to be resolved is how these rediscovered
rhythms influenced music in France and Italy in the 17th century.
KNET: Can you be
ELB: In Italy, for
example, rhythm is simple. Just listen to Corelli for instance, or
music before and even after, rhythm is quite simple, just a C bar or
3/4 bar and never complicated...very beautiful music...but no
rhythmical complications. Spanish composers such as Duron, Literes and
Torres used combined rhythms. In Literes you have a quartet of four
voices, each singing a different rhythm with accents falling in
different places. Everything is clashing in such pieces and reminds me
of pop music today. Spanish composers at that time were not satisfied
with the rhythm of the bass and the voice, but added a lot of rhythms
with the continuo and the percussion. Complex rhythms which include a
flamenco drum player, for example, recreate this atmosphere. You can
hear it in our second recording. The result is really magnificent.
It's important to distinguish between Italian and Spanish music.
Having heard so little Spanish music, audiences have no frame of
reference, so they get confused between the two. Hopefully our
concerts and recordings will change that.
The second major
difference, of course, is color. The villancico, a religious
genre dating from the 17th century and an early form of the 18th
century cantata, makes novel use of arias and recitatives. Since it
was based on popular images and made use of vernacular texts it
enjoyed tremendous success. Eventually, a villancico could be
either secular or sacred. Literes' elegant cantata "Ah del
rustico pasto" is a fine example of coloratura writing from the
KNET: Which was more
important for Spanish baroque composers, the patronage of the court or
the patronage of the Church, and were composers in the provinces as
active and influential as painters?
ELB: There was an
equal patronage, but probably more of the Church. The court
entertained heavily and music was essential. The big difference
between Spain and other European countries was the nobility. In Spain
provincial noblemen who were not close to the court had less influence
on music than provincial noblemen in Italy and France. Music was
developed mainly with important composers at court in Madrid. But the
Church was always present.
KNET: Were composers
ELB: The Church was
the Minister of Culture at the time. All major musicians tried to work
for the Church, and many were priests. The cathedrals had huge organs,
choirs, lots of singers. Works for four choirs could be composed.
KNET: If it was the
Church would it have been the Jesuits or the Dominicans who were
particularly powerful in Spain?
ELB: Well, it would
have been others such as the Hieronomites. They were a very musical
order, important at the Escurial. They wrote the funeral music of the
kings. There is a great deal of this ceremonial music.
KNET: Have you
explored Jesuit composers such as Domenico Zipoli in South America?
ELB: Yes. That is a
fascinating topic. Jesuits were both politically powerful and
creative. But they are a special topic. I am aware of work being done
in that area, and much of what we learn in South American music of
that period can help us understand not only the Spanish baroque, but
also the evolution of instrumentation throughout the Hispanic world.
KNET: To what degree
did the Islamic presence in Spain influence Iberian baroque music?
ELB: Many people are
interested in this facet, but there is still a big shadow. Nevertheless,
after an 800-year presence, Arab influence is obvious. The polyrhythms we
spoke of earlier—
color, instrumentation, melody
and even the harmonic support - are quite Arab. The problem is how it
was assimilated into the Spanish tradition. I suspect it developed
mostly through popular music, not court music. Because popular
traditions tend to be transmitted orally, research in this area is
KNET: What was the
political climate surrounding music and painting at this time?
ELB: With the death of
Felipe II (1598) or, let's say, as of 1700 the Spanish empire was
obviously on the decline. The War of Spanish Succession—
the end of
Hapsburg rule, the arrival of the Bourbons. Painting in 17th century
Spain was extremely important, and the quality was undeniable.
Paintings were commissioned, hung and treasured. Music was ephemeral.
More importantly, the 18th century Spanish were still impressed by the
polyphony of the 16th century and continued to compose in that style.
KNET: Would it have
been the King or the nobility who commissioned music?
ELB: The King. The
Spanish King's power was enormous.
KNET: Was Felipe
IV's patronage of music as strong as his support of painting?
ELB: Felipe IV was a
gamba player. He was extremely important to Spanish culture. Not only
did he like art, but he was king during the period of Hidalgo and
Calderon. Once we were playing Tono la Muerte for solo soprano
and continuo on the death of Felipe IV. You can feel through this
piece how the composer, Juan del Vado, and other musicians at that
time felt about this king. They knew Spain would never have another
king who would love music to this degree. He spent huge sums on music
KNET: So despite
political and economic decline in the 18th century, Spanish music
remained as fertile as painting?
ELB: Most certainly.
We are talking about contemporaries of Velazquez, Calderon and others.
Decline in the arts begins mid-century. Goya is an exception. What is
amazing is to think that Spain ruled the world in the 16th century,
and by the 19th century was considered by the French and the English,
for example, as an adventure destination similar to Africa.
KNET: As a Spanish
musician do you feel this attitude prevails in Europe today.
yes. Spain is perceived as a Third World country, although part of the
problem has been the Spanish themselves. Things are changing. There is
a whole generation of Spaniards who travel, speak other languages and
do business abroad.
KNET: When we first
spoke two years ago after a performance at the Monasterio de San Juan
de los Reyes in Toledo, you said that the wealth of Spanish baroque
manuscripts was to be found in Spanish cathedrals, private archives in
Madrid and Barcelona, the Escurial and other palace libraries. Since
then, has your research revealed new sources of this music?
ELB: Yes, I have
researched archives in Central and South America. In fact, most
archives are preserved in the Americas and Portugal. There are
numerous reasons why this is the case, including issues related to
traditions of preservation. In the case of José de Torres, for
example, a fire in 1734 in the Royal Palace in Madrid destroyed the
muscial archvies there. Much of the music lost has been rediscovered
in Central and South America, notably in Mexico and Peru.
KNET: Any advice to
musicians on performance practice of this music?
musicians will have to become accustomed to rhythms such as those
heard in the jacara - a very earthy genre. The pizzicato
string continuo played like guitars, the castanets, the descending
tetrachords typical of the malagueña mixed with classic
galant always excite the listener. It is pointless to try and compare
it to the German baroque and Bach, for example. The aesthetics are too
different. Today, classical music exists apart from popular music. At
the time of its composition, Iberian baroque music was a mixture of
both classical and popular. It can be difficult for classical
musicians to master the popular rhythms of the period.
KNET: Do you mean
that classical musicians can be stiff?
ELB: Yes. The
rythmic changes in Iberian baroque music are constant. They need to
listen to more Salsa...spend some time in Cuba! In Spain, local folk
traditions evolved steadily and by the nineteenth century solidified
into more staid forms which have little to do with their origins. But
the memory of early music is still present in the Americas. We need to
revive this memory.
a review of Al Ayre Espanol's latest recording