Knowing our historical origins: Cantoría and the Spanish early music revival

Knowing our historical origins: Cantoría and the Spanish early music revival

Sometimes it seems that in the context of historically informed performance (HIP) there are two strands of history. Firstly, there is the history of 'music itself', where perhaps we may enjoy some peaceful certainty concerning the object of study. The second strand is a more neglected history: that of the Early Music movement itself and its surrounding context.

Although the latter is becoming more present in the consciousness of those who are engaged with HIP, many times it remains relegated to oblivion. Nevertheless, its influence on current musical praxis is surely greater than all the scattered information that is gathered from scrutinising historical sources, since it is by the latter strand that we come to know the former.

Let’s take as an example the primordial aspect of fixing a musical text from which a performance may initiate. Surely, there are more cases of performers who use modern editions (often less 'critical' so much as 'open to criticism'!) to study their repertoire than those who read directly from a facsimile. Yet very few are more interested in studying and understanding the context of the editor of a score than that of its composer.

These are some of the problems which the vocal ensemble Cantoría will explore in the closing concert of the exhibition Música i Estudi  (Music and Study) held on December 19th 2017 in the East Hall of the National Library of Catalonia (BNC). The exhibition commemorates the centenary of the Music Department of the library. Although the event may seem trivial at first glance, it was within the heart of this institution that institutional musicology was founded in Spain, and with it, a good deal of the foundations of HIP.

The exhibition showed a chronological narration of the historical milestones of the Music Department (MD), which started with the very rich collection of the musical bibliophile Joan Carreras i Dagas, acquired by the Diputació de Barcelona in 1892, before the BNC existed. After the foundation of the Library in 1907, the composer and musicologist Felip Pedrell (who also cataloged the Carreras i Dagas library) donated his personal archive to the new institution. As a result of this donation and thanks to Pedrell’s request, the MD was created in 1917. Motivated by the ideology of its promoter, the nascent MD had as its main objective to strengthen the legacy of musical documentation through the acquisition of new funds and the publication of the music of early Spanish composers. Thus began the work of the Library with the edition of the madrigals of the composer Joan Brudieu, edited by Pedrell and his outstanding disciple and first librarian of the MD, Higini Anglès.

After Pedrell’s death in 1922, Anglès took the leadership of the MD. Under his direction, extended until 1958, the BNC became an international benchmark for musical documentation. Additionally, Anglès considerably increased the number of musical publications and undertook projects such as the third congress of the International Musicological Society (1936) and the archive of photographs of musical sources. Anglès also became the promoter of the main musicological institutions in Spain, founding the Spanish Institute of Musicology, the journal Anuario Musical (pioneer in musicological research in Spain) and publishing the series Monuments of Spanish Music. The latter represents, even today, one of the most important editions of early Spanish music. Josep M. Llorens, a student of Anglès, was the last musicologist in charge of the MD, which is nowadays run by librarians with musical studies.

The ideological basis of Spanish musicology was firmly settled in the time of Pedrell, and fully established with Anglès. With a clear nationalist orientation, it received the support of the political projects of its time, both in the Catalan and in the Spanish context. It also acquired a marked religious profile, given the situation of its promoters, two of them Jesuits. The work of these and many other musicians and musicologists throughout the twentieth century ended up configuring and shaping most of the HIP trends in Spain.

Aware of this historical legacy, a young Spanish ensemble such as Cantoría, recently chosen for EEEmerging (Emerging European Ensemble), seeks to guide their musical journey with an understanding of both their place in the history of the historical performance movement as well as of the sources of the renaissance. To return to the beginning of this article, it is my contention that at this stage of the early music revival we must all strive to remain educated of both strands of history: that of the early sources of music as well as of our place in the early music revival.

Daniel G. Camhi studied musicology at the High School of Music of Catalonia. He has participated in different musicological research projects in institutions such as the National Library of Catalonia, the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the Pompeu Fabra University. He has written more than thirty music articles in cultural magazines. His current interests are related to musical documentation, musical heritage, musical historiography and memory studies.

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