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  • Devotional Music in the Iberian World, 1450-1800: The Villancico and Related Genres
  • Michael Noone
Tess Knighton and Álvaro Torrente, eds. Devotional Music in the Iberian World, 1450–1800: The Villancico and Related Genres.Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007. viii + 492 pp. index. illus. bibl. $134.95.ISBN: 978–0–7546–5841–2.

In their splendid introduction to this magnificent volume, editors Tess Knighton and Álvaro Torrente remind us how little we know about the enormous corpus of vernacular Spanish and Portuguese sacred songs that are referred to variously as chançonetas, ensaladas, cantadas, pastorelas, and villancicos. Despite their ubiquitous cultivation in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking cultures from the fifteenth century through to the nineteenth, one searches in vain for so much as a passing mention of the genre(s) in such ambitiously comprehensive reference works as, to take but one example, the 3,500-page Oxford History of Western Music (2005). Scholars wearily inured to the seemingly routine marginalization of Iberian and New World repertories in music historiography will warmly welcome this very fine collection of essays.

As both a literary and a musical genre, the villancico (and related genres), provides scholars with a mouthwateringly diverse field of enquiry that remains largely unexplored. Few musico-poetic genres can boast the villancico's wide geographical distribution, its astounding longevity, its multifaceted characteristics, or its astonishing variety of performance contexts. That the genre itself became a site in which such eternal dualities as sacred and secular, élite and popular, official and subversive, were negotiated and renegotiated in larger ritual and theatrical contexts challenges traditional methodologies and ensures rich rewards for those willing to join the expedition. One hopes that the editors' sage insistence that the collection is offered as a starting point will be read as an invitation: "much remains to be done before this chameleon-like genre, so adaptable to whatever environment, so adept at concealing its socio-political and anthropological implications, is fully understood" (xvii).

Although the volume traces its genesis to an international conference held at London University in 1998, this is no mere collection of decade-old conference presentations. Indeed, the editors are to be enthusiastically congratulated for persuading some of the original presenters to substantially revise, augment, and update their contributions for the collection. In addition, a number of new high-caliber contributions were solicited, and the fifteen essays by a geographically diverse group of villancicófilos from a range of disciplines amply reward the longish gestation period. Knighton's superb and heroic translations make available to the English-speaking public some excellent work by Pepe Rey, Andrea Bombi, Pablo Rodrí guez, Marí a Gembero (Spanish), Rui Cabral Lopes (Portuguese), and Alain Bè gue and Benoî t Michael (French).

Highlights in the volume include Pepe Rey's masterly discussion of Que no sé hilar, a three-voice piece attributed to Triana from the Cancionero musical de la Colombina in which each voice carries a different, yet related text. Alberto Rí o examines the villancico in the works of early Castillian playwrights and exposes the web of relationships that connects religious ceremony and theatrical representations. [End Page 988] In an essay that focuses on the use of villancicos in the construction of royal image-making and propaganda, Tess Knighton offers a brilliant close reading of Francisco de la Torre's Adorámoste (Cancionero musical del Palacio, f. 275). By studying the adaptation of text and music in its four surviving versions, Knighton places the multifunctional nature of the villancico much earlier than previously thought.

In a strong and substantial essay, Álvaro Torrente studies the function and context of the villancico at Salamanca Cathedral in the early eighteenth century with close reference to a Ceremonial compiled ca. 1700. The forty-nine villancicos therein prescribed for performance at the cathedral fall exclusively during the following seasons: Christmastide, the Octave of Corpus Christi, and the Feast of the Assumption. Torrente attempts first to correlate the Ceremonial regulations with the surviving villancico corpus in Salamanca cathedral; he then compares the practice of Salamanca cathedral with that of other cathedrals and, interestingly, finds little that is unique to Salamanca. Space prohibits mention of the many other fine contributions.

High standards...


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pp. 988-989
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Archived 2009
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