English Abstract

Bernardino de Ribera (ca. 1520–1580) was a widely recognized maestro de capilla in sixteenth century Spain. However, his actual status is often associated with the great figure of Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca. 1548–1611), since it seems that both were in Ávila at the same time, Ribera as an established master, Victoria as a young choirboy. The present study analyses the large choirbook that Ribera himself created as a gift for the cathedral in Toledo. It examines the history of the manuscript (mutilated some years after its creation because of the value of its illuminations), the construction of the Codex, and the repertoire contained within, and reveals the importance of some neglected figures like Bernardino, a significant composer who deserves more attention than he is currently given.

French Abstract

Bernardino de Ribera (ca 1520–1580) était un maestro de capilla largement reconnu dans l’Espagne du XVIe siècle. Cependant, son statut actuel est souvent associé à la grande figure que représente Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca 1548–1611), car il semble que tous deux aient été à Ávila au même moment, Ribera comme maître établi, Victoria comme jeune enfant de chœur. Cet article analyse le grand livre de chœur que Ribera créa lui-même en vue de l’offrir à la cathédrale de Tolède. Il examine l’histoire du manuscrit (mutilé quelques années après sa création en raison de la valeur de ses enluminures), la construction du codex et son contenu musical, et révèle l’importance de figures négligées tel Bernardino, un compositeur d’importance qui mérite plus d’attention que celle qui lui est actuellement accordée.

German Abstract

Bernardino de Ribera (ca. 1520–1580) war ein weithin angesehener maestro de capilla im Spanien des 16. Jahrhunderts. Heutzutage wird er jedoch meist nur in Verbindung mit dem großen Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca. 1548–1611) wahrgenommen, denn beide wirkten wohl zur gleichen Zeit in Ávila: Ribera als etablierter Lehrer und Victoria als junger Chorknabe. Die vorliegende Studie analysiert das große, von Ribera selbst als Geschenk für die Kathedrale von Toledo geschaffene Chorbuch. Sie untersucht die Geschichte des Manuskriptes, das kurz nach seiner Entstehung aufgrund des Wertes seiner Illustrationen verstümmelt wurde, seinen Aufbau sowie das enthaltene Werkrepertoire. Außerdem enthüllt sie die Bedeutung bisher vernachlässigter Personen wie Bernardino, der als bedeutender Komponist mehr Beachtung verdient als ihm derzeit zu Teil wird.


Until now, many scholars have focused their attention on sixteenth-century Spanish music and, certainly, the publications issued over the years are to be commended. However, there is still much to be accomplished. The richness of Spanish music of that period is so great that along the way we have forgotten lesser-known masters, most of whom have been obscured by the canonical figures of Cristóbal de Morales (ca. 1500–1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528–1599), and, of course, Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca. 1548–1611). This is the basis of my study of Bernardino de Ribera (ca. 1520–1580), who was maestro de capilla in the cathedrals of Ávila (1559–1562), Toledo (1562–1570), and Murcia (1571–1580).

In what follows, I provide an in-depth study of Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6, which contains almost all of the known compositions by Bernardino de Ribera. The proximity and accessibility of the primary sources have largely facilitated my investigation, which I hope can offer some interesting information on broader issues.

State of the Question

If, as Michael Noone has said, “the manuscript codices of the Cathedral of Toledo are the largest existing source of Renaissance music in Spain”1, the Polyphonic Codex 6 is, without a doubt, one of its greatest jewels. Nonetheless, the manuscript has received relatively little scholarly attention (certainly less than other Toledo choirbooks), perhaps because it contains works by a single composer whose fame has not matched other Spanish composers of the period.

However, the codex is cited in one of the most noteworthy early Spanish musicological publications, the monumental collection of sacred music Lira Sacro Hispana, edited by Hilarión Eslava, who proclaimed Bernardino de Ribera as “one of the best masters of the first half of the century”2 and mentioned a “beautiful, luxurious book” extant in the Toledo Cathedral.3 [End Page 89]

The earliest publication to describe Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6, was written by Felipe Rubio Piqueras and dates from 1925. It consists of a short descriptive inventory of the contents of the manuscript.4 Another publication to include a brief account of the codex is Robert Stevenson’s classic article, published forty-three years ago in this journal, in which he described the choirbook as “one of the most stunning visually in the entire Toledo polyphonic corpus”.5

Many years later, François Reynaud’s study on Toledo polyphony devoted some pages to composers and manuscripts of sacred polyphony present in the Cathedral of Toledo, providing brief biographical information about Bernardino de Ribera and also on the manuscript, in addition to three editions of previously unpublished motets (which included several mistakes).6 Michael Noone has also cited the choirbook in the entry devoted to Ribera in the Diccionario de la Música Española e Hispanoamericana, wrongly attributing the copy of the manuscript to Martín Pérez and Francisco de Buitrago, as I will later demonstrate in this article.7

In short, it seems clear that this manuscript, the source of a good deal of unique music composed by Bernardino de Ribera, is in need of a thorough modern study. This article thus aims to provide a detailed overview of its history, condition, and a careful survey of its contents.

Origins and Date

Entirely dedicated to the Játiva-born composer, beautifully copied and decorated, the manuscript was ordered by Ribera himself in 1569. In order to commission the choirbook, Ribera had to ask for a loan of a hundred ducats, which was granted by Governor Don Gómez Tello Girón on 4 May 1569.8 Eleven months later (3 April 1570), the codex was finished and the composer presented it to the Cathedral chapter. The overall impression of his contemporaries must have been splendid, as demonstrated by the financial reward that Ribera received from the Cathedral chapter:9 measuring 700 x 400 mm, bound in leather-covered wooden boards with metallic tacks, its 159 parchment folios must have looked radiant with its clear musical notation, fantastic headings, and profusely decorated initials.

According to Michael Noone,10 the codex was fully copied by the scribe Martín Pérez and illuminated by Francisco de Buitrago, both artisans of proven quality.11 This statement [End Page 90] is debatable in my opinion and extremely difficult to confirm, as the supposed copyist, Martín Pérez, died in 1558. As if the names of both artisans were unfailingly united, Buitrago is mentioned for the final time in the Libros de Obra y Fábrica, a few months after the death of his colleague (19 January 1559), when he received a payment of 1,500 maravedíes for completing a book of Masses, possibly the Polyphonic Codex 9. Thus, not only do we have to exclude Martín Pérez from the manuscript’s authorship, but also the possible participation of Buitrago as highly doubtful.

So, who was the copyist of such an enormous manuscript? For the moment, the question has to remain unsolved. After the Pérez and Buitrago’s period (1542–1559), the Cathedral documents mention Alonso de Morata as a scribe, but usually related to more modest works, like a copy of villancicos for Christmas. In the absence of documentary evidence, we can only speculate on his potential contribution in the making of the Codex.

Unfortunately, many years later, vandals deprived us of seeing the manuscript in its original state by cutting out many of the initials to the texts. Twenty-five complete folios were torn out. Consequently, today some of the compositions that formed the original codex have been lost forever. In spite of its mutilated state, first mentioned by Rubio Piqueras in 1925,12 Polyphonic Codex 6 constitutes the major source of compositions created by this forgotten composer, including several unica.

A schematic state of the gatherings of Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6 is given below (fig. 1) in which, firstly, the torn out folios are shown by brackets that reveal the lost parts. Bold letters express when and where a new piece begins giving the text incipits.


The contents of the manuscript were clearly arranged in a tripartite structure. In the first part of the Codex are placed two “de Beata Virgine” Masses, one for four voices, the other for five. Both Masses included tropes in the Gloria section (Spiritus et alme, orphanorum paraclite), and the second one uses the antiphon Ave Maria gratia plena to create a poly-textual five-part Credo. Another peculiarity is presented in the Benedictus of the first Mass, to which is added a fifth voice, which has to be resolved by deciphering an inscription: “Cantus vnius euntis et alterius preeuntis ad finem cum breui. Retro euntisq ad principium cum semibreui cum mora in medio numerando pausas non numeratas partes”. The resolution of the previous instruction is, as Robert Stevenson has shown, “begins as a [End Page 91]

Fig. 1. Gatherings of Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6, Showing the Lost Folios
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Fig. 1.

Gatherings of Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6, Showing the Lost Folios

[End Page 93]

Pfundnoten ostinato consisting of the breves in the cantus, sung retrograde”.13 None of these Masses can be fully recovered, only several sections can be transcribed.

The second part of the Codex was reserved for motets. Among the various text choices, antiphons clearly predominate: Beata Mater, Virgo prudentissima (for the Assump tion of the Virgin, 15 August), Gloriosae Virginis Mariae (for the Nativity of the Virgin, 8 September), Hodie completi sunt (for the second Vespers of Pentecost), Regina caeli, and Rex autem David (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost). In addition, Conserva me, Domine, a setting based on Psalm 16, and Ascendens Christus in altum, a Matins responsory for the Ascension appear. The manuscript also contains a motet composed for a special event: the six-voiced O quam speciosa festivitas was created by Ribera to celebrate the transfer of the relics of Saint Eugenius from France to Spain in 1565.

The third and final section of the Codex includes eight Magnificats, two to each of the first four tones (odd and even verses). It seems reasonable to think that these eight compositions are only the first half of a collection of sixteen Magnificats, covering in such way all the spectrum of tones. But, at the moment, we do not know if Ribera composed the rest of the collection.

A list of the works of Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6 is given below (table 1) in which, firstly, the foliation is shown: the brackets reveal the lost folios. Next, is given the text incipits and the number of voices for each composition, followed by the concordances.

As we can see, there is clearly a bias towards Marian works: the two Masses are both dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and many of the motets are on Marian texts. But how do these contents fit in with the liturgical practice of the Cathedral? We have to take into account that, in 1568 and 1570 respectively (exactly at the time when the manuscript was being copied), Pope Pius V (1504–1572) promulgated a new Breviary and Mass liturgy, reflecting the reforms of the Council of Trent. Although the musical consequences of the Council have been overestimated and the adoption of the new Tridentine Mass liturgy came into use in Toledo in 1576, as early as 1565 the provincial council of Toledo documented the Pope’s position on the understanding of text:

Bishops take care that the modulation of voice does not make unintelligible the words of the Psalms and the rest that is usually sung, obscuring at the same time the sense with the sound [End Page 94]

Table 1. Foliation, Text Incipit, Number of Voices, and Concordances of Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6 of Toledo
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Table 1.

Foliation, Text Incipit, Number of Voices, and Concordances of Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6 of Toledo

[End Page 95]

which moves us. So keep the so-called canto de órgano so that we understand the words that are said, and focus more on pronunciation.14

This passage makes clear the fundamental relevance of textual understanding, but it has nothing to do with composition, but with interpretation. Nonetheless, some characteristic features of the music by Ribera, such as the densely imitative textures, his ever-changing musical motives, and the troped Masses that open the choirbook seem not to fit so well with post-tridentine preferences. In this sense, his music seems to be highly influenced by Morales and mid-century Flemish composers, like Nicolas Gombert (ca. 1495–ca. 1560) or Nicolas Champion (ca. 1475–1533), authors whose works are largely preserved in Toledo, as Stevenson and many others have shown. But, on the other hand, such “linear” conception is carefully mixed with triadic, homophonic passages and a marked preoccupation for textual expression that helps to achieve a balance in Ribera’s compositions, and which point to the next generation. So, it is not unusual that, many years after the implementation of the conciliar reforms, the Cathedral chapel still continued to perform compositions by Ribera, as shown in an extract from the Ceremonial de Juan Chaves Arcayos:

… and we note that this day, having sung the Sanctus, the singers say [sing] from the lectern a motet which is the Benedictus antiphon of this Sunday, Cum sublevasset oculos for 7 voices, a work composed en puncto de organo by Bernardino de Ribera, racionero and choirmaster of this holy church of Toledo15.

Another controversial matter is to speculate on how these compositions were performed. Table 2 shows, as an example, the members of the Cathedral chapel at the time of the arrival of Bernardino de Ribera. As we can see, it was a large number of forces and, taking into account that the Toledo Cathedral was at this time Spain’s leading ecclesiastical institution, and the efforts to attract the best musicians from all over the country, we can be sure of the high quality of the musicians.

The presence of nine ministriles is remarkable. But, as François Reynaud has demonstrated, to know when the musicians performed is not as easy as verifying their presence at the Cathedral. Even the documents which have helped us before, like the Ceremonial de Juan Chaves Arcayos or the Memorial of 1604, serve only to substantiate the immense diversity of ways in which singers and instruments joined in musical performances.

On another level, we have to take into account that the motet is an extremely flexible genre. Undoubtedly, Bernardino de Ribera composed his motets responding to the needs of the Toledo Cathedral, surely receptive to the spiritual and religious changes which were happening at the time. But we must think of the motet as a versatile genre appropriate to [End Page 96]

Table 2. Members of the Chapel of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1563
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Table 2.

Members of the Chapel of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1563

[End Page 97]

different functions in a wide range of contexts.16 The assumption that the motet necessarily functioned within a liturgical context based on its text, as David Crook has recently said, “proved untenable in the face of references to specific performances”17.

To sum up, the Toledo Polyphonic Codex 6 seems to me a compositional résumé of the contributions made by Bernardino de Ribera during his seven years as choirmaster at Toledo, principally in the field of devotions to the Virgin Mary. By doing so, he was trying to establish himself at the same level of previous choirmasters, like Cristóbal de Morales, for example: if we carefully examine the music manuscripts preserved in the Toledo Cathedral, we observe a great amount of Marian compositions, among which stand the Missa “de Beata Virgine” by Morales (preserved in two different manuscript codices, 27 and 29), and the famous Magnificat settings by the same composer. The relationship between the creations of Morales and Ribera could provide, in the near future, some interesting results.


The choirbook was completed during Ribera’s last year at Toledo. After eight years of service at the Toledo Cathedral, Ribera received a letter from the chapter of Murcia Cathedral, in which he was offered the post of maestro18. It was an offer he could hardly refuse. On one hand, the emotional ties that bound Bernardino de Ribera to the city of Murcia were very powerful because, accompanying his father, the young Ribera had spent part of his adolescence there19. On the other hand, the financial conditions were more than generous: 200 ducats was a considerable amount of money, plus twenty-four bushels of wheat, forty gallons of wine and, of course, a house.

By providing a summary of his compositions to the Cathedral, presented in the form of such a huge choirbook, it seems clear that Ribera would not abandon Toledo without leaving his mark on the Cathedral. This impressive Codex was, undoubtedly, the best legacy he could leave. However, at this point, we could ask ourselves several questions. On the one hand, although some scholars like François Reynaud believe that the Codex is integrally formed by works created for the Cathedral of Toledo, the truth is that, except for O quam speciosa festivitas (a motet composed, as noted above, for a special occasion), there are no solid arguments to demonstrate such a conjecture.

In fact, the inclusion of well-known tropes in both Masses “de Beata Virgine” could lead us to think that these pieces were composed in a previous period. As we all know, the use of tropes was “banned” by the Council of Trent, which was always searching for better text comprehension. The Council concluded in 1563, practically coinciding with the arrival of Ribera at the Cathedral of Toledo. However, we have to remember that the new Missal and Breviary of Pope Pius V were not published until 1568 and 1570 respectively, that is to say, [End Page 98] at the time when Ribera commissioned and delivered his manuscript to the Toledo Cathedral. Obviously, it is a fallacy to think that a concrete historical fact produced in a given place, however relevant it might be, changes everything ipso facto. Everything has to take a process of implementation and adaptation. Toledo adopted the new liturgy in 1570, so Ribera was not doing anything anachronistic, and the appearance of tropes or polytextual compositions might have been a perfectly normal procedure at this time.

On the other hand, what becomes clear is the high appreciation enjoyed by Ribera in his time. The gratification received for the Codex, in addition to the constant rewards given by the chapters of the diverse ecclesiastical institutions in which he worked, as well as the different salary increases at Toledo seem to confirm his high status. Furthermore, as the Ceremonial de Juan Chaves Arcayos shows, the repertoire created by Ribera continued to be performed at Toledo many years after the Council. Not only that, but his compositions were copied in manuscript during the seventeenth and even eighteenth century. Therefore, it seems that Ribera’s music was highly esteemed for quite some time, so it is clear that he deserves more consideration. Surely further analysis (perhaps a more accurate understanding of his compositional process may lead us to reconstruct the damaged compositions) and research about his life and music could provide us with some valuable information about the broader aspects of the musical and cultural atmosphere in sixteenth-century Spain. [End Page 99]

Carlos Gutiérrez Cajaraville

Carlos Gutiérrez is a Ph.D. candidate working on the motet in Spain ca. 1550–ca. 1580, analysing its processes of composition, transmission, and reception. This research was made possible through a Junta de Castilla y León and Fondo Social Europeo Fellowship (PIRTU) at the University of Valladolid. This article forms part of the project Música y cultura en el reino de España (siglos XVI al XIX): Fuentes, contextos, comunicación, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, reference number HAR2011-30272-C02-01. The author would like to thank Prof. Soterraña Aguirre for her valuable suggestions and comments.


1. “… los códices manuscritos de la Catedral Primada de Toledo, son también la mayor fuente existente de música renacentista en España.” Michael Noone, ‘La compilación del Códice polifónico toledano, ToleBc16’, Revista de Musicología 16, no. 5 (1993): 2,741.

2. Unless otherwise indicated, translations are my own.

3. Miguel Hilarión Eslava, Lira Sacro-Hispana: gran colección de obras de música religiosa compuesta por los más acreditados maestro españoles, tanto antiguos como modernos (Madrid: M. Martín Salazar, 1852–1860). The complete quotation reads as follows: ‘Do Bernardino Ribera de quien no se sabe con seguridad donde fué [sic] maestro, se cree lo fuese en la catedral de Toledo; porque en ella existen únicamente obras suyas. Los nombramientos que aparecen en los libros capitulares de dicha iglesia, empiezan por el de D. Cristobal Morales, posterior a Rivera. Ademas del Magnificat y dos motetes que de este autor se han publicado, hay en la misma iglesia un precioso y lujoso libro de misas. Rivera fué [sic] uno de los mejores maestros de la 1 a mitad del siglo XVI, tanto en génio [sic] como en correccion; y se ve en sus obras una tendencia marcada hacia la tonalidad moderna, y una espresion notable, que lo distingue de sus antecesores.’

4. Felipe Rubio Piqueras, Códices Polifónicos Toledanos (Toledo, 1925).

5. Robert Stevenson, ‘The Toledo Manuscript Polyphonic Choirbooks and Some Other Lost or Little Known Flemish Sources’, Fontes Artis Musicae 20, no. 3 (September–December 1973): 87–107.

6. François Reynaud, La polyphonie tolédane et son milieu. Des premiers témoignages aux environs de 1600 (Brepols: Turnhout, 1996).

7. Michael Noone, “Ribera, Bernardino” in Diccionario de la Música Española e Hispanoamericana. (Madrid: Sociedad General de Autores y Editores, 1999), 9:171–72.

8. Toledo Cathedral, Libro de Obra y Fábrica 864 (1569), 25. ‘Mandato de su sa: En quatro de mayo de 1569 años por cedula de su sa el muy Ills Goveror don gomez tello giron se prestaron al Racionero berno de Ribera Maestro de capilla cien ducados por dos años’.

9. The chapter decided to reward Ribera with 200 ducats. Toledo Cathedral, Libro de Obra y Fábrica 865 (1570), 134: “En doze de Jullio de 1570 Años di cedula por El gober[nad]or por la que dieron a ver[nardi]no de Ribera Maestro de capilla doscientos ducados en Recompensa de un libro de Musica de Canto de órgano que compuso para el serv[ici]o desta s[ant]a iglesia”.

10. See Michael Noone, ‘Ribera, Bernardino’, op. cit.

11. See Juan Ruiz Jiménez, ‘Creación del Canon de la Polifonía Sacra en las Instituciones Religiosas de la Corona de Castilla, 1550–1625’ in Estudios. Tomás Luis de Victoria. Studies. Javier Suárez Pajares and Manuel del Sol, eds. Colección Música Hispana (Madrid: ICCMU, 2013), 361–94.

12. Felipe Rubio Piqueras, Códices Polifónicos Toledanos (Toledo, 1925), 21–2.

13. Robert Stevenson, op. cit, 103.

14. The complete quotation, extracted from Concilio provincial de Toledo, 1565–1566, Sesión II, dec. XXI, reads as follows: ‘Cuiden también los obispos de que la modulación de voz no haga ininteligibles las palabras de los salmos y de lo demás que suele cantarse, oscureciendo al propio tiempo su sentido con el estrépito que se mueve. Por tanto, conservarán el canto llamado “de órgano” de modo que puedan entenderse las palabras que se dicen y fijarse más en la pronunciación que en las canturías curiosas. También tendrán un extremo cuidado de que la música que se emplea en alabanzas divinas no imite los tonos profanos del teatro, del amor impúdico o de la guerra.’

15. The mentioned motet, not among the works of the Codex, is now lost. Ceremonial de Juan Chaves Arcayos, f. 493v: ‘… y se note que este día mientras los sanctus después de haverlos cantado dicen los cantores al facistor de las gradas del águila un motete que es la ana del benedictus desta dominca cum sublevasset oculos a 7 voces la qual compuso en puncto de órgano Bernardino de Ribera, racionero y maestro de capilla desta sancta yglesia de Toledo.’

16. Even Masses could have been more versatile than we have thought, as shown by Honey Meconi, ‘Listening to Sacred Polyphony’, Early Music 26 (1998): 374–79.

17. David Crook, ‘The Exegetical Motet’, Journal of the American Musicological Association 68, no. 2 (2015): 255–316.

18. Murcia Cathedral, Actas Capitulares, Book 6 (1570–12 February 1572), Friday, 22 September 1570, f. 8v. “Este dia secretario en Cab[ildo] como el señor licen[ciado] Arias Gallego de parte del señor obispo abia dixo que se ofrezca a bernar[di]no de Ribera maestro de capilla y R[acioner]o de toledo de venir a salario a esta santa yg[lesia] de maestro de capilla le daran doszientos ducados en dineros de salario y mas la casa en que suelen vivir los maestros de capilla y el trigo y vino que se le acostumbra dar en el granero”.

19. Bernardino’s father, Pedro de Ribera, was maestro de capilla of Murcia Cathedral for almost thirty years (1535–1565).

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