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EL CORTESANO is the title of a book published in Valencia in 1561 by Luys Milán, who was clearly inspired by Castiglione’s work, which defined the Italian model of the refined ‘courtier’ and expert musician that was gradually going to impose itself in all of Europe. Aesthetically, this title is essentially linked to vihuela music – as soloist or accompanying the voice. The vihuela is a somewhat mysterious Iberian instrument that, in Spain and Portugal, took the place of the lute, differing from the latter with its flat shape and slight inward curve at the waist.
Today, EL CORTESANO is the concept made up by the performers of the present CD, representing an attempt to reveal the rich, varied repertoire of the Iberian Peninsula during the Renaissance. In no way tied down to a set formation, EL CORTESANO’s mission is to become a flexible ensemble, with the fields of research determining the group’s size, and spirit prevailing over form. This approach obviously lies within the entente of the finest Spanish musicians who, over the past three decades, have successfully carried out a reappraisal of the music composed in the peninsula.
It is indeed curious that musicologists who, since the beginning of the 20th century, have devoted their efforts to the music of the 15th and 16th centuries, have greatly underestimated the contribution of the Peninsula, relegating it to a marginal, not to say exotic or even simplistic role. While fervently endeavouring to prove the supremacy of the Franco-Flemish and their influence on the art of France, Italy and England, they have forgotten, perhaps a bit deliberately, that Spain was one of the rich centres of art and culture of the period. Politically,it was the master of the Netherlands, this doubtless explaining that, while Spanish music is sometimes marked by the Flemish contribution, it retained a unique richness, variety and originality. Its influence spread as far as the New World, whose rhythms and forms it adopted, later integrating them into the European current that would, in turn, transform them (examples : the sarabande, passacaglia and chaconne, originally fast, lascivious dances that underwent a profound mutation, becoming, in the 17th century, serious, majestic French dances that would endure through Bach’s music).
Chronologically, vihuela music, with or without voice, dates from between 1536 – Luys Milán’s El Maestro – and 1576 – Esteban Daça’s El Parnasso. Forty years for five composers to bequeath pieces of great refinement to the ages, linked to highly elaborate poetry that is most often melancholy. It is a courtly art, in the spirit of Castiglione, but with a specificity that is to be found nowhere else – an art that is occasionally haughty but next to which certain other music of the time might seem light or superficial.
This is JOSÉ HERNÁNDEZ PASTOR’s first disc – or at least the first that is devoted entirely to him, for he has recorded with various ensembles, notably those of Jordi Savall. Still quite young, this student of Andreas Scholl demonstrates surprising maturity in the way in which he intends to conduct his career : no ‘star system’ for him, but rather an approach based on research, reconstruction, poetic expression and the links between text and music. With ARIEL ABRAMOVICH, a sensitive, subtle Argentine lutenist who shares his ideals, he forms an uncompromising team from whom we may expect a great deal: a new generation of pure, noble artists.
MICHEL BERNSTEIN Translated by John Tyler-Tuttle