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A musical tour of Renaissance Iberia

Piffaro presents The Glory of the Wind Band: Music of Portugal and Spain

In
5 minute read
On a chancel, the three black-clad musicians play wooden recorders ranging from about one foot to three feet long.
From left: Priscilla Herreid, Sian Ricketts, and Grant Herreid in Piffaro’s ‘The Glory of the Wind Band’ concert. (Photo by Bill DiCecca.)

For their final concert of the season, Philadelphia’s Piffaro ensemble and guests created an instrumental early music tour for their enthusiastic audience. These players generally explore a specific time and place, and for The Glory of the Wind Band: Music of Portugal and Spain they created a seven-stop musical trip through the Iberian Peninsula.

This was the Renaissance world of the ministriles, wind players hired by churches and cathedrals to augment their organ and vocal music. These versatile musicians played multiple instruments, and Piffaro usually features 40 or 50 in each concert, replicating their forebears’ virtuosity.

The valido and the vihuela

The musical journey began several hundred miles north of Madrid, in Lerma, ruled by Duke Francisco Gómez de Sandoval, valido (first minister) to King Philip III. The powerful duke installed a wind band in his church and furnished its players with original music. In the 1980s, a manuscript in the church’s organ chest came to light, filled with works from two of the era’s major composers: Philippe Rogier (c.1561-1596), head of the court musicians, and Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), maestro de capilla of Seville Cathedral.

The seven-piece Lerma set featured works by these two, opening with all seven musicians in a fabordone, a multi-voiced psalm setting for a wind band alternating with sung verses of plainchant—here, Beatus vir/Blessed is the man by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611). Grant Herreid sang the selections, accompanying himself on the vihuela, a small Spanish guitar (tuned like a lute) that featured prominently throughout the concert.

Toledo and Lisbon

Next stop was the storied city of Toledo, with its great cathedral. In residence there was one of the era’s leading musicians, harpist Diego Fernández de Huete (c.1633-1713). Piffaro opened this section with his Folias Agaitadas, one of his many pieces on Spanish dance forms featuring Piffaro’s artistic director Priscilla Herreid in a remarkably lyrical bagpipe solo. This melodic set also featured the Gloria from Misa Decidle al caballero by Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553), a great Renaissance composer and the maestro de capilla of the Toledo Cathedral. The set concluded with a soulful elegy for King Philip II by Alonso Lobo (1555-1617), Versa est in luctum/My harp is turned to grieving.

When the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 leveled that great city, thousands of pieces of music were lost. Some, however, survived in the Portuguese town of Coimbra, the third tour stop. There, the Monastery of Santa Cruz was home to a large musical library that still exists at the University of Coimbra, the oldest school in Portugal. This five-work set concluded with a touching and beautiful hymn to the Virgin Mary, Alma Redemptoris Mater, in an eloquent four-part setting for recorders.

Next was music from Lisbon, and Piffaro opened with the trumpet-intoned notes of the Vidi Aquam by Duarte Lobo (c.1565-1646), an important composer of that era who worked as maestro de capilla at the Lisbon Cathedral and taught many Portuguese composers. The set included two anonymous songs from the Cancionero de Belém, a manuscript discovered in the 1960s and the only known collection of Portuguese madrigals, lively works that added the hurdy-gurdy to the mélange of Piffaro’s trademark instrumentarium.

Évora and Zaragoza

After intermission, Piffaro moved to the town of Évora, with three sacred works including the six-part O beata Maria by Vincente Lusitano (c.1520-c.1561). Lusitano, described as homem pardo (a dark-skinned person), was likely the son of a Portuguese nobleman and an enslaved African woman. While many Portuguese composers’ works were lost, his music has come down in very clear print form (likely due to a move to Germany) and can played and heard today.

Then on to Zaragoza, opening with De la piel de sus ovejas, a striking work by Pedro Rimonte (1565-1627) played by Piffaro over the years (here with great flair) that sent a ripple of recognition through the audience. The set closed with the Agnus Dei from Misa a 5 by Melchor Robledo (c.1510-1586), maestro de capilla at the Zaragoza Cathedral. This work’s recorders (in voicings from bass to soprano) in a polyphonic setting featured a melodious entrance for the trumpet, sometimes underscoring and then lyrically rising above the beautiful polyphony.

A finale in Seville

For a finale—geographic and musical—Piffaro arrived in Seville, that great center of the Spanish Renaissance. Here the ensemble made “a nod to a living tradition.” In 16th and 17th-century Spain, on the feast of Corpus Christi (which may Catholic parishes still mark with neighborhood processions) choirboys would sing and dance outside the church and end at the altar. These choirboys, the seises/six, still honor this tradition in Seville, and Piffaro ended with Grant’s adaptation of the Danzas del Santissimo Corpus Christi by Jean Baptista Comes (1582-1643).

This finale melded sacred and secular music, a balance achieved throughout this intriguing concert. Artistic director Priscilla Herreid noted in her excellent program notes that “every Piffaro program involves a lot of research and at least some sleuthing [and] in some ways, this program involved the most sleuthing of the season.” That was clearly true.

Intricately programmed, the concert included more than 30 works, some adapted by Grant Herreid, that brought the Iberian Renaissance musically to life. It’s sobering to consider how much music from that time has been lost, but fortunately groups like Piffaro continue to seek it out. The Glory of the Wind Band has been recorded, so you can revisit this music—or hear it for the first time—with a stream available May 24 through June 6.

What, When, Where

The Glory of the Wind Band: Music of Portugal and Spain. Music by 16th and 17th century composers. Piffaro (Priscilla Herreid, Grant Herreid, Greg Ingles, Erik Schmalz) with guest artists Georgeanne Baker, Héloïse Degrugillier, Sian Ricketts, and Kelsey Schilling. Live concerts May 10-12, 2024 at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, and Wilmington’s Immanual Church Highlands; streaming online ($21) May 24-June 6, 2024. (215) 235-8469 or Piffaro.org.

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