Morte que fay - Heinric Isaac

Omnis spiritus laudet - Jacob Obrecht

Ya no quiero - Juan de l'Encina

Romerico - Juan de l'Encina


The rich and varied contents of the Segovia Cathedral songbook make it one of the most interesting sources of late fifteenth century polyphonic music. This codex possesses all characteristic elements of a Choirbook (nine complete masses, four fragments of masses and four magnificats), a Liber motetorum (34 motets), a Liedboek (36 chansons have a Flemish incipit), a Cancionero (39 secular or spiritual works in Spanish) and a Chansonnier (48 French chansons). ln total, the manuscript contains 204 compositions in five different languages (there are also seven works in Italian), written by 21 composers, including such great names as Jacob Obrecht, Heinrich Isaac, Alexander Agricola, Loyset Compere, Juan de Anchieta, Philippe Caron, Hayne van Ghiseghem, Johannes Tinctoris, Josquin des Prez, Juan del Enclna, Francisco de la Torre and Johannes Martini.


There are, however, three other reasons why this music book is of exceptional importance. Firstly, it contains many works for which this manuscript is the only source: 97 compositions appear in no other codex of that time. Secondly, it is one of the rare Spanish documents containing both secular and religious works with lyrics in Castilian. Thirdly, it is one of the few Spanish documents which contain both Spanish and European repertoire.


The cancionero was discovered in I922 by Higino Angles in the archives of Segovia Cathedral. lt soon became apparent that this book had been part of the Libros of the Castilian Court Chapel which, under the reign of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabelle of Castile, was one of the largest musical organizations in Europe. Together, both sovereigns employed 34 singers, 50 chaplains (cantors and teachers of music theory), 25 to 40 mozos de capilla (choirboys) and a number of instrumental players. The archives (Libros de Camera) have preserved the names of these musicians, their precise position at court and their earnings. it is noteworthy that there are no foreign names in the register which lists the 34 singers who worked at the Castilian Court at the end of the 15 century.


Queen lsabelle strived to create a national taste and a Spanish musical style. This does not mean, of course, that music from other European countries was not known or appreciated in Spain. The inventory of the treasury of Segovia's Real Alcazar, for example, includes - under the heading laudes y cosas de musica - I2 codices with French and other European music, and the Cancionero de Segovia was almost certainly one of these French chansonniers which were part of the treasures that Isabelle entrusted to the Alcazar in I505.


The type of paper and the watermark of the codex are identical to those of the official documents used at lsabelle's court, as well as to those of the ‘Libros de Musica’ which were exclusively reserved for the court chapel.


The text of a chanson by Loyset Compere in this codex gives us a clue as to the date after which it must have been written:


\/iue el noble rey de France

Qui a si bien chassé les Lombards

Auec leurs bards et tabars

Plusieurs en a mis a' suffrance.

Viue el noble rey de France.


The noble king of France in question here is Louis Xll who chased the Sforzas out of Milan into exile in December I499. At that time Compere was employed at the French court and he wrote this victory song for his sovereign. The cancionero must therefore have been compiled after 1499 but before I503, since that was the year the inventory of the Alcazar's treasury was made.


To explain such diversity within a single book, and especially the massive presence of Flemish pieces (36 out ofthe 94 that are not in Latin), it is necessary to search for historical circumstances or events connecting these distant places, diverse languages and different repertoires. Today there is a strong tendency to link the codex's compilation with the visit to Spain by the Burgundian duke Philip the Fair and his wife Joanna - who was the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabelle of Castile - in 1501, undertaken to safeguard his succession rights to the Spanish crown. The royal couple were accompanied by a great number of musicians from both courts. Music also served to add splendour to the most important receptions of this long journey. The chronicler of the Burgundian court, chamberlain Le Laing, described the celebration of mass on I3 December as follows:

"The singers of the King sang on one side, and those of his Lordship on the other. After mass they sang the Te Deum together."


He also wrote about the arrival in Paris:

"The gentlemen of the Church solemnly welcomed him at the entrance of the city and invited him to Notre Dame, where the Te Deum was melodiously celebrated with human voices and organs, as if it were for the King himself".


In January 1502 the royal company crossed the Pyrenees and in each town where they stayed, celebrations, banquets, hunts and corridas were organized. Diego de Colmenares published the Royal Decree on how the couple had to be welcomed to Toledo:

1. Firstly, everybody should dress as smartly as possible; clothes which are being made must be of bright colours as a clear sign of joy; those who are entitled to wear a doublet of silk, are allowed to wear silken cloaks.

2. The reception must be held entirely by continuously cheering and beautifully attired persons, and by local horse-riders.

3. The sovereigns must be received under a canopy of brocade; in the principal church they will be received by the chapter SO that they can go and pray, as they are accustomed

4. The streets must be decorated and celebrations must be held showing the greatest possible expression of our happiness, without fireworks, however, which cannot please Flemings and Germans because they are themselves so adept at holding them in their own


5. The foreigners must be accommodated with love and presents, as befits our hospitality here and as is our duty as legal subjects.


The arrival at Segovia in I502 meant the end of a long journey for Philip and Joanna, as well as for the cancionero which meanwhile had grown into a document containing the whole repertoire that was fashionable in the towns where they had been received. In I503 Isabelle deposited the codex in Segovia’s Real Alcazar, together with all precious objects of her treasury. It is still a mystery how the book eventually came to be in the cathedral’s archives. It was possibly lent to the cathedral on one occasion and never returned, which proved to be fortunate, since in I862 all the treasures of the Alcazar went up in flames. The possible mistake of a librarian, or the negligence of a civil servant, have thus contributed to the safeguard of this unique and valuable document.




Roberto Festa

Translation: Paul Rans and Nell Race.