Between Italian and Spanish: Musics, Mutual Influences and Shared Spaces

John G. Lazos

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Capdepón Verdú, Paulino; González Marín, Luis Antonio (coordinadores), Entre lo italiano y lo español: músicas, influencias mutuas y espacios compartidos (siglos XVI-XX). Tiran lo blanch, Colección Euterpe música, 1a ed., Valencia (2021), España, 546 pp.

In assessing this volume, it is worth recalling the long and prolific tradition of Spanish musicology. It all began with the Catalan composer and musicologist Felipe Pedrell, who investigated the musical origins of his country. The tireless Higinio Anglés, founder of the Spanish Institute for Musicology, continued in his path, and we must not forget about José López-Calo, either, a Jesuit priest known for cataloging innumerable cathedral collections and authoring more than 60 books and over 250 articles. With this history in mind, it is not surprising that Spanish musicology continues to produce research of high musical quality, and with this volume in fact reaches beyond its own borders.

The book offers a collection of thirteen papers originally presented at the Third International Conference on Hispanic Musical Heritage. In an effort to shed light on the relationship between Italian and Spanish culture, it focuses in particular on music at the church and the theater, the circulation of sources and people, as well as questions of identity, interpretation, and reception. The articles contribute to recent discussions about the musical connections between Italy and Spain, opening up countless new perspectives.

Juan José Pastor Comín took Boccaccio’s Decameron as starting point, surveying the work’s literary and musical reception throughout the 16th and the early 17th centuries with an eye to the pandemic situation. Pastor offers an extensive bibliography, a table identifying the year from which the source dates, its author and provenance, as well as the Decameron section it refers to.

José Luis de la Fuente Charfolé introduces us to Pietro Cerone’s Melopeo, a volume of over a thousand pages divided into 22 chapters on various musical topics. Cerone was a great humanist, whose extensive musical synthesis was primarily based on his long experience as a teacher. Indeed, it appears that the prime reason for his writing Melopeo was precisely the lack of music teachers in contemporary Spain.

Manuel del Sol explores how the death of a monarch and the subsequent ceremonies were exploited by the House of Austria as a means to establish a power that came to extend also to the Hispanic world. Of particular interest is the analysis of the role music played during the funeral of Philip IV, one of the most important ceremonial events that took place at the end of the Golden Age.

Nieves Pascual León offers a pedagogical and interpretative analysis of four sonatas; two each by Pietro Marchitelli and Giovanni Antonio Guido, respectively. Both musicians – the former essentially adhering to Corelli’s style, the latter representing the French school – provided important models for the composition and interpretation of works for violin in Naples in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Antonio Ezquerro-Esteban presents interesting discoveries from the “Fondo Reserva” of the former Instituto Español de Musicología (E-Bim), now housed in the library of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Barcelona. As his detailed descriptions and extensive bibliography make clear, these “little jewels” by widely-known authors demonstrate all too clearly the close relationship with Italy.

Luis Antonio González Marín draws attention to the lack of primary musical sources from the 18th century, taking as a basis for his analyses the only known copy of a treatise by Manuel Cavaza, which came to be known only in the last decade. The four recitatives he presents from two cantatas reveal how the types used by a Toledo musician relied on Italian models both formally and historically.

Paulino Capdepón Verdú’s contribution focuses on Francesco Corselli (1705-1778), an Italian composer of sacred vocal and instrumental music, who was active at the Royal Chapel of Madrid, and in fact became one of the most influential musicians in eighteenth-century Spain. Since his name was as good as forgotten by the 19th century, Verdú seeks to rediscover Corselli’s oeuvre for our times.

Victoriano J. Pérez Mancilla examines the prolific Spanish religious villancico tradition of the later 18th century, which was heavily influenced by the cantata’s formal structure consisting of recitatives and arias. The church of Santa María de Huéscar preserves about four hundred works of this kind, and the author discusses in depth the cavatinas, among which nine out of ten were written by the chapel master José Miguel Carmona.

Oriol Brugarolas Bonet allows an insight in the strong economic and cultural connections between Italy and the capital of Catalonia. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Barcelona was one of the main centers of the Spanish musical market, whereas the Teatro de la Santa Cruz in particular was known, at least until the mid-19th century, as a characteristically “Italian” theater.

Francisco Manuel López Gómez examines the influence of Italian opera in Spain during the 19th century. Not only in theaters, but also in salons and even cafes, “bel canto” was regularly heard. Against this backdrop, two opposing tendencies arose: while some advocated the foundation of a decidedly national “opera seria” through the further development of the zarzuela, others believed that the only way to inspire Spanish composers was to rely on European models.

Marc Heilbron Ferrer tells us the fascinating story of the first opera by a Spanish musician that came to be premiered at the Teatro de la Scala in Milan. In 1837, Felice Romani’s only libretto for a Spanish composer, Odio e amore, was set to music by Mariano Obiols (1809-1888), a pupil of Severio Mercadante, and proved sufficiently successful to prompt Ricordi publish excerpts from it.

Virginia Sánchez Rodríguez introduces us to the soprano María Barrientos (1884-1946), who at the age of 15 decided to try her luck in Milan. Her audition at the Teatro Lirico, at which Jules Massenet was also present, proved so successful that she promptly received a contract to make her debut in La sonnambula and Il barbiere di Siviglia. Indeed, her precocious and prodigious career primarily unfolded in Milan.

The last article of the volume by María Dolores Segarra Muñoz allows us an insight in the choreographic experiments of the 1940s, which strove to establish “stylized” Spanish dance as an independent discipline. While Antonio Ruiz Soler and the legendary Mariemma learned much from their collaboration with Léonide Massine, and received international acclaim, they could never repeat the success of their famous choreography for The Three-Cornered Hat at La Scala.

In sum, this book offers an intriguing sample of the work of Spanish scholars studying the musical interactions between Spain and Italy, and should prove to be an essential resource for everyone interested in such cross-cultural relations.

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