Re-visiting the concept of the ‘musical work’. Part III: A Palace for Music by Soterraña Aguirre Rincón 

The Discovery of a Palace for Music (Blog III of IV) by Soterraña Aguirre Rincón 

‘Ca en la vihuela es la mas perfecta y profunda musica, la mas dulce y suaue consonantia, la que mas applaze al oydo …. la de mayor efficacia, que mas mueue y enciende los animos de los que oyen [sig. A v verso]’.[1]

This important passage of text extols the affection and desire to listen incited in those who hear the music of the vihuela player. It is found in the opening statement of the LIBRO DE MVSICA / DE VIHVELA INTITVLADO SILVA / de sirenas, a text by Enríquez de Valderrábano that was printed in Valladolid in 1547. The volume contains 169 compositions divided into seven books. Some are new creations, while many others are adaptations for the vihuela of pieces by, among others, Josquin, Gombert, Jaquet de Mantua, or Willaert. The collection also contains pieces by Spanish composers such as Cristóbal de Morales, Juan Vásquez, or Mateo Flecha el Viejo. Silva de Sirenas is dedicated to the fourth Count of Miranda del Castañar, D. Francisco de Zúñiga y Avellaneda.

Musician with string instrument. Palacio de Peñaranda de Duero (Spain). Estudio musical. Fresco. CC BY Soterraña Aguirre Rincón NC SA

The music theorist Juan Bermudo (ca. 1510-ca. 1565) also – strikingly – dedicated his Declaración de Instrumentos musicales to the very same person, doing so because of ‘la afficion que tiene [V.S.] a la buena musica, y el saber entenderla, y exercitarla [Prologo, fol. iij verso]’.[2]

Any attempt to write the biography of this important patron has the enormous disadvantage that there is very little documentation about him. However, as luck would have it, we do have access to an exceptional source of knowledge concerning him. By that I mean his Renaissance palace in Peñaranda de Duero, now a small, charming Castilian town in the Duero valley.

Our project La Obra Musical Renacentista allowed us to experience there the performance of several pieces that we had previously selected for a comparative study. The experience was both thrilling and fruitful – it was a privilege to be able to experience such a place, conceived for the purpose of enjoying music.

The palace possesses two exceptional spaces designed for musical performances. One is a small room that historiographers, until now, considered to be a kind of gallery where the women ‘could see and hear without being seen’, as it opens to the principal hall of the palace, now called the Salón de Embajadores or ‘Ambassadors’ Hall’. However, its architectural characteristics, the socio-cultural context of its use, as well as certain acoustic qualities of the space that we measured, allowed us to state that its primary purpose appears to have been to facilitate an acousmatic listening experience for those present in the Salón. The small room can accommodate just two or three musicians; its walls are rough, and unpolished. It is located above the lintel of one of the side doors of the Salón, and is 2.84 meters long, 2 meters high and 0.95 meters wide. Unlike a balcony for minstrels, it does not protrude into the Salón. Those present in the chamber cannot be seen from the Salón but goings-on in the Salón can be followed and observed from the chamber. We therefore believe that it functioned in ways comparable to today’s sound systems, providing ‘atmospheric’ music for those congregating in the Salón without them seeing the performers, something which is highly exceptional at this period in history.

The second space is a studiolo, richly decorated with frescoes dedicated to music and musicians. The musicians appear playing numerous different combinations of instruments in realistic poses, both getting ready for playing and while playing their instruments.

These spaces constitute one of the main foci of our next research project. Meanwhile, if you would like to have further information and to see some images, they are available in: Soterraña Aguirre-Rincón and Ana López Suero, “Música, espacios y mecenas. El palacio de los Condes de Miranda en Peñaranda de Duero (c.1510 – c.1550)”, Biblioteca: estudio e investigación (2017) 32: 119-138.

[1]‘There exists in the vihuela the most perfect and profound music, the sweetest and softest consonance, that gives the greatest pleasure to the ear… the most effective, that most moves and fires the mood of those who hear it’.

[2] ‘The liking you [Serene Highness] have for good music, and the understanding of it, and the practice of it’.

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