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Composer Biography: Juan del Encina (1468-c1529)

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Also Juan del Enzina. His name at birth was Juan de Fermoselle, according to one source.

In late 15th century Spain, Juan del Encina was among the four big names of music, along with Juan de Anchieta (1462-1523), Pedro Escobar (d. 1514), and Francisco de Penalosa (c1470-1528). With the other three, Encina cultivated the Spanish counterpart of the Italian frottola called the villancico, which is a type of vernacular secular song. His églogas (pastoral poems), said to have been performed for the first time in 1492, all end with villancicos that were sung and danced by all the characters together.

Encina was possibly the earliest Spanish dramatist, and he’s often called the founder of Spanish drama, along with Gil Vicente (c1465-c1536).

He was probably born in Encina de San Silvestre, which is roughly 40 miles west of Salamanca, Spain. He was one of at least seven children of Juan de Fermoselle, a shoemaker, and was of Jewish converso descent.

During the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, Jews were forced to flee Spain or convert to Catholicism. Those who converted were never completely accepted into Spanish society, and some of them secretly continued to practice Judaism. Sadly, both the expunging of Jews and their forced conversion spread throughout Europe (although it was less popular in some places, such as Italy), and lasted several centuries. (See Composer Biography: Solomon Rossi for more on the expulsion.)

In 1484, young Encina joined the Salamanca Cathedral choir. He became chaplain there in the early 1490s. That’s when he changed his name from Fermoselle to Encina. (Fun fact: encina means holly oak, which is a large evergreen found in the Mediterranean.)

It’s possible that his first post was as a Corregidor (chief magistrate of a town) in northern Spain. In 1492, when he was forced to resign as chaplain because he wasn’t ordained, he became a member of the household of Don Fadrique de Toledo (c1460-1531), the second Duke of Alba, although some sources say he didn’t begin working there until 1495. Regardless of the timeline, he was master of ceremonies for the Duke, writing both text and music for plays that were performed at court.

He applied for a post at Salamanca Cathedra but didn’t get it, so he headed out for Rome in 1498 to seek the aid of the Spanish Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503), who gave him a benefice. He served there during the next two pope’s tenure, Pope Julius II (1445-1513), and the Medici Pope Leon X (1475-1521).

While he was at the Vatican, he met Pierre de la Rue (c1452-1518), who was a Netherlandish composer and singer. De la Rue traveled to Rome with the Archduke Philip (1478-1506), son-in-law of Ferdinand and Isabella and husband to the future (mad) Queen Juana. Encina would have been part of the unison-singing Spanish royal choir, and he would have heard what de la Rue was doing with polyphony and solo voices.

Encina’s ambition led to promotion, and in 1508 he was appointed to the Archdeaconate of Malaga Cathedral by the second pope he served, Pope Julius II (1445-1513). He made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem the following year, where he sang a Mass.

He held the Archdeaconate post until resigning in 1518, when he went to Moron for a simple benefice. In 1519, Pope Leon appointed him prior of Leon Cathedral. This was his final job, and he’s thought to have died there toward the end of 1529.

Compositions

It’s interesting to note that despite his many posts and participation in important musical events, he wrote most of his music and plays before he was 30.

He was the principal contributor to the Cancionero de Palacio, a c1500 songbook containing courtly love songs in villancico form. Some of his pieces were for use on particular occasions, and others were intended to be sung at theatrical productions. By uniting popular and artistic elements, he broke new ground in Spanish secular drama.

Encina wrote Triunto de la fama to commemorate the fall of Grenada in 1492. In 1496, he published Cancionero, a collection of dramatic and lyrical poems. Then he applied for the cantor post at Salamanca Cathedral, but the position went to three singers instead, including his rival dramatist, Lucas Fernandez (c1474-1542).

He wrote a prose treatise called Arte de trobar on the condition of poetry in Spain. His lyrical poems are remarkable for their intense sincerity and devout grace. His 14 dramatic pieces mark the transition from the purely ecclesiastical to secular theater. The story lines of Encina’s plays are hardly innovative, but they are important from the historical point of view as a departure for lay pieces. His more devout eclogues prepare the way for those of the 17th century.

Even though his works were dedicated to royal families, he never served as a member of a royal chapel. And although he worked in several Cathedrals and was eventually ordained as a priest, no sacred works are attributed to him.

His plays, published in 1496, include eclogues and pastorals that begin and end with a short motet. He wrote 60 or more songs and there are another nine texts settings, to which music could be added. Many of the surviving pieces are villancicos.

He wrote three- and four-voice settings with a variety of styles depending on the kind of text, and with very limited movement in the voices as they head for cadence points. To make the text heard clearly, Encina used varied and flexible rhythms that are patterned on the accents of the verse, and used simple yet strong harmonic progressions. His works feature a transparent polyphonic texture, expressive harmonies, syllabic word setting, and smooth melodies.

He wrote in Castillian Spanish, with Leonese influences, and in his pastoral eclogues, he wrote in Leonese. (His home in Salamanca was a Leonese-speaking region.)

His villancico Oy comamos y bebamos is typical of the genre. In rather crude language, the text exhorts listeners to eat, drink, and sing, because tomorrow brings the first day of Lent, the season of fasting. The music is simple in melody and harmony, with dancelike rhythms marked by frequent hemiolas (a series of two-counts in a three-count rhythm. It’s a kind of syncopation).

Encina’s will asked that he be buried beneath the choir of Salamanca Cathedral, and in 1534, that request was granted.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W> Norton & Co., New York., 2010.

“The Pelican History of Music, Part 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

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Composer Biography: Juan de Anchieta (c1462-1523)

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Spanish music developed a great deal during the reign of Queen Isabella (1451-1504) and King Ferdinand (1452-1516). Isabella, in particular, was a great supporter of music and the other arts, and it was a love she fostered in her children, Prince Juan of Asturias (1478-1497), who played the flute, viol, and clavichord, and sang with a clear tenor voice, and the future (Mad) Queen Juana (1479-1555).

Ferdinand and Isabella had a very stable reign, as evidenced by their ability to fund Columbus’ journey to the New World and by the conquest of Grenada, through which they drove the last of the Moors from Spanish soil. (They also spent some time driving Jews out of Spain and out of their allies’ lands. Repercussions lasted and were still strongly felt during the time of Solomon Rossi (c1570-c1630) in Italy.) Isabella in particular supported music, employing 40 singers at a time, plus instrumentalists. Her son Juan enjoyed singing so much that instead of taking a siesta, he’d meet Anchieta and four or five choirboys at the palace to sing with them for a couple of hours. Juan was apparently a fine tenor.

The age was so good for music that, until the death of Ferdinand in 1516 (Isabella died in 1504), historians called it a Golden Age.

The royal court was at Aragon and was closely linked with Avignon (now part of France), site of the anti-popes and a lot of musical innovation during the later Middle Ages. Aragon and Catalan shared a common European-style musical culture as a result. The court at Barcelona, like those in Italy, was mostly served by Franco-Flemish musicians with only a few native Spaniards.

Castile had fewer foreigners holding court positions than did Barcelona, Aragon, Catalan, and Toledo, and four of the outstanding Spanish composers who thrived under the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, were Pedro Escobar (d. 1514), Francisco de Penalosa (c1470-1528), Juan del Encina (1468-1529, biography to come) and Juan de Anchieta.

Of the four, Anchieta was the least enterprising. He was a native Castilian and primarily a church composer. Along with the other three Castilians, he cultivated the Spanish counterpart of the frottola, called a villancico. This was a form of vernacular secular song frequently associated with rustic themes, akin to what we call a “carol” in modern times. Sacred versions were sung at Matins, a Divine Office held at midnight in monasteries. Most of Anchieta’s secular villancicos are lost. We only have four that can be positively attributed.

Anchieta was born in Urrestilla Spain, smack in the middle of Basque country, about 60 miles northwest of Pamplona and 230 miles south of Castile. Some sources say that he was born in Azpeitia, about a mile and a half north of Urrestilla. Either way, he was a nobleman’s son.

His mother was also of noble birth and was the great-aunt of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), who became the founder of the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits. Loyola was beatified in 1609.

Anchieto worked as a royal musician for Ferdinand and Isabella as part of the a capilla flamenco. This group consisted of 14 singers and a few instrumentalists; their style contrasted strongly with the unison singing of the larger Spanish Royal Choir.

In 1506, during a state visit from Juana and her husband the Archduke Philip (1478-1506), Anchieto met Pierre de la Rue (c1452-1518, Netherlandish). The future Queen Juana was particularly fond of de la Rue’s music, and he hung around to entertain her even after she was locked away in a convent. Anchieta was exposed to the new Netherland/Flemish polyphony both by de la Rue visiting Spain and when he traveled to Flanders himself in the service of Queen Juana.

Anchieta became chaplain and cantor to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1489. He sang in the Castilian royal chapel for most of his working life, becoming maestro de capilla to Prince Juan in 1493. He returned to the Queen’s service when Juan died in 1497. When Isabella died in 1504, Anchieto kept the post, working for Queen Juana (the Mad).

From 1500, Anchieta was also rector of the parish church at Azpeitia. In 1519, he retired from court to become the parish priest there. He became abbot of Arbos monastery in 1518, about 320 miles southeast from Azpeitia, on the Mediterranean Sea. He was also chaplain at Grenada Cathedral, nearly 600 miles distant from Arbos and 530 miles from Azpeitia. (I only found these posts listed in one source, so perhaps, because of the distances, they are suspect.)

In 1519, he was pensioned and excused from service at court by Charles V (1500-1558) because he was considered already old at 57. Anchieta retired to his native town of Azpeitia, where he died in 1523, spending his final years in a Franciscan convent that he founded himself.

Compositions

It’s likely that much is lost, but what survives from Anchieta are two complete Masses, two Magnificats, one Salve Regina, four Passion settings, and a few motets, all for large choirs. They sound graceful and sonorous, with only a few clever or innovative devices. His sacred works are largely free of the complex counterpuntal devices favored by Franco-Flemish composers, instead, using plainsong and chordal writing (as opposed to polyphony).

His sacred music makes considerable use of Gregorian melodies. The Gloria of one Mass is based on the Gloria of Gregorian Mass XV. His Salve Regina breaks up into ten sections; the odd-numbered verses are chant, the even-numbered ones are polyphony, and all polyphonic verses are in four voices except the last, which is in five. In the polyphonic sections, the highest voice (the superius) paraphrases the chant rather than leaving it to the tenor voice. At the close of the first and last polyphonic sections, Anchieta introduces new voices, much like the Franco-Flemish masters did. There are sustained chordal sections in his work occasionally, interspersed with imitative passages and free polyphony. Like his northern contemporaries, he favored two voices where the voices are ten notes (an octave plus a third) apart, in parallels.

He also wrote four villancicos, one of which, Dos anades, was very popular during his lifetime.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.