The Evidence: El Arte Medieval de la Péñola
José Luis Pastor
Lindoro NL3028. 56’47
Cantigas de Santa María 2, 179, 322, 353, 384, 393; Llibre Vermell de Monserrat: Stella splendens, Inperayritz de la Cuitat Ioyosa, Polorum Regina; Machaut: De toutes flours, Douce dame jolie; Danza inglesa, El Lamento de Tristano, La Rotta, La VII Estampida Real, Saltarello, Trotto, Estampida Ghaetta.
Medieval music is a bit of a journey into the unknown, with many questions about the nature of the surviving music and many doubts about how, and on what instrument, the music was played. Iconography gives some clues as to the instrumental forces adopted, but much is left to interpretation – and dispute. On this CD (‘The Medieval Art of the Plectrum’), José Luis Pastor leads us through a comprehensive survey of music for plectrum (la Péñola) instruments from the 13th and 14th centuries, playing a 13th century Spanish lute, Vihuela de péñola, Cítola, Çinfonía de Trastes (organistrum), a 14th century Italian lute, and a Ghiterne (medieval guitar). You will need to read the CD notes carefully to follow what is being played on what, as the various instruments are not grouped together: track 1 to 3, for example, feature the Vihuela de péñola, Spanish lute, and a Cítola respectively.
Several of the pieces will be well known to lovers of medieval music, including the Danza inglesa, La Rotta the Cantigas de Santa María and the pieces from the Llibre Vermell de Monserrat. One of the simplest tracks is De toutes flours from the Faenza Codex.
The programme notes (in Spanish and English) give descriptions and photos of the various instruments and how they relate to the music played on each. There are some surprises amongst the instruments (at least to me), including the distinctively shaped Vihuela de péñola, with its tiny body, joined by two loops to an extended neck and the Cítola, an instrument with well-defined ‘shoulders’ found on the 13th century portico of The Majesty in the Colegiata of Toro in Zamora, Spain. Several of the reconstructed instruments are based on documentary evidence including two from the El Escorial Monastery Codex TI1 and others from frescos in the Palacio Schifanoia and Capilla de San Martino, Asis, Italy. One very unusual instrument is the Çinfonía de Trastes, a type of organistrum or hurdy-gurdy, modelled on a fresco in the church of St Stephen in Sos del Rey Católica in Aragon. It is played by turning a crank with the right hand while the left hand produced the individual notes by pressing on a neck with frets, similar to a lute – rather than pressing notes on a keyboard, as on an organistrum or hurdy-gurdy.
Even if you have no real interest in the technical aspects of the different instruments, the music is delightful.