“La Preciosa: The Guitar Music of GASPAR SANZ” (c. 1640-c.1710) = Jacaras I; Passacalles sobre la D; Marionas; Fuga por la primer tono al ayre español; Pavanas por la D, con partidas al aire Espanol; Zarabanda; Suite in E Minor – Gordon Ferries, baroque guitar – Delphian DCD34036, 66:20 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
There’s a saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and I suppose we could coin from this paradigm an aphorism to the effect that one era’s risqué is another era’s prim and proper. Listening to the mostly sophisticated and sedate music of Gaspar Sanz on this disc, I was nonplussed to read in Gordon Ferries’ notes to the recording that when it was introduced, the five-course guitar for which Sanz wrote “produced a sense of abject horror. . .comparable with the sense of outrage engendered in the morally inclined in our own era by the advent of forms of popular music.” Ferries goes on to explain, “Much of the execration directed toward the then new instrument seems to have arisen from its strumming potential and thereby its association with popular ballads, taverns, criminality, sensuality and in particular dancing, seen by the church authorities as being diabolical. . . .”
In his stylized treatment of traditional dances, Sanz’s approach seems so rarefied, even in the livelier dances, as to disarm criticism. Yet Ferries observes, “To include a zarabanda for example seems dangerous given that at certain points, a public rendition of it could result in flogging, or a term on the galleys.” Again, listening to Sanz’s sanitized versions of the zarabanda, it’s hard to realize that this dance, probably originating in Latin America, was thought to be highly indecent, banned in Spain at its first appearance in the sixteenth century and claimed by Cervantes to have been “invented in hell.” Just as suspect was the typically lively Jacaras. Ferries writes that the Jacaras was often used in the theater to accompany drunken antics on stage, which certainly wouldn’t have improved its image with churchmen and other high-minded folk of Spain.
Ferries’ scholarly but readable notes detail the origins of many of the dances that Sanz included in his three famous books of guitar music entitled Instruccion de musica sobra la guitara Española, the most important such work of the seventeenth century. Following Sanz’s instructions herein, Ferries strings and tunes his five-course guitar according to Sanz’s principles. For those of a technical bent, I quote Ferries: “[Sanz] favored a system without basses (bourdons), producing a ‘re-entrant’ tuning where the two ‘lowest strings’ sound higher than the third. Sanz explains that this facilities the neater execution of decorations and in particular the effect known as ‘canpanellas’ (little bells), where adjacent notes in runs are sounded on different strings, creating a merging effect unique to the instrument.”
For those expecting a sound akin to that of the modern guitar, Ferries’ instrument and tuning may come as something of a shock. The baroque guitar has a parchment rose (sound hole), gut frets, and four double strings (plus a single top string) known as courses. These are features that the baroque guitar shares with the lute, and like the lute, it produces a dulcet, ringing sound that calls to mind the little-bells effect Sanz hoped to achieve through his tuning scheme. There’s no better example of the differences between the modern guitar and the baroque guitar than that provided by the Canarios I from Sanz’s Suite in E Minor. An ancient dance from the Canary Islands, the canarios was thought to have a “barbaric” air to it, accompanied as it was by flamenco-like heel stomping. As usual, Sanz’s treatment is far more urbane and reserved than this, but when you hear Sanz’s Canarios, you will instantly recognize it from Joaquin Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un gentilhombre for guitar and orchestra. As imaginative as Rodrigo’s treatment is, Sanz’s courtly small-scale original seems to come from a different planet rather than a different century.
The intimacy of the listening experience here is aided and abetted by Delphian’s recording, inscribed in an Edinburgh church and treated to 24-bit digital original recording to produce admirably lifelike results. I found this disc both entertaining and enlightening for the window it provides on seventeenth-century music and musical practice. I think you will too.
— Lee Passarella
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