MARÍA CRISTINA KIEHR
Thanks to the magical way in which María Cristina fell under the spell of the vocal repertoire of the so-called early music – more accurately, the music of the renaissance and early baroque – she changed from her passionate and obsessive study of the violin to that of singing.
From her birthplace in Tandil, and after two years initial studies in Buenos Aires, she went on to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, a mecca for her chosen repertoire.
There, under the tutelage of her maestro René Jacobs, she gained the fundamental knowledge necessary for her to take up the vertiginous life which devoting herself to music has meant.
María Cristina has had the privilege of sharing music and mythical stages with world class performers, some of whom today are considered pioneers in the field of early music – names such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, Frans Brüggen, Chiara Banchini, Philippe Herreweghe, Jordi Savall y Christophe Coin, among many others.
Simultaneously, as co-founder of the Daedalus Ensemble, the vocal quartet La Colombina, and the ensemble Concerto Soave with Jean-Marc Aymes, María Cristina has consolidated her musical identity which has also allowed her to explore other musical horizons. She has premiered new compositions, some of which have been dedicated to her, and is currently working on new musical projects with the vihuelist Ariel Abramovich (Armonía Concertada), and guitarists Pablo Márquez (classical) and Krishnasol Jiménez Moreno (baroque).
Ariel Abramovich studied lute and vihuela with Hopkinson Smith at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and subsequently in France with Eugène Ferré. In 1998 he formed “El Cortesano” with counter-tenor José Hernández-Pastor to explore the Spanish vihuela repertoire, and in 2002 the duo released the first ever album solely devoted to Valladolid vihuela composer Estevan Daça. In 2009 the duo released an album devoted to another rarely heard vihuelista, Salamanca-born Diego Pisador.
In 2008 he began working on the 16th & 17th century English lute song repertoire with tenor John Potter, and this duo became the catalyst for the Amores Pasados and Secret History recordings on ECM with Anna Maria Friman and Jacob Heringman. Their Alternative History project re-imagines renaissance polyphony as lute song (as musicians would have done in the 16th and 17th centuries) and has commissioned new music from rock musicians John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Tony Banks (Genesis) and Sting. Ariel and Jacob Heringman have also released Cifras Imagnarias, an album of intabulations for two lutes on Arcana.
In 2013 Ariel formed the duo Armonía Concertada with soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr, a project dedicated to the 16th Century Iberian repertoire for voice and plucked strings He currently works with French soprano Perrine Devillers, Argentinian tenor Jonatan Alvarado, North american soprano Anne-Kathryn Olsen and Argentinian soprano Nadia Szachniuk.
Ariel is also active as a teacher and has given masterclasses at conservatories and educational institutions all over the world, including Spain, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, the US, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay.
THE MAKING OF AN IMAGINARY SONGBOOK
If so many people played the vihuela in sixteenth-century Spain, why are there so few surviving vihuelas? Why is it that only such a small number of musical sources survive for the vihuela if it was such a popular instrument in sixteenth-century Spain? —For anyone today who is involved in playing or studying the vihuela and its music, these are the two questions that we are most frequently asked. In response to the first question, I usually say that there are five or six surviving vihuelas known today, that thousands were built during the sixteenth century, but that we don’t know what happened to them. Even concerning the number of surviving instruments I prefer to be a little vague, usually saying “five or six” rather than giving a definite number. This is not simply to avoid being categorical, it is because we are not sure: not even the experts agree. There are differing opinions about the age or the provenance of the known instruments, doubts about whether they should be called vihuelas or guitars, doubts about the identity of their makers, their type and function, and even their authenticity. When it comes to trying to explain why there are so few, the answers are based on speculation and conjecture rather than fact. We know the names of more than 150 violeros in Spain during the sixteenth century, and so we can assume that even if they were not highly productive, they would have produced at least 20,000 instruments. What happened to them? A couple that were of exceptional beauty or manufacture were looked after and kept, others were probably converted into guitars at some later date. On the other hand, many probably fell into disuse, broken and in need of repair, while others might have become infested with woodworm and have been burned in the annual bonfires that took place on the feast of San Juan. So, now we only have five or six.
What about the music? There are seven vihuela books that survive and which preserve just over seven hundred compositions between them. To these we can add the contents of a few manuscripts, perhaps another twenty or thirty compositions, altogether less than 750. If the vihuela was so widespread in its use, so ubiquitous in courtly and urban life, why do we have only seven published books? —In part, it was because there was no strong music printing industry in Spain. Most of the printers who produced vihuela books only did it once in their lifetime, including the three members of the Fernández de Córdoba dynasty who were responsible for one book each. Moreover, printing materials, especially the purpose-specific type needed to print vihuela tablature was scarce. Three of the seven surviving books were published with the same type, passed from one printer to another, probably not without the exchange of money. Secondly, the tight government control of industries such as printing did not have the flexibility to permit a music publishing industry to flourish. The Spanish publishing system, especially the concession of printing privilege to authors rather than printers and publishers, meant that most money earned from book sales went to the author and there was little margin for those in the middle, especially for printers who may have wanted to become publishers in their own right. Moreover, the system meant that authors often had to look after the distribution of their books themselves, and few of them had the necessary experience or trade networks.
In addition to printing, professional scribes did much of the work that we do today electronically or with photocopiers. Some level of professional music copying appears to have flourished in Spain, although there is not a great deal of evidence. Songs of the kind that we can hear on this CD were among those copied by professional scribes for circulation among those who wished to keep up with latest fashions in song but had no access to printed editions. Many of the songs that survive in the printed vihuela books from Narváez to Daza could only have arrived in their hands of vihuelists by this means. Many of the pieces that are preserved in the surviving vihuela books never circulated in print, and so this is the only way in which they could have been acquired.
For all these reasons, the project of Ariel Abramovich to create a new imaginary songbook is by no means far-fetched. It might be described as an incredible exercise in credible fantasy. Taking the real surviving vihuela books as a point of departure, we have some songs that are found in more than one of them. Sometimes these are versions of exactly the same music and text; other times they are different musical settings of the same poetry. In this way Ariel Abramovich tips his hat to salute Fuenllana, Mudarra, Pisador and Valderrábano, as well as to Venegas de Henestrosa, the author of one of those books “for keyboard, harp or vihuela”, without actually replicating their contents.
Our modern compiler goes a little further when bringing to his anthology a couple of pieces from the recently recovered Castelfranco manuscript, a lute manuscript from the Veneto whose cultural link with Spain is implied by the inclusion in it of pieces by Luis Milán from El Maestro (1536). The verisimilitude of the collection does not really depend, however, on such specific intertextuality. In broader brushstrokes, this anthology is compiled from the kinds of works that some now unknown sixteenth-century vihuelist may have gathered into a book that has slipped from our collective memory, and far beyond any kind of existence, virtual or real.
From the surviving vihuela books, we know the composers of vocal polyphony whose music was most highly prized among instrumentalists and those who sang to vihuela accompaniment. Among Spaniards, it was the secular songs of Juan Vásquez that were preeminent while, among composers of sacred music.
It is no surprise, to find five works by Vásquez in our imaginary songbook: O dulce contemplación, Por una vez que mis ojos alcé, Qué sentís coraçón, Quien dize que la ausencia and Si no os hubiera mirado.
Also influential in Spain were the madrigalists Adrian Willaert and Jacques Arcadelt. The transformation of many of their polyphonic madrigals into accompanied lute songs met with great success in Italy and was mirrored by vihuelists in Spain. Two madrigals by Willaert form part of our imaginary songbook, O dolce vita mia and Se pur ti guardo.
Arcadelt’s settings of texts by Petrarch and Sannazaro, Chiare, fresche e dolci acque and Se per colpa del vostro fiero sdegno, respectively, are their beautiful complement. These works, together with the ricercar by Giulio Segni, a composer well known to Venegas de Henestrosa, and madrigals known from further collections such as the Cancionero de Uppsala complete an anthology that is presented in a variety of instrumental and vocal combinations and that offers an imaginary listening experience that blends the real and the imaginary without a discernible line of demarcation.
Dr. John Griffiths