Castile is named after the many castles built by Christian nobles in the 8th. and 9th. centuries. This is a large, sparsely populated region set on the great plateaus of Spain surrounding the highly industrialised area of Madrid. Alfonso the Wise (or ‘Learned’) 1221-84 ruled the then kingdom of Castile-Leon. (Some time in the future we shall meet the excellent Castile and Leon Symphony Orchestra which records on the fabulous Naxos label).
Alfonso’s rule was pretty bloodthirsty and at one time he had ambitions to become Holy Roman Emperor, but he is remarkable too for the way he stimulated the cultural life of his time. Under his patronage the schools of Seville, Murcia and Salamanca flourished, and Muslim and Jewish intellectual and scientific culture flowed into Western Europe. And music too.
The Dufay Collective is an English group specialising in the rediscovery of early music and of the instruments likely to have been used to play it. They have just issued a CD, ‘Music for Alfonso the Wise (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907390), played one review said, ‘with great gusto’.
A highlight of the disc, apparently, is a sequence of seven Cantigas de Arnigo by the Galician troubadour Martin Codax. The songs are a sequence tracking the emotions of a woman awaiting the return of her lover from the sea. You can hear a sample of the disc on the Dufay’s website.
Today Arongese Jota is popular in this region, but uniquely slow. The instrumentation also varies, and Galician influences are common especially in northern Leon with the appearance of the gaita.
The ‘tuna’, a serenade played with guitars and tambourines often by students dressed in medieval clothing, is typical of Salamanca, one of my very favourite Spanish cities.
…so we are back in the middle ages where we started. Next time we will look at more early music.