The Musical Biography of King Alfonso X, 13th Century Spain

The Following is a transcript of an annual program that I produce for public radio stations who will “purchase” it. At this writing, I do know that High Plains Public Radio, of the Central High Plains will run it on Christmas Day, usually at 9:00 a.m. Central Time. I will update this site as I learn of any station running it.

Hello. I’m Debra Bolton. Welcome to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria (The Holy Canticles of St. Mary), Songs and poems in praise of Holy Mary – and the poetic/musical biography of Alfonso, “the wise”, The King of Castile-Leon, now Spain, and who lived from 1221 to 1284, and for whom we celebrate his 800th birthday this year. I appreciate your joining me today.  We begin this musical journey with The Learned King declaring himself Mary’s Troubadour who will take her teaching to his Kingdom and beyond. Let’s hear…Counter Tenor, Russell Oberlin performing the prologue.  Please note, that at the time, the use of counter tenors aka “castrados” would have been the norm, since females were not allowed to perform in a king’s court. :

Prologue: Russell Oberlin, CSM #60 2:37

Camerata Mediterranea CSM52 and instrumental Prelude – 4:05

That was Counter tenor, Russell Oberlin, taking the part of the Learned King as he declares himself the Virgin Mary’s Troubadour and asks the “noble lady” to bestow the inheritance of eternal life and grant Alfonso’s kingdom a place in eternity.

Also, you heard Camarata Mediterranea with an instrumental to highlight El Sabio’s wise welcome to Christian, Muslim, and Jewish musicians in his court, which blended European and Arabic performance and music techniques.

Interesting to note, of the 420 Marian poems written by King Alfonso X and his assistant scribes, about every 10th poem is a song of love for the Virgin, and since this is not an “official” prologue, since the prologue has the even number #60, it would also be considered a “cantiga de loor” song of love for Mary.

King Alfonso ruled his Kingdom of Castile-Leon, now Spain, from 1252 until his death.  Scholars and Alfonsine devotees celebrate the Learned King’s 800th birthday this past November 23.  Alfonsine scholar, Dr. J.K. Knauss, who has written widely on the Learned King, spoke to me about the celebrations across Spain in honor of the King’s birth. Knauss recently released her fourth book about the King. In Our Lady’s Troubadour, Knauss took the poems and corresponding works of art, and put them into narrative stories.  Here, Knauss introduces CSM#42 before we hear the piece performed by an early music ensemble called, Sonus.

Insert Knauss’ introduction:

CSM#42 – A Virgen mut groriosa, Sonus                                  2:38

That was Sonus with CSM#42, the story of Mary as a jealous queen that rebukes those she loves if they refuse her.

Now we turn to the interpretation of CSM#116: A merchant went to Salamanca to trade at the fair.  It was his custom to serve the Virgin faithfully and to fast rigorously. On the eve of her feasts, he would not even eat vegetables or fish.

He always used to offer candles at churches dedicated to the Virgin. In Salamanca, he had his servant fetch two large candles that he had brought from Toledo. He had them lit and guarded so that they would not go out. The Virgin let them go out, but then caused them to burn once again.

We hear this performed by Eduardo Paniagua and his Musica Antigua. Paniagua, a musicologist and an early music instrumentalist, devotes much of his time to researching, performing, and recording the vast catalogue of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, poems and songs in praise of Holy Mary.

That was CSM#116, “The Candles that Miraculously Came Alight” from Musica Antigua on their album, Cantigas de Toledo, where King Alfonso was born these 800 years ago.      6:20

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of Spain’s King Alfonso X and his praise to the Virgin Mary.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton

END OF SEGMENT ONE

(Excerpt of The Prologue from Joseph O’Callaghan’s)

Throughout the life of King Alfonso X, he devoted himself to learning and being surrounded by the learned.  He believed a learned King and court with great knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, architecture, human behavior, and great discernment could only benefit the people of his kingdom. Being a pluralist, he employed Christian, Jewish, and Muslim in his court to advance learning.

In a recent interview with Alfonsine scholar, Dr. J. K. Knauss, she noted that the great legacy of El Sabio is that he lived up to his name, “the wise” because he was obsessed with writing everything down.  Whether is was about mathematics, astronomy, the virtue of playing board games and other leisurely activities to balance hard works, laws to govern his subjects, and teaching morality, he not only wrote continually, but he chose not to write in Latin, the language of Kingdoms of the day.  What made his legacy so strong is that he wrote in Castilian, the present-day Spanish.  King Alfonso X is considered the “Father of Castilian.” Was he that much of a visionary?  It would seem so since Spanish only trails Chinese as the most common language worldwide, flanked by English, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Lahnda, aka, “Western Punjabi” according to The World Economic Forum.

Let’s turn to the marvelous miracles of Mary found in CSM#11, the Drowned Sacristan.  Every night a sinful monk left his monastery to take his pleasure with his mistress. Before he left he would say the Ave Maria.

One night he fell into a river and drowned. Devils and angels argued over his soul. The devils’ case was more convincing, and the angels were about to give in when the Virgin made them recover the monk’s soul. They returned the soul to his body and revived him. The other monks found him alive in the cold water.

We hear CSM#11 interpreted by Ensemble Alcatraz, a San Francisco, CA group dedicated to the research and performance, throughout the world, of the music of Spain, Portugal, and France.  This is from their CD Cantigas de Amigo, CSM#11                                      8:35

That was Ensemble Alcatraz performing Cantigas de Santa Maria #11,

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary in music, poetry, and art.  My name is Debra Bolton.  I am your host for this special music.  If you go out to my website https://peopleandcultures.blog/2020/10/11/cantigas-de-santa-maria-a-musical-exploration-of-medieval-king-alfonso-x-of-spain/, you will find examples of some of the art that corresponds with the songs and poetry.  

King Alfonso employed artists to create two and three-dimensional works of art to correspond to the poems and songs, which would have made the Learned King an early pioneer in multi-media.  Now, here we are putting it all in digital form!  Some scholars point of the works of art, the songs and the poems as Alfonso’s way to teach morality to the subjects of his kingdom on many levels.  While those in his court were, themselves, learned and well-educated people, there were many in his kingdom who, perhaps, could not read or write.  Hence the need for the lessons on morality in more than written forms.

The poems and songs employ the language of the time, which is Galician-Portuguese, Medieval Galician, or as some linguists and historians simply call the language, Romance, the root language of Castilian, the language of Spain. 

Alfonso X ruled from 1252 to 1284.  To put the world into perspective at the time, the English language continued to change from its Germanic-rooted Olde English of the Beowulf poet (circa 9th or 10th century) after the Norman invasion of 1066. In the next century, we hear the English of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Gawain Poet.  Europeans now use Arabic numerals in favor of Roman Numerals. In the Mongol Empire, Mongke, officially, marks the worship of his grandfather, Genghis Khan while Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity flourish. The Inca Empire of Peru is thriving. England begins the process of segregation of Jewish peoples, and other countries begin to follow suit. The Mexica people, also known as Aztecs, are building their great city on a lake in what is now Mexico City. King Alfonso X’s bid to be King of the Holy Roman Empire fails in favor of Count Rudolf, bringing prominence to the Habsburg family, Rudolf was considered mediocre as Alfonso was too ambitious and certainly too bright for the Pope of the time.

When we think about world events of King Alfonso’s time, between the 12 and 14th centuries, there was a sect of Christians called the Cathar, a

fundamentalists sect who believed there were two gods: A good one who presided over the spiritual world, and an evil one who ruled the physical world. Cathars viewed even sex within marriage and reproduction as evil, and so lived strict lives of abstention. Here I present the spoken text of the Papal Bull legislating torture of those practicing Catharism, called “Ad Exstirpanda.” As a side note, that papal bull also supported colonizing so called, “Non-Christian” countries and enslaving Indigenous peoples, which carried over to the Doctrine of Discovery launching Columbus to the Americas 200 years later.

At odds with the Catholic church, The Cathar believed in female deities and believed that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married.  The text is presented in Latin, as the Cathar of the time were in France and Italy.

Ad exstirpanda” performed by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI followed by what sounds like a lament, Veri dulcis in tempore” translated “A true Sweet season” of the time from the CD “The Forgotten Kingdom.

Recitation: 3:14

Veri dulcis in tempore: 3:57

That was Jordi Savall and his Hesperion XXI performing music of the forgotten Kingdom of the Cathar in France and Italy.

After 1492, in addition to colonizing the lands and its people, Spain, also, colonized the languages of the Americas and the Caribbean. Since the so called, “first contact,” we saw Castilian overwhelming, and often erasing, many Native languages of the islands and the continents, thanks to the Doctrine of Discovery establishing a so called, “spiritual, political, and legal” justification for colonization and seizure of land NOT inhabited by Christians.  Again, the Spanish we hear today differs widely from that of the CSM and Alfonso X’s time.  However, you don’t need to understand Galician-Portuguese to enjoy this music, known for its complex musical structures and its use of what we now call, ancient instruments. 

Coming up in the next hour of Cantigas de Santa Maria, we will hear more songs and tunes about miracles of the Virgin Mary as we continue this musical biography of King Alfonso X, the wise, of 13th Century Spain

Go to an instrumental played by the Waverly Consort, Cut #15, to play to the end.                                                                                                 6:43

Hour Two

Hello, I’m Debra Bolton. Welcome to the second hour of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria (The Holy Canticles of St. Mary), Songs and poems in praise of Holy Mary – and the poetic/musical biography of Alfonso, “the wise”, The Kind of Castile-Leon, now Spain, and who lived from 1221 to 1284, and for whom we celebrate his 800th birthday this year. I appreciate your joining me today.

Let’s begin this hour with two miracles performed by the Virgin, as written by King Alfonso X.

“The Girl Who Ate Spiders, CSM #201:

A beautiful noble woman promised to guard her virginity.

The devil tempted her to take a lover, and she lived with her godfather and became pregnant by him. When the baby was born she killed it. She became pregnant a second time and killed her newborn baby yet again. Then she did this a third time. Overcome with despair, and hating herself, she tried to commit suicide. She stabbed herself in the breast, but the knife missed its mark.

Then she swallowed a spider, but it was not big or poisonous enough to kill her. She ate another bigger spider and her body swelled so much she was near death. As she lay dying, she repented and asked the Virgin to forgive her sins.

The Virgin appeared to her and stroked her body, making her more beautiful and fit than she had ever been. The woman entered an order and lived virtuously from that time forth.

Performed by the Martin Best Ensemble (Cut#7)         2:58              

You’re listening to this holiday special, Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of 13th Century King of Spain, Alfonso, the wise.  I am Debra Bolton, your host.

As we continue in this exploration of this very small part of King Alfonso X’s tribute to the Virgin Mary, my references come from the writings of Dr. J.K. Knauss, whose books continue to inspire me. On November 18, 2021, Dr. Knauss released a book which put the Cantigas de Santa Maria in narrative form.  We did hear Dr. Knauss introduce CSM#42 in the previous hour, from her book, Our Lady’s Troubadour. I now will explore Dr. Knauss’ book, Violence in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. In addition, I refer to the writing of  Professor Joseph F. O’Callahan, Mr. Andrew Casson, Maestro Jordi Savall, Maestro Eduardo Paniagua, John Esten Keller, Robert I. Burn, Editor of “The Emperor of Culture” and from Oxford Univesity’s CSM database.

From the book, Violence in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, Dr. Knauss establishes an important beginning that does not have violence to set a calm tone.  That would be CSM#97 about a slandered man who was exonerated.   However, we move into the violence rather quickly in CSM#233.  Knauss mentions this cantiga in her book about violence and in her recent book, Our Lady’s Troubadour, where she writes a wonderfully accessible narrative called, “No-Man’s-Land, ” which regales the story of the good knight, Jacinto (Ha-theen-toe), who while traveling with his men, encounter with Moors, who were so impressed with Jacinto’s faith to the Virgin Mary. The Moors spoke, “We see that you are not of this world, but we don’t think your intensions are evil.” “We honor you because you have been sent by Mary, mother of Jesus. Jacinto held his hand out to the Moorish leader, and they embraced as they forgave one another for their conflicts with one another.

Here we have CSM#233 performed by Elizabeth Pinard.  I had a difficult time finding this piece, so I turned to YouTube, and found this incredible interpretation by Ms. Pinard, a Brazilian singer with the most incredible vocal range.  Listen for her low notes, and when the choir comes in, Ms. Pinard vocalizes in ethereal high ranges.  Go to Youtube and enter “Elizabeth Pinard – Cantiga de Santa Maria 233”

 9:11

Let’s take a moment to talk about some of the instruments that you’re hearing on this musical journey of 13th Century Spain, then called, Castile-Leon. 

Shawm – 12th c conical bored double reed instrument of Middle Eastern origin, a precursor of the oboe. Like the oboe, it is conically bored; but its bore, bell, and finger holes are wider, and it has a wooden disk (called a pirouette, on European shawms) that supports the lips

Recorder – Yes.  That woodwind instrument that many of us learned in grade school. We hear this in the CSM, usually, on a wider variety of wood recorders.

Organetto – a small portable organ, which you heard performed by Esther Lamandier

Oud – Literally, wood in Arabic, short-necked, pear-shaped with 11 – 13 strings grouped in 5, 6, or 7 courses.  A few of the oud players that stand oud are Driss El Maloumi, a group called 3MA and Haik Egitim Merkezi Yalova, both Maloumi and Yalova perform with Jordi Savall’s Hesperion groups.  The Oud is considered the most important instrument in Middle Eastern Music.  

Qanun (a.k.a., kanun, ganoun, kanoon) an Arabic stringed instrument, introduced to Europe in the 12th Century.  It’s played on the lap with picks that surround both index fingers, and the player can change the pitch of the strings with brass levers.

Hurdy Gurdy, a.k.a. Viola de Rueda, and the Zanfona.  Here we hear this instrument in Musica Antigua and by a group called, BIDAIA, featuring Caroline Phillips.

Vielle – the Medieval fiddle with five strings and six tied frets.

Rebec – A three-string “fiddle” often held between the legs as it’s played.

Viola de Gamba – (a.k.a., Viol or gamba), a six-stringed instrument, said to be a precursor of the four-stringed cello.  The Gamba, usually, is much larger and has frets, like a guitar.

Gaita – Galician bag pipe, also common in Portugal.  We’ll hear the Gaita in the next hour of this musical journey.

Duduk – Double reed Armenian flute, featuring those mournful, lamenting tones.

You’re listening to a musical journey of 13th Century Spain’s King Alfonso the X and his devotion to the Virgin Mary, on this public radio station. I’m your host, Debra Bolton, and I appreciate that you’re here with me today.

The language of the time, Galician-Portuguese, finds scholars today who argue that Galician and Portuguese are dialects of the same language. It tends to remind one more of Portuguese than of Castilian, the root language of modern-day Spanish.  Portugal situated directly south of Galicia, was home to the Celts and the Sephardim of the Iberian Peninsula. Stay with us…

Segment Two Hour Two

Begin with Prologue by Waverly Consort, Cuts 1 and 2: (3:45)

We continue with Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the musical biography of Medieval King of Castile-Leon, Alfonso X, the wise and learned.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton.

We just heard an English interpretation of the prologue, where the wise King announces himself in the role as the Virgin Mary’s troubadourn.   The Waverly Consort, founded by Kay and the late Michael Jaffe performed that piece.

J. K. Knauss describes the importance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria saying, “The most appropriate single adjective for the corpus of cultural work produced under Alfonso X is ‘encyclopedic.’” He wrote books of history, astronomy/astrology, law, poetry, board games, and music.  Even his written leisure activities continue to survive the vagaries of time, bearing the King’s name as patron or author.”

For more perspective of the time, King Henry III ruled England about the same time Alfonso X ruled Castile-Leon, the greater part of what is now known as Spain.  While El Sabio ruled his lands with Christians, Muslims, and Jewish peoples living and studying side-by-side with some appreciation and great tolerance, it would not be until 208 years later that Isabella and Ferdinand would expel all non-Christians and the time Christopher Columbus would set sail for Asia but landed in the Americas, which changed extensively the lives that he touched. Before that, well-civilized Indigenous tribes had not yet had contact with European colonialists. The surnames that most people connect with Latin American countries were the surnames of their Spanish conquerors.  During and after the inquisition, many non-Christians, Jewish and Muslim people, added the suffixes of –ez, -es, or -os to their surnames. For example, the Muslim man, Alvar, became Alvarez.  The Jewish man, Martin became Martinez.  Consistent with most surnames, there remained a connection to the family trade or place of origins.   The Herrera were Jewish iron-smiths.  Those hailing from Galicia, or Galego, were the Galegos.  In the present day, an extra “L” was added to make it “Gallegos.”

The next piece takes us to Italy, of the time, with a song, in Latin, praising the Virgin Mary.  This piece, Verbum Caro Factum Est, “Word was made flesh” is performed by the Waverly Consort. I offer this to illustrate that there were other parts of Medieval, Romance Europe also praising the Virgin Mary.  Again, not in the tradition of Alfonso X, who wrote about people’s interior and exterior lives, from every social class from Spain to other parts of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East and their relationships to the Virgin in everyday life, according to Knauss.

Verbum Caro Factum Est Waverly Consort ( 4:40) (Verbum Caro Factum Est)

CSM #41/119 Capella Ministeres          (4:22)

That was Capella Ministrers, CSM 41/119. CSM#41, the story of a money changer named, Garin.  The devil scared him.  Garin went mad, and then the Virgen not only restored his senses, she gave him paradise. The story of CSM#119, tells the story of a judge who lived a life of ease.  He ate well and collected generous supports, though he did not fulfill his duties and only arrested those who were destitute. The Virgin came to the judge’s rescue when a band of brigands kidnapped him.  In the process of killing the judge, Mary intervened.  She made the judge confess every one of his sins.  He died the next day and angels carried away his soul. 

Performed here by Capella Ministrers, CSM 41/119.      4:22

That was Capella Ministrers performing CSM 41 and 119 here on Cantigas de Santa Maria, the musical biography of Spain’s 13th Century Monarch.

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of King Alfonso X, I’m your host, Debra Bolton.                           

Cantigas de Santa Maria: Songs and Images

El Sabio, King Alfonso the X ascended the throne of Castile-Leon, now Spain, in 1252 and immediately devoted himself to the creation of new laws, the Siete Partidas (seven parts) and the Fuero Real (Royal Municipal Code), both of which continue to be in effect here in the 21st Century. 

Scholars posit that the CSM continue to be a testament by which the king wished to be remembered after his death. That means that we, also, are part of the intended audience.  Knauss continues that the learned king, likely, did not fathom this kind of dissemination, now in this digital age.  She says, “With these technologies, it grants scholars who study the CSM a place in his highly exclusive circle of apprentices.”

Alfonsine scholar, Dr. J. K. Knauss describes the importance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria saying, “The most appropriate single adjective for the corpus of cultural work produced under Alfonso X is ‘encyclopedic.’” He wrote books of history, astronomy/astrology, law, poetry and music.  Even his written leisure activities continue to survive the vagaries of time, bearing the King’s name as patron or author.”

Now, I’d like to turn to interpretations of the CSM that have a more contemporary feel.  Andre Bocelli, a mostly self-taught tenor, provides this wonderful rendition of CSM #57.  I think the addition of Spanish guitar and a children’s choir give this interpretation a light and jovial feeling to the subject, “The Robbed Pilgrims to Montserrat.” From Bocelli’s album, “Believe” recorded last year.  It features duets with Allison Krauss and opera singer, Cecilia Bartoli, on the Decca label.

Mui Grandes Noit’ e Dia (CSM #57)                                 (4:06)

#CSM 422   Robin Rolfhamre                                (5:48)

Instruments of the Time

That was Swedish Lutenist, Robin Rolfhamre with CSM 422, The Litany of the Day of Judgement.  Mostly, Dr. Rolfhamre focuses on the early music of the 15th century.  His interpretations here features the lute. 

You’ve been listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary and the musical biography of Medieval King Alfonso X of Spain in music, poetry, and art.  I’m the producer and your host, Debra Bolton.  I began exploring the history of the CSM, because I found the tunes, songs, poems, and art pieces so wonderfully extraordinary with their passion and multimedia approaches.  I hope you’ve found this music and its stories interesting.  For more information, please visit my blog: https://peopleandcultures.blog/?p=1369

And, if you’d like to hear the show, encourage your local public radio station to run it, and it can be found at https://exchange.prx.org/pieces/396349

To take us out, here’s an ensemble called, Calliope with CSM medley. Thank you for listening to Cantigas de Santa Maria, I’m Debra Bolton.                                                    (5:51)

Dr. Knauss’s Latest Book

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