Cantigas: Quodlibet on Medieval Iberian Tunes

Cantigas: Quodlibet on Medieval Iberian Tunes

Cantigas: Quodlibet on Medieval Iberian Tunes

for flute (doubling piccolo and tambourine), oboe (doubling English horn) and piano

Program Notes

Cantigas are medieval monophonic songs from the Iberian peninsula (what is now Spain and Portugal). They may be secular or sacred in nature. This piece draws on several tunes from the two best-known collections of cantigas, the Cantigas de Amigo by Martín Codax, a set of seven intimate songs written from a female perspective, and the Cantigas de Santa María, 420 songs in praise of the Virgin Mary, compiled at the end of the 13th century by King Alfonso X of Castile.

A quodlibet, according to the New Harvard Dictionary of Music, is a composition in which well-known melodies are presented simultaneously or successively, the result being humorous or displaying technical virtuosity. The word itself is Latin for “what you please.” In this piece I present some of the borrowed melodies relatively unaltered, although with modern harmonies, but present others in distorted fashion (the very first melody, for example, is forced from its original triple meter into a 5/4 time signature). Fragments of one tune are often used as the bass line or other accompaniment for another tune.

Fast outer sections frame a slower central section in which two of the loveliest of the melodies form the emotional core of the piece. These outer sections are indeed intended humorously, but I have also endeavored to treat these wonderful tunes with respect. The final section, with its coda, is conceived of as a bit of a romp, to bring the piece to a rollicking conclusion.

Cantigas was commissioned by North Carolina State University for the Mallarmé Chamber Players, for a concert in September of 2004. It is dedicated to my friend and colleague Rodney Waschka.

Alternative notes by Christopher Vaneman:

Marc Satterwhite wrote Cantigas in 2004, inspired by a handful of 13th-century monophonic songs from Spain (or as they were know, cantigas). He makes of them a quodlibet, a mishmash of pre-existing tunes sometimes humorous, sometimes affecting, sometimes virtuosic.

Some of the melodies appear relatively unaltered, while others are given outlandish chromatic harmonies, forced into irregular meters, layered atop one another, or chase their own tails in incredibly intricate close canons. It makes extended use of both the piccolo and the English horn, at times in the extremes of their registers; it’s sometimes spectacularly noisy, and often spectacularly difficult.

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