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Life and musical works of Spanish composer, Antonio Cabezon

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    Life and musical works of Spanish composer, Antonio Cabezon

    Antonio Cabezon

    Antonio Cabezon alias Antonio de Cabezón (Spanish), also Cabezon, Felix Antonio  a.k.a Cabecon, Antonio de, and also De Cabezon, Antonio was an extremely popular keyboard composer, organist and clavichord player of the 16th century. His remarkable polyphonic works and compositions are admired till date. He lived from 1510 in Castrillo de Matajudios, Spain to March 26, 1566, Madrid, Spain.

    The assumption that Antonio Cabezón has the veins of, at least in some measure, from Jewish ancestry, because his place of birth was at Castrillo de Matajudios, remains mysterious. He lost the beauty of vision, and became blind at around 8 years of his age, but it never weakened his grip on art. His very existence in a grandeur aristocratic family, and with marvelous gifted-talent, he found no difficulty to get into bondage with Spanish Noble environment.

    Voyage to Royal Musician

    He spent his childhood in Palencia where his uncle was vice-general of diocese. It is this place where he blossomed his innate skills. He was initially trained in music by local organists and in the later part of his life; he was trained by the cathedral organist García de Baeza in Palencia.

                In 1525, with strong recommendations, he moved to Toledo from Palencia. In 1526, he was positioned as an organist in the royal chapel of Highness Queen Isabella of Portugal, who turned to Emperor Charles V’s wife that year. A year after that, he became the prime organist for her kingdom.

    Afterwards, he played for many distinguished people, like in the chamber consort of Charles V.Cabezon. He married a wealthy lady, Luisa Nunez in the year 1538 and moved to his new wife’s native place, Avila. He is survived by his five children, three sons and two daughters who also served the royal family. Agustín de Cabezón and Hernando de Cabezón were two of his sons who played the role as organists and composers for the Spanish royalty.

    From January to December 1559, Hernando de Cabezón was organist under substitution at the royal court. He was given full-time organist role at Sigüenza Cathedral on 15 November 1563. And he performed duties in this position until 15 July 1566. In 1566 he succeeded as the organist to the king after his father.

    He accompanied the king on its various numbers of tours and stayed in Portugal in 1580–81. The Obras by his father, published in 1578, contain five compositions by him. In the will he made, dated 1598, he mentioned that he was leaving two books of music in tablature (‘dos labors de música puestos en cifra’), containing music by his father and himself.

    After Queen Isabella’s death in the year 1539, he continued to serve as royal musician for her children and specially Philip II during pre and post period of his accession to the thrown. Philip II later became King Philip II, the sole employer of Cabezón from 1548.

    Philip II (which is mentioned in Spanish as Felipe II de España and in Portuguese aricles as Filipe I). He was born on May 21, 1527 and died on September 13, 1598. He was the ruler, King of Spain from 1556 until 1598, King of Naples from 1554 until 1598, king consort of England (as husband of Mary I) from 1554 to 1558, Lord of the Seventeen Provinces (holding various titles for the individual territories, such as Duke or Count) from 1556 until 1581, King of Portugal and the Algarves (as Philip I) from 1580 until 1598 and King of Chile from 1554 until 1556.

    Philip II is considered to be one of the greatest sovereigns in the History of Spain. During his time the Spanish Empire led global, world-wide exploration and colonial, imposing expansion across the Atlantic and the Pacific, and imprinted his name and kingdom for a time the foremost and majestic global power.

                The King Philip II traveled Europe widely during the period 1548-56 and Antonio accompanied him on his journeys all the way abroad. It includes his involvement in the prime event, the King’s marriage to Queen Mary of England.

    He traveled through Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, England (July 1554-January 1556), Netherlands (October 1548-July 1551) and Flanders with the king. During these trips, he was exposed to great deal of music and in turn made a huge influence on local composers, especially the English players of virginals. After his excursion around Europe with the King, he finally settled in Madrid, Spain, where the Spanish Royal Court was head-quartered. He dwelled there for the rest of his life, till his death.

    Antonio Cabezón’s creations

    He was renowned for his creative compositions during his time. Pedrell Felipe(Philip II) bestowed on him the title ‘the Spanish Bach’ for his amazing works.

     Cabezon’s music was greatly influenced by that of the Franco-Flemish composers, particularly Josquin DesPrez, but his works, as vividly noticeable, are in the Spanish instrumental tradition. His keyboard writing is spectacularly idiomatic. Wonderfully arranged ups and downs of notes and modulations mark his music, which is molded with modal chromaticism; a striking implementation of intervals (discouraged by contemporary theorists with disapproving nods) enabled him to develop a colorful harmonic and rhythmic palette. His mild and sensitive approach to melodic writing produced intensely twirled and woven, unified works that depended primarily on augmentation, amalgamation and diminution of a fundamental idea for variation and development.

    He has covered wide varieties of instrumental genres. His music was diverse, imaginative, singular and challenging. Antonio Cabezón’s organ and keyboard music consisted of

    ·         Tientos— (Tientos is a musical form which originated in Spain in early 15th century) which varied in techniques and musical moods. They make short, intense, liturgical and polyphonic works for organ. He is best known for Tientos which were entirely his own fantasies of original work.

    ·         Diferencias— which were the sets and subsets of variations on worldly tunes. He pioneered in these. These are mostly based on melodies from Spanish cancioneros and on dances.

    ·         Versillos— which were defined as the synchronized versions of the eight psalm tones

    ·         Magnificats— which were compositions derived from the on polyphonic works of other composers.

    ·         Glosas— in tabulations of polyphonic works by other composers, usually not Spanish, reconceived as keyboard pieces.

    ·         Fabordones— comprise variations, organized according to mode, following a homophonic exposition (llano).

    ·         He also made his hand in various varieties of literal pieces such as hymns Kyrie verses, psalm settings.

    He made various teaching pieces for beginners. His total composition include hymn arrangements, 35 Kyries, 32 Psalm verses, 53 Magnificent verses, 32 fabordones, 12 tientos, 29 glosas of sections from Masses and motets by foreign masters, 10 variation sets (diferencias) on subjects ranging from Spanish folk tunes and French chansons to the Milanese galliard, and 18 glosas of French chansons.

                In the hymns and Kyrie verses, the principal structural framework is cantus firmus. In music, cantus firmus is an already existing melody forming the foundation of a polyphonic composition. It also consists a Pavana italiana that became widely and popularly known entire England for the whole 16th century as “The Spanish Pavan.” The compilation provided “mere crumbs from my father’s table,” according to Hernando de Cabezón, who mentioned about two other collections as all set for publication when it was allowed by royal house in his will dated Oct. 30, 1598

    Cabezon was an admirable Baroque Composer. It was termed as one the most prosperous styles of music. When Netherland was conquered and united by Emperor Charles V , Burgundy, Naples and Spain under one crown, Spain was open to the to the whole European musical community. In Charles’ time in power and that of his son Philip II, together covered the period 1516-1598, Spanish music reached its apex.

    During this period building of organs also flourished; organ-builders became innovative and inventive as Spain’s prosperity was seen flowing in the Churches. Philip II himself offered the organ in Granada Cathedral – and it is still in use. The blind organist-composer Antonio de Cabezón (1510-66) was one of the world’s earliest composers for keyboard, and his work was comparatively very advanced.

    Cabezon’s name is marked once more for his experienced hand in Neapolitan songs. Its music is still very much admired that in America, Neapolitan music is still very popular today, from the casinos of Atlantic City and the streets of New York’s Italian neighborhoods to the remotest corners of the country. Its origin is from Santa Lucia, Naples is beautifully defined as : “suolo beato, ove sorridere volle il Creato” (holy soil, smiled upon by the Creator).

                The Santa Lucia quarter is called “impero dell’armonia” (the empire of harmony). Since then, the Neapolitan song’s beguiling melodies and harmonic structure began to enrich the repertoire of singers of every trend.

    19th century re-publication of Antonio Cabezón’s work

    In 1966, Higinio Anglés developed a new three-volume edition of Antonio Cabezón’s works, which included all his works except the glosas, in Barcelona. Few years after this launch, musicologist Maria Asuncion Ester Salas launched a volume with the inclusion of glosas missing in the 1966 edition. This is termed as the fourth volume of the complete creations of Antonio de Cabezón

    Publication of Cabezón’s works

    Very few of his compositions were printed when was alive. They were published by Luis Venegas de Henestrosa’s in Libro de cifra neuva in 1557. And it included around 40 creations of  “Antonio,” the great blind virtuoso’s is already of the world fame and needs no further introduction.

    Most of his creations were published by his son, Hernando de Cabezón in 1578, after his death, as Obras de nuisicapara tecla, arpa y vihuela de Antonio de Cabezón, with the title Musical Works for harpsichord, harp, and vihuela (an ancient form of guitar).

                The latter book also includes a general presentation of the composer’s methodical teachings on keyboard playing, the discussion of fingering which is particularly extraordinary for the progressiveness of the ideas it displayed. Only one vocal work is known which had five voices

    Complete Works of Antonio Cabezón were launched on 15 long-playing records in 1583, with the organist and pianist Antonio Baciero as its only supporter.

    By the year 1586, Cabezón’s works like Obras de música headed for the New World. In that very year, its three copies got distributed to Mexico City booksellers.

    A singing work by Cabezón, Invocación a la letanía, is transmitted in the Cancionero de la Casa de Medinaceli. It is also listed, under the title letanías, in a register of music from Cuenca Cathedral in 1611 together with ‘una misa de Cabeçon’.

    CABEZON: Canto a mi Caballero:

    The release titled “The Tradition of Antonio de Cabezon” contains great music done directly or indirectly by many known composers. It is highly qualified for the collection department. But cabezon dominated in the release, so is the title, playing the role as either composer or arranger for at least 10 of the 20 selections. Many composers of his time, used to emulate and imitate his practices through and through.

    Being blind, he made a remarkable place as instrumental composer and keyboard player in his time. So this “CABEZON: Canto a mi Caballero” is a program with the theme which describes both his originality and the wondrous music he adapted from other great composers.

    This theme also exclaims about the solo and mixture of instruments. Most of them are vocal originated but still it gives as much fresh experience as instrumental as well.

    This program includes another theme which talks about florishment of Spanish “Golden Age” musicians, and specifically Cabezon, with the music of foreigners as he has learnt and taught back during his excursion with Philip II around Europe. To be sure, some of the pieces arranged are Spanish songs: notably the popular Dezilde al Caballero, heard in cabezon’s treatments, and also the cantus firmus of a Mass by Morales.

    Cabezon’s works:

    ·         Gesamtausgabe der Werke von Antonio de Cabezón

    ·         Antonio und Hernando de Cabezón : e. Chronik dargest. am Leben zweier Generationen von Organisten

    ·         Obras de musica. Selections; arr Versos de Magnificat. Versos del sexto tono : 15-78 : vierstimmig für Blockflöten oder andere Instrumente

    ·         Diferencias sobre la pavana italiana; arr  Diferencias : zu vier Stimmen, 1578

    ·         Tientos. Selections  Tientos zu vier Stimmen, zweite Folge (1578)

    ·         Tientos. Selections  Cuatro tientos (1557); vier Fantasien zu vier Stimmen

    ·         Obras de música. Selections;  Versos de Magnificat, 1578 : vierstimmig für Blockflöten oder andere Instrument = in four parts for recorders or other instruments

    ·         Selections  Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela. Recopiladas y puestas en cifra por Hernando de Cabezón su hijo

    ·         Selections  Tientos und Fugen aus den Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela. Bearb. und hrsg. von M. S. Kastner

    ·         Tientos. Selections 4 Tientos für Orgel, mit oder ohne Pedal : Kleinorgel, Harmonium oder Klavier, Cembalo, Klavichord oder Streichquartett (Streichorchester, auch mit anderen Instrumenten) oder Instrumente aller Art, auch Zupfinstrumente

    ·         Selections Claviermusik Obras de musica para tecla, arpa y vihuela.

    “Obras de Musica Para Tecla” is one of his most distinguished and enthralling creations and most popularly known and admired even today. This includes his musical varieties, such as glosas, diferencias, and tientos and so on. This “Obras de Musica Para Tecla” was published by his son, Hernando de Cabezón in 1578, but posthumously.

    Renaissance and Cabezon

    Cabezon, harpsichordist made his mark during renaissance period (1450-1600). His popular work relating to the Renaissance which effected the eras are:

    Ø  Mass For The Feast Of St. Isid

    Ø  Syms 8/9

    Ø  Battle: Organ Music F/T Gothic

    Ø  Armada Music F/T Courts Of En

    Ø  Roncesvalles Echoes Of A Batt

    Ø  Introitus

    Ø  La Spanga: A Tune through Three Centuries


    1.      A Partial Antonio de Cabezón Discography

    2.      Antonio De Cabezon

    3.      Antonio de Cabezón

    4.      Antonio de Cabezón (1510 – 1566)

    5.      Antonio de Cabezon: Obras de musica, Vol. 4 : Harmonices Mundi

    6.      Antonio de Cabezón Spanish composer Cabezón also spelled Cabeçon




    9.      Cabezón: Obras de Música


    10.  De Cabezon, Antino History of Spanish Music, Volume III

    11.  Don Michael Randel(1996). The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Published by Harvard University Press.

    12.  George Grove, H. C. Colles, Eric Blom, Denis Stevens(1955). Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Published by St.Martin’s Press.

    13.  Gerald Stares Bedbrook(1949). Keyboard Music from the Middle Ages to the Beginnings of the Baroque. Published by Macmillan.

    14.  Gilbert Chase(1959). The Music of Spain. Dover Publications.

    15.  Gesamtausgabe der Werke von Antonio de Cabezón  by Antonio Cabezon

    16.  Goldberg Magazine

    17.  Hannu Annala, Heiki Matlik(2007). Handbook of Guitar and Lute Composers. Translated by Katarina Backman. Mel Bay Publications.

    18.  James Tyler(1980). The Early Guitar: A History and Handbook. Music Dept., Oxford University Press.

    19.  Jiffy Notes

    20.  John Caldwell(1999). The Oxford History of English Music. Oxford University Press.

    21.  Michael John Noone(1998). Music and Musicians in the Escorial Liturgy Under the Habsburgs, 1563-1700. Published by Boydell & Brewer.

    22.  Thomasin K. LaMay(2005). Musical Voices of Early Modern Women: Many-headed Melodies. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

    23.  Willi Apel, Hans Tischler(1977). The History of Keyboard Music to 1700.   Published by Indiana University Press.

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