John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator


At the Iberian Studies Day organised by the British Clavichord Society in 2003 I presented an overview of the main sources of music by Iberian composers from the 16th to the early 18th century, which drew from my article on the same subject published in the Yearbook for 2001-2 of the Royal College of Organists. This further short overview of the extant repertoire from the Iberian peninsular will focus on the period from c1712 to c1830 ie from the death of Juan Baptista Cabanilles to the death of Félix Máximo López and José Lidón, who were active in the Chapel Royal in Madrid, and will attempt to bring the lesser-known composers from this period to the readers’ awareness and hopefully prompt him or her to investigate further. Such better-known (at least from the frequency of their works being included in recitals) luminaries as Carlos Seixas, Sebastián Albero, Manuel Blasco de Nebra, António Soler and Vicente Rodrigues will be mentioned only briefly, at least most of their works known to date being available in modern editions. Also through considerations of space (or lack of it!) I shall defer the Basque composers and the organists of the Chapel Royal, Madrid other than Sessé to a future article. One reason for this repertoire still remaining relatively unexplored is the difficulty in obtaining modern editions outside of Spain and Portugal and the speed with which volumes go out-of-print. Many older prints that offer a useful selection of pieces are full of editorial enrichments including suggestions for performance of ornament signs both original and added, (1) and even some modern volumes need to be treated with great caution, especially where there is no critical commentary, and in addition, very few have an English translation.

In the 16th and 17th centuries in particular, the titles of Iberian works offered considerable information to the player as to the type of composition, and occasionally registration, and pointed clearly to the instruments on which they were intended to be performed. Whilst such generic terms as Tiento and Batalla still appeared in Spanish sources in the 18th and indeed early 19th centuries (2), far more common were the ubiquitous Sonata, Tocata (sic) and Capricho, many of which could be played on either organ or stringed instruments. Although the writing sometimes offered clues as to the preferred instrument (ie Scarlatti or Soler-like virtuoso pieces with crossed hands and a texture that was clearly more appropriate to harpsichord or clavichord), if the range exceeded top D then transpositions or rewriting of the passage were applied. Many pieces are left as anonymous in the sources, giving rise to considerable confusion (3) and incorrect attributions are also widespread (4). The use of the Tones to designate the key was also still quite common, and there are occasionally examples with the Tone transposed up or down one step; as late as 1724 Pablo Nassarre included a description of the characteristics of each Mode or Tone that corresponded with that printed by Juan Bermudo in 1549, as per the table below. That such a categorisation has more to do with the Renaissance psychological structures is borne out by the different pitches in use in the Peninsular at the time.

Dorian (Tone 1)DSunHappy as well as serious, modest. Disperses laziness, the sadness of the heart and heavy sleep.
Hypodorian (Tone 2)DMoonMoves to tears of sadness, induces sleep/dreams, laziness.
Phrygian (Tone 3)EMarsInflames the heart to anger.Terrible and frightening. Provokes pride and lies.
Hypophrygian (Tone 4)EMercuryMoves to both sadness and happiness, to meekness.
Lydian (Tone 5)FJupiterMoves to happiness. Very benevolent influences favouring human nature. Purifies foul air.
Hypolydian (Tone 6)FVenusBenign influences, promoting tenderness, devotion, piety and love of God.
Mixolydian (Tone 7)GSaturnMelancholic, induces a love of solitude, thoughtful but inconstant. Can make sad, and move to weeping, and to internal unrest.
Hypomixolydian (Tone 8)GAll Planets and starsSerious, pours spiritual joy into the soul and and fervent yearning for the things eternal and a view of our Creator.

I shall now discuss briefly some of the main composers with some comments on their compositions; unless noted to the contrary it may be assumed that all are one-movement in binary form.

Portuguese composers of the 18th century.

The 100 plus sonatas by Seixas are the greatest surviving legacy of the early 18th century Portuguese keyboard writing. During the 18th century only two volumes of keyboard works were printed in Portugal, both dating from c1770, these being a set of Six Sonatas for Cembalo by Alberto José Gomes da Silva (d1795) and a set of Twelve Sonatas, Variations and Minuets by Francisco Xavier Baptista (d1797). Five of the sonatas by da Silva are in two movements, the other being in three; each concludes with a minuet. The writing is virtuosic and makes extreme demands on the player in several movements. The pieces by Baptista are technically more accessible, although not without difficulties, and contain two movements apart from no. three in three movements and no. 12 in one. Variation movements occur in sonatas one and two, and minuets in no. five to eleven inclusive. Two further sonatas by a Bachixa, who may be the same composer, are found in a MS containing Portuguese sonatas now preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Most of the Sonatas or Tocatas previously attributed to Sousa Carvalho have now been re-assigned. Several MSS in Lisbon contain further sonatas by such as Jacinto do Sacramento (3), Santo Elias (3) and Sant’Ana (1). All are in one movement, apart from the three-movement sonata in F by Santo Elias that is considerably less demanding than the other pieces, the final ¾ allegro being a minuet in all but name. A small collection of four Fugas para orgam (sic) found in Lisbon cathedral do not require pedals and sound well on the clavichord, the first two being attributed to José da Madre de Deus. They are typically loose in structure.

Many MSS await cataloguing and investigation, so perhaps in the future we will see modern editions of the sonatas by Avondano.

Spanish composers of 18th century.

The Seis Fugas Para organo y Clave by Juan Sessé y Balaguer (1736-1801), printed in 1773, is the first independent publication for keyboard in Spain after the Facultad Organica of Correa de Arauxo of 1626. Many other volumes by Sessé were advertised, but either never appeared or have been lost, however, a number of pieces survive in MS. These are typically Iberian fugues, loose in structure, two-part writing interrupted by full chords, octaves in the left hand and are well worth learning. Other pieces by Sessé including Preludios, Pasos and Intentos have been published in Rubio’s anthology of music from the Chapel Royal; most are lengthy and virtuosic works, those based on liturgical subjects being destined in all probability for organ, but others such as the Intentos in B minor and E major as well as the Preludio, Largo e Intento in Bb and even the dramatic Preludio, Andante y Ave Maris Stella would offer decent challenges to the clavichordist. Apart from the Sonatas by Soler, which need no introduction, it may be worth mentioning at least two of the Intentos for organ that do not call for pedals. These are very long works in D minor and C minor, remorselessly insistent, with plenty of dissonances.

Despite the large quantity of MSS in many locations throughout the country (including monasteries, convents, churches of all sizes as well as libraries) that remain unexplored and catalogued, let alone produced in modern editions, there is still a sizeable amount of material that has been made available, much of which is well worth studying. Influences of Scarlatti and Soler are traceable, but as the period under review progressed there are many composers who embraced the galant style of Mozart and Haydn, the latter being particularly popular. There are several arrangements of his symphonies in a collection by F.M.López, and it is known from contemporary accounts that such arrangements were played during the Mass. Many composers also continued the tradition of composing sets of Versos in the Eight Tones, but I shall limit myself here to those compositions that were more readily playable on stringed keyboard instruments.

The beautifully calligraphed sets of thirty Sonatas by both Sebástian Albero (actually twenty eight sonatas and two fugues) and Vicente Rodrigues as well as the printed set of six Sonatas by Manuel Blasco de Nebra are available in modern editions, the latter two sets in particular offering tremendous challenges to the performer. The six three-movement Ricercata by Albero are scattered through various volumes of Baciero’s anthologies, the improvisatory first movements being succeeded by an exceptionally long fugue, frequently with pounding octaves in the left hand that call for muscular as well as digital dexterity, and a sonata similar to his set of twenty eight. Further sonatas by Blasco de Nebra include six from the convent of the Incarnation, Osuna. Less demanding than the printed set, wide spacing in the writing predominates, and one is in the rarely used key of Ab. Six Pastorellas and Twelve Sonatas available in a good modern edition are attributed in the MS at Montserrat to one Dn Nevra; the editor has presumed them to be by Manuel Blasco de Nebra, but the family was extensive, as we shall see. However, they are fine pieces and are eminently suited to the clavichord. The Pastorelas are in three movements, Adagio, Pastorela and Minuet all in binary form, the first ten Sonatas contain two, a highly expressive adagio being followed by an allegro. – particularly noteworthy is the opening in octaves of the allegro to Sonata 2. Sonatas 11and 12 have one allegro only. Sensuously languid dissonances abound as do chords built up by holding down quavers or semi quavers.

Freixanet (ca 1750s at Lérida) left three Sonatas (in G, Bb and A) in MS; predominantly two-part writing prevails, with rhythmic switches from quavers to triplets. From Montserrat, Miguel Espona (1714-79), apossible teacher of Soler, left 21 Sonatas, many of which exhibit a knowledge of Scarlatti and Soler and require a considerable technique. Joseph Clausells of Barcelona (ca 1730s) left three Sonatas of which the first and second contain extensive LH passages of triplet arpeggios, and the third runs to 160 bars in 2/4. A short, effective Toccata in E major by him is also known, it owes much to the Italian violin writing of the time, its two-part writing exploding into a short scalar cadenza at the end. The 23 Sonatas by Josep Gallés (1758-1836) who was organist at Vic, to the north of Barcelona. These exceptionally fine pieces are ambitious in their scale, those in minor keys being particularly expressive. Slower tempi are called for in more sonatas than is usual. Of the 16 Sonatas by Anselm Viola (1738-98) of Montserrat, several have plenty of octaves, murky basses and repeated chords in the LH. No. 3 also has several quaver runs in octaves in the RH. Three are actually designated “per clarins” and No. 13 in D is probably also intended for organ. The simpler Sonatas such as Nos 1 and 9 in C, 14 in G and 16 in G are more fitted to the clavichord. No.12 is probably by Felipe Rodriguez (1759-1814) who left many Sonatas and Rondos (frequently paired) in MS at Montserrat, of these 15 have been published in a modern edition. Most of the Sonatas are in two movements and are followed by a Rondo, of which No. 1 in C# minor is full of Iberian “oscuridad”. A lighter, Mozartian charm colours several others. These works are spacious, with surprising modulations at times and interrupted cadences, the Rondos in particular are worth reviving. The edition includes a Sonata and Rondo in Eb by Josep Vinyals (1771-1825), which requires some dexterity, with crossed-hands passages in the Rondo. Also from Montserrat was Narcis Casanoves (1747 –1799) of whom 15 Pasos (fugal compositions), 8 Sonatas and a Rondo are available in a modern edition. Another 12 or so Sonatas are not included. The Pasos are loosely imitative and range from only 80 bars in the chromatic No 11 to over 300 in several others, but the movement is mainly in crotchets and quavers. The Sonatas printed are all interesting, with plenty of variety, and the Rondo bubbles along, although the edition does not print the second half of the theme at the end, leaving it unfinished.

From Valencia possibly one of the most original composers of the period is Rafael Anglés, (1730-1816) whose 20 Sonatas taken from a MS at Valladolid are reviewed in this edition of CI, as are the 15 Sonatas by Manuel Narro Campos (1729-1776). Two more Sonatas by Anglés, in E minor and F, also show the influence of Haydn. Also from Valencia was Tomás Ciurana, by whom some 30 Sonatas have been made available in a new edition – two are for organ and one is headed “para piano”. These splendid pieces are full of the influence of Haydn and Mozart, with much variety in the writing. Antonio Mestres (d 1786) from Barcelona left some large scale works including an Obra de Ple (ie Lleno) in five movements, Presto followed by Larghetto twice, with a Paso based on the ascending tetrachord that runs for almost 400 bars as its final movement, as well as at least 10 Sonatas and Tocatas suitable for the clavichord, most of which are in the ternary form that was popular with the Catalan composers. Interplay between major and minor is one of his traits, and the example in F minor (Segundo Tono punto baxo) is most appealing, with RH appoggiaturas both on and off the beat defining a cantabile melody. The first part ends with a triplet cadenza-like passage over a held bass C. The Tocatas entitled Pastoril (Nos. 2 and 12) breathe a much freer light-hearted air.

José Ferrer (ca 1745 –1815), organist in Lérida and Pamplona, left at least a dozen Sonatas in the Scarlatti style. Particularly memorable are No. 2 in G minor, an Andantino, with throbbing chords in the LH supporting a lyrical melody for much of its course, and No. 6 in F, an Allegro with a highly chromatic RH in the first part giving way to scale passages over repeated chords.

Francesc Mariner (1720-89) organist at Barcelona cathedral, left a large corpus of pieces in MS, of which 11 Tocatas, 2 Sonatas, an Adagio and 6 Pastorelas are available in a modern edition. Many of the Tocatas and Sonatas are highly demanding works (No 6 in A is far less difficult) but repay the careful study required, whilst the Pastorelas are somewhat slighter yet charming works. Some of the Tocatas are in ternary form. Some of the Llenos would sound well on the clavichord, it is to be hoped that they will eventually be published. His nephew Carlos Baguer (1768-1808) succeeded him as organist in the cathedral, and of his large oeuvre only seven sonatas and three sinfonias have been published. The sonatas are delightful works permeated with the classical wit of Haydn and Mozart; Nos. 3 in B and 5 in D have slow introductions leading into an allegro. Most are long, but No. 7 in E is a more reflective Andantino. It is not always clear whether both sections of the sonatas are to be repeated. The multi-movement Sinfonias are again Haydenesque, No. 3 in D finishing with an lyrical 6/8 Adagio with Variations in D minor. Another side of Baguer is seen in the Fugue included in Eslava’s Organ School published in the late 19th century, its subject including the falling diminished fourth being more reminiscent of the 16th century. Joan Vila (1711-91) left an extensive Obra Chromatica the final Intento of which in ¾ is more adventurous than some of this genre. His available Sonata in G minor is in ternary form.

One of the leading composers from Aragon was José Nebra (1702-68), who left several Sonatas and Tocatas in MS, a few of which are now available in two volumes; the influence of Scarlatti is discernable in some of the pieces, including the Sonatas in F in each book. The Sonata ion C minor from book two is in two movements, and that in Eb contains very rare indications for dynamics. Mariano Cosuenda (1737-1801), organist in Daroca and Tarazona, left six Sonatas of which No. 5 has two movements, an adagio being followed by a binary allegro. They display a considerable creative imagination and make use of spread chords in minor values prefeded and followed by rests, the hands alternating between notes. The brothers Moreno y Polo between them left a considerable amount of compositions, four by Juan (1711-76) being available in Volume 5 of the Tecla Aragonesa series, that also contains the only known piece by Sebastián Tomás as well as some anonymous Sonatas. Eight further pieces by him, including 5 Sonatas, a Tocata and 2 Allegros, are available in Dionisio Preciado’s anthology, that also includes three Sonatas by his older brother José (1708-73), of which that in G minor contains some neat chromatic twists. Juan’s Sonata on the 5th Tone, Punto Alto (ie in D) is unusual in that the second part is a working in 6/8 of the first part. Five pieces by José are included in Volume 7 of Tecla Aragonesa, the Paso in C minor being the most striking, the 2 Sonatas being lighter in mood. Joseph Gil de Palomar (d 1796), organist in Zaragoza, left five pieces of which the lengthy Lleno on the 2nd Tone bursts into life after 200 bars with quavers runs leading to full chords for both hands. The three Sonatas in mainly two-part writing with occasional added thirds to the LH are worthy additions to the repertoire. Two of the major composers in Zaragoza, Joaquín Laseca (1758-1820) and Ramón Ferreñac (1763-1832) still await a good complete modern edition, but Volume 8 of Tecla Aragonesa includes some 20 pieces attributed to them including Sonatas and a Rondo. Also included in Preciado’s anthology are a Sonata in A minor by Laseca and Variations in Bb and a Sonata in G by Ferreñac. The latter is in three movements, Allegro, Larguetto and Presto and has much to offer including repeated semiquaver octaves in the RH against quaver octaves in the LH and dynamic markings in the 3/8 Presto. Many other composers are represented by just one or two works in various anthologies, of which the most comprehensive is Preciado’s.

Whilst an overview can do no more than tickle the surface, I trust that this will assist in making known the vast extent of the Iberian repertoire; as the years progress it is to be hoped that funding will be found to enable the production of new scholarly editions (and completion of the outstanding obras completas by Cabanilles and Elías) of not only major composers such as Mariner, Baguer and López, but also the large number of relatively minor composers and that most prolific of all composers “Anon”.

I shall be delighted to assist readers in any way that I can with enquiries that can be addressed to


1: Such as the editions by Nin and Pedrell. A very useful anthology of Basque pieces is full of such intervention.
2: There are several Tientos Partidos by Mariner, Gallés, Espona, Ferreñac and Batallas by Ferreñac. There is also a Falsas by Mariner.
3: Sonatas by Haydn are to be found anonymously in the MSS from Tuy cathedral and also in Zaragoza
4: At least one sonata by Espona and one by Ferrer are by Scarlatti.

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© John Collins 2013