Dance and fantasy from the Age of the Discovery
In 1414, Prince Henry the Navigator convinced his father, King John I, to launch a military attack and conquer Ceuta. By August the following year, Portugal was in control of the city as well as the maritime trade routes between the Atlantic and the Middle East. Prince Henry was knighted and became Duke of Viseu and Covilhã as a result, and thus began the Age of Discovery.
A century later, Portuguese caravel ships are still crossing unknown seas and music, literature and theatre continue to be inspired by sea exploration and the conquests of the New World. Court entertainment in the first half of the 16th century included musical moments like this as well as theatre performances and poetry recitals, during the same soiree, as the concept of a single performance like we have today was still strange at the time.
Before the Iberian Union, poets and musicians still travelled ostentatiously between Portugal and Spain, which explains the presence of Castilian Spanish in Portuguese literature and many common elements in different Iberian arts.
Luys de Milán, a Spanish musician and writer, would publish “El Maestro” in Valencia in 1536, a book of compositions for the vihuela de mano (‘viola de mão’ in Portuguese) dedicated to Portuguese King John III.
In this book, the first of only seven that exist for this instrument, there are different instrumental pieces of an improvisational nature (fantasies) and songs in Castilian Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, including tales of battles against the Moors and other historic events. They are unique in that they have the melody for singing noted in the instrumental accompaniment, which indicates that a musician was very likely to play and sing at the same time, like they do nowadays.
The rest of the songs in this program have been taken from Portuguese songbooks from the first half of the 16th century, which were arranged for a solo voice and instrumental accompaniment. These tiny books are a small treasure in our musical Renaissance, which are unique in the context of non-religious music in Iberia and in the theatre/music entertainment of European court life. These songs (mostly carols) invoke both bucolic landscapes and the simple life of a pastor (close to satire) as they unfold in mythological events. Although, most of them recite the eternal virtues and curses of Love, in song and lament, like we do today.