Angelita Romero Series. Lecture by Tess Knighton: “For whom are sweet songs set to music?” Women as performers of and listeners to the cancionero repertory

Department of Music
Angelita Romero Distinguished Lecture Series on Spanish Music and Culture: Music in the time of Ferdinand and Isabel
Walter Aaron Clark, coordinator

November 9, Friday, 2018
Free and open to the public.

3:00 P.M. Lecture
CHASS Interdisciplinary Building, South – Symposium Room, INTS 1113
4:00 P.M. Reception to follow in Round Lab, INTS 1111

Tess Knighton, Cambridge University and ICREA (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies)
 “For whom are sweet songs set to music?” Women as performers of and listeners to the cancionero repertory

Little is known about the performance context for the repertory of the fifteenth-century Spanish songbooks or cancioneros, and the musical and poetic sources apparently provide little information as regards how they were performed, in what contexts and who was listening. Today the songs are most often performed with a panoply of instruments, including a percussion section, in colorful and vibrant versions that hold enormous appeal for modern audiences. This is wonderful for the modern-day reception of the repertory and for the brilliant early music ensembles who perform it. What if, however, the performance of these songs in the courtly context of the late 15th century was completely different? What if the expectations of the listener of c.1500 were met in other ways? This lecture seeks to find entry into the court environment of the period in which the repertory was conceived through the Juego trobado by the court poet Jerónimo de Pinar, which Roger Boase, in a recent compelling study, has placed in the context of a court entertainment that very probably took place in the summer of 1496 in the northern coastal town of Laredo. There Queen Isabel, her children, a large retinue of courtiers and her substantial royal household awaited propitious winds for the departure of her second daughter, Juana, to Flanders as wife of Philip the Fair, Duke of Burgundy. Each of the forty-six verses of Pinar’s poem relates to the identity of either a member of the royal family (six) or a lady-in-waiting in Isabel’s household (forty). Through an extraordinary feat of research-based detective work, Boase has been able to identify each of the forty ladies. This paper builds on his research to understand how the poem, and the forty-six songs it cites, formed a game in which music was an integral part of a form of court entertainment that involved the participation of women. The songs cited were not only key to these ladies’ identity, they also identified personal musical attributes and interests. The poetic game also reveals much about the ways in which the cancionero repertory was performed and listened to in the court context. The text of each song, reinforced by visual elements such as coats of arms and emblems, and by an intricate web of literary references, mythical allusions, witticisms and double entendres, could, and was intended to be, read (or heard) in different ways, making it essential that the music enhanced and supported the words without making them difficult to hear. Rather, music served at one level as a mnemonic devise that helped the participants recall the songs and the connotations for their authors and commissioners (generally male) and their (female) dedicatees or sources of inspiration. At the same time, the realization in performance of this ludic poem suggests that women were much more actively involved in musical participation, whether through singing, playing or listening, in the court context than has previously been surmised.

Tess Knighton is an ICREA Research Professor affiliated to the Institució Milà i Fontanals–CSIC in Barcelona where she has been based since 2011. She is an Honorary Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, where she was Director of Studies in Modern Languages for many years. She was Editor of the journal Early Music (Oxford University Press) from 1992 until 2009, and is currently a Series Editor (with Helen Deeming) of Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music (The Boydell Press), and Secretary of the Editorial Board of the Monumentos de la Música Española (Consejo Superior de Investigación Científica). Her research interests focus on music and culture in the Iberian World from the fifteenth to the early seventeenth centuries, and she has been involved in a number of major research projects related to this field. Recently she led Marie Curie Foundation research project on ‘Urban Musics and Musical Practices in Sixteenth-Century Europe’, which resulted in several publications including Hearing the City in Early Modern Europe, a collection of essays edited by herself and her research assistant Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita and published by Brepols in 2018. She has published widely on various aspects of early Iberian music, and recently edited the Companion to Music in the Age of the Catholic Monarchs (Brill, 2017). She is particularly interested in an interdisciplinary approach to the study of music history, and sees music as an intrinsic part of socio-cultural expression, whether in the court environment or in the urban context. Questions of performance and listening practice are central to her research, and future plans include study of the sensual and emotional impact of music in its historical context.

Angelita Romero Distinguished Lecture Series on Spanish Music and Culture is named after the matriarch of the celebrated Romero family of guitarists, who arrived in the US from Spain in 1957 and quickly established themselves as an exciting and innovative presence in the world of classical music.  Angelita Romero (1910-1999) was a gifted maestra of the castanets and devotee not only of Spanish music but also art and literature. This series honors her memory by featuring speakers whose research examines the long and rich heritage of Spanish music within its socio-cultural and historical context.  

The Center for Iberian and Latin American Music (CILAM) was established at the UC Riverside in 2004 to foster research and performance in an interdisciplinary spirit, embracing the entire musical heritage of Iberia and Latin America. In addition to the Romero lecture series, the Center’s activities include maintaining an educational website,, and an online scholarly journal, Diagonal: An Ibero-American Music Review; sponsoring the annual Otto Mayer-Serra competition for research on Iberian and Latin American music; and organizing annual Encuentros/Encounters, featuring concerts and lectures dealing with a particular aspect of Iberian or Latin American music.  

Walter Aaron Clark, CILAM director and organizer of this year's Encuentro, earned a Ph.D. in musicology from UCLA, where he wrote his dissertation under the direction of the late Robert M. Stevenson. He is the author of books on Spanish composers Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, and Federico Moreno Torroba, all published by Oxford University Press.  He is also the editor or co-editor of several other books on Spanish and Latin American music. Founding editor of the Oxford series Currents in Latin American and Iberian Music (2005-2016), he is now editor-in-chief of the UC refereed online journal Diagonal:  An Ibero-American Music Review.  He is the author and editor of numerous books on Spanish and Latin American Music, including Oxford biographies of Albéniz, Granados, and Torroba. His book on the Romero family of guitarists just appeared of University of Illinois Press. In 2016, King Felipe VI of Spain awarded him the title Knight Commander of the Order of Isabel the Catholic.



Friday, November 9 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

CHASS Interdisciplinary South, Symposium Room, INTS 1113

Event Type

Arts, Music & Concerts, Lectures & Presentations


Free and open to the public.

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