JANUARY 2021 | Manuel Rodrigues Coelho | Flores de Musica Vol. 1 | Review by John Collins

JANUARY 2021 | Manuel Rodrigues Coelho | Flores de Musica Vol. 1 | Review by John Collins

John Collins, organist of Christ Church, Worthing, is an internationally acclaimed specialist researcher in, and performer of the English, Iberian and Italian repertoires. He translates regularly for Portuguese and Spanish colleagues and also for British colleges and academies. In addition he has written notes on performance practice for many editions of 18th century English keyboard music and is a regular reviewer for several British and American journals and magazines. The following article was previously published by the British Institute of Organ Studies and is reproduced by kind permission of the editor and author. 

ECHO – European Cities of Historical Organs – was founded in 1997 by the cities of Alkmaar, Innsbruck, Lisbon, Zaragoza, Roskilde, Treviso and Toulouse. The ECHO collection of Historical Organ Music is a new initiative from Ut Orpheus of Bologna, which opened in 2018 with two volumes presenting the Brussels Ms II 3326 mus.,  and the Camphuysen MS. There will be ten volumes of critical editions of complete MSS or prints in the series, issued at the rate of two per year up to 2022.

This is the first of three volumes which will present the complete contents of Flores de Musica by Manuel Rodrigues Coelho (ca. 1555-1635), organist of Elvas, Badajoz and the Chapel Royal, Lisbon, newly edited by João Vaz. The original volume of 235 folios was published in Lisbon in 1620, the first volume of keyboard music in open score produced in the country. It contains 24 large scale four-voice contrapuntal Tentos, three on each of the eight Tones, four settings of the Chanson Susana un jour by Lassus, followed by a large number of liturgical material comprising four settings of Pange Lingua, four of the Ave Maris Stella followed by a further five verses on this chant and three sets of versos on each Tone amounting to some 92 individual pieces. This volume seems to have exerted a major influence in the succeeding generations of Portuguese composers for keyboard through the 17th century. This new edition presents the 12 Tentos on the first to the fourth Tones (as customary only the pieces on the second Tone carry a key signature, one flat), the length ranging from around 165 (no. 10) to almost 300 bars (no. 7). Half of them contain a section in triple time, some quite lengthy, most of these close the Tento but in nos. 7 and 12 it forms a central section. The rhythmic values in these sections vary considerably, with three having quavers and two having crotchets as the smallest note value; in no. 7 we find two incidences of short figures in semiquavers in thirds in the right hand. Eleven copies of the original are known to have survived, one from the National Library, Lisbon, being used as the prime source for this edition with others being used for comparison.

Unlike some pieces by his Spanish contemporary Aguilera de Heredia, none of Coelho’s compositions calls for divided keyboard, enabling them all to be playable on even single manual British instruments. While lacking the more dissonant boldness of the contemporary Italians, and the Spanish, especially Francisco Correa de Araúxo (whose Facultad Orgánica was published in 1626), these Tentos display a considerable variety of skilful writing showing a command of counterpoint as well as of toccata and variation technique. Most Tentos open with subjects in semibreves, followed by a faster continuation; slower passages reminiscent of Coelho’s predecessors such as António Carreira, and also lengthy passages of semiquaver figuration showing a possible influence from northern Europe are also to be found in most of them. In no. 3 the subject consists of an ascending scale mainly in quavers, answered by its inversion and in each Tento on the second Tone and in the second and third on the fourth Tone the answer appears before the subject is complete. Some Tentos are monothematic, others have a number of subjects, and also short motivic figures, sometimes fragments of the previous subjects, which are treated imitatively The undoubted artistic and aesthetic quality of these pieces provide ample reasons for Coelho being mentioned very favourably by Francisco Correa.

The comprehensive introduction provides substantial information about the sources and corrections made by the editors (the original print has a page of errata), and the graphic characteristics and editorial methods offer very helpful suggestions about possible interpretations of the occasionally haphazard engraving of triplet groups; other such groups feature to an extreme point of repetition as in no. 9. There is a useful bibliography listing articles (mainly in Portuguese) and other modern editions and anthologies. The composer’s own preface and advice to players is included as a facsimile and in an English translation – although as with Correa, in places some of his comments would have benefitted from a greater clarity of expression as, for example, just how to play the ornaments which he stresses must be added with great frequency; editorial comments on this as well as on the plainchants used for the liturgical pieces will follow in the remaining volumes. The critical commentary following the music pages is exhaustive. The printing is in a good size font, with up to six systems to the page, and there are a number of facsimiles which show the difficulties encountered when transcribing the pieces into modern notation from the score format of the original. The edition contains enough detailed discussion to satisfy the scholar and enable the performer to make an informed decision in how to interpret some passages based on this, but also succeeds admirably in its prime intention of offering a score suitable for immediate practical use and not overloaded with incorporated suggestions. These Tentos – still very little known and scarcely played in the UK - offer an interesting range of pieces, many providing technical challenges, but should prove most rewarding to study and master. A particularly Portuguese feeling of saudade or melancholy pervades many of the pieces, especially those on the second Tone. Volume two, which will contain the remaining 12 Tentos and the Susanas, and volume three, which will include the liturgical pieces, are scheduled to appear next year. The publication details are as follows: Manuel Rodrigues Coelho: Flores de Musica I: Editor: João Vaz: Publisher: Ut Orpheus ECHOM3; Available from: www.utorpheus.com Price 50.95 Euros



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