José Luis Palacios Garoz. El último villancico barroco valenciano. Castelló: Publicacions de la Universitat Jaume I; Servei de Publicacions, Diputació de Castelló, 1995. ISBN 84-8021-062-1.
As most readers of this publication know, the villancico remains a largely underexplored field. With thousands of villancicos in manuscript waiting to be studied in Iberian and Latin American archives, it is as yet impossible for one scholar to address the entire genre in a definitive history, but studies of villancicos by single composers or local traditions are crucial. Too few such studies have appeared, but anyone who attended the international conference in London last summer, "Secular Genres in Sacred Contexts?: The Villancico and the Cantata in the Iberian World, 1400-1800" must be encouraged by the number of scholars now interested in this genre.
José Luis Palacios Garozís study, El último villancico barroco valenciano, which appeared in 1995, made a useful contribution to our understanding of local villancico traditions. His focus is on the works of José Pradas Gallén (1689-1757), chapelmaster at Valencia Cathedral from 1728 until shortly before his death. Palacios Garoz wrote a biography of Pradas, José Pradas Gallén, el último barroco valenciano (Castelló, 1994), and here turns his attention to the music and texts of Pradasís villancicos. In his work on the Valencian villancico, Palacios Garoz follows in the footsteps of Vicenç Ripollès, who published his ground-breaking El villancico i la cantata del segle XVIII a València in 1935. With these two books, and publications by José Climent Barber of the villancicos of Juan Bautista Comes and his recent book Villancico barroco valenciano (Valencia, 1997), we are beginning to achieve a good understanding of the Valencian villancico.
Palacios Garoz begins his study with a survey of literature on the villancico, concentrating on sources in Spanish. His goal is to show that Pradasís villancicos correspond to the aesthetics of the European Baroque, an issue addressed throughout the study.
The next section, "El Villancico en Valencia," begins with an overview of not only the regional manifestation of the genre, but the villancico in general. Major touchstones in the genreís history from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance are cited, including important figures and collections. Focus ultimately falls on important Valencian composers: Juan Bautista Comes, Urbá de Vargas, García Babán, Antonio Teodoro Ortells, Juan Bautista José Cabanilles, and Pedro Rabassa. Palacios Garoz then leaves the Valencian composers and traces the genreís history through its demise in the early nineteenth century as a piece to be performed in cathedrals and its rediscovery by twentieth-century scholars. The second subsection of this chapter includes definitions of the many terms used to refer to villancicos and works with similar functions during the eighteenth century: cantata, oratorio, letrillas, gozos, tonadilla, and other names. Some of these genres are difficult to define independently, but Palacios Garoz cites a number of scholars and makes sense of a complicated question. Especially interesting is his placing of some of these genres in the context of Italian and French music of the period. Next Palacios Garoz names a number of villancico poets, providing especially important information on Valencians. Three other brief subsections in this chapter address Valencian printers of villancico text booklets, the role of church textual censors, and important textual themes found in villancicos for Corpus Christi, Christmas, feasts of the Virgin Mary, and various other feasts.
Palacios Garozís study is, above all else, an analysis of music and texts. In his next chapter, "Análisis literario-musical," he lays out the theoretical foundation for his study in a number of areas. Too often in such studies it is difficult to identify the exact analytical parameters, but Palacios Garoz makes these clear through discussion of various topics as they were perceived, specifically in eighteenth-century Spain, but also in Baroque Europe. He cites a number of musicians and scholars as he describes the analytical process. He describes the analysis of text in terms of its form, popular appeal, theatrical resources, and religious influences. Areas of musical analysis under consideration include form (and the typical sections of the villancico such as estribillo and coplas), melody, texture, timbre and dynamics, rhythmic aspects, instrumental and vocal forces for which villancicos were composed, musical/textual associations, and popular elements. Palacios Garoz cites contemporary authorities, an important contribution on how music and the villancico were viewed during the period.
Palacios Garoz then begins a detailed analysis of Pradasís villancicos, informed by what was obviously careful attention to nearly 280 of the composerís works. Such detailed analysis of villancicos is rare indeed. The section is organized around the feasts for which works were conceived: Corpus Christi, Christmas, Marian feasts, miscellaneous feasts, and other works. It is somewhat doubtful that the music to Pradasís villancicos varies greatly according to feast, but it can be argued that Christmas villancicos constitute an identifiable corner of the genre with their own traditions and expectations. Within each section describing villancicos for a particular feast, sub-categories are based upon the types of sections found in each villancico, such as estribillos, recitados, areas, etc. Such sections of course usually share function, and sometimes musical style (especially in the case of recitados), but not every villancico includes each section. Palacios Garoz offers comments on a variety of subjects, ranging from overall statistical analysis of how many works possess the section to detailed comments about the music and text of individual works. His tour of Pradasís villancicos is buttressed with many helpful musical examples, adding substantially to our understanding. Pradasís music, when possible, is compared to works by more famous composers, very useful in helping the reader to understand unknown music. A close reading of this section builds a lively picture of Pradasís works and musical style.
In "Música Práctica," Palacios Garoz covers aspects of the use of villancicos and performance practice. His recognition that villancicos often were reused helps refute the notion that they were only sung once and then locked in an archive. He offers comments on ornamentation, use of instruments, and other matters, concluding with interesting de-scriptions of modern performances of Pradasís villancicos.
The "Epílogo" is a consideration of aspects of the texts: important themes, use of characters from the popular theater, biblical references, and citing works with a host of particular characteristics, such as the onomatopoeic devices, metaphors, ridiculous dramatic situations, etc. Such an analysis has been performed for very few groups of villancicos. He concludes the section with consideration of text/music relationships in Pradas. Palacios Garozís generous treatment of texts in Pradasís villancicos concludes in the last 203 pages: a complete modern edition of these texts, again an important contribution.
Appendices include a fascinating description of a Valencian Corpus Christi procession in 1800, a tabular consideration of the evolution of form in Pradasís villancicos (e.g., the gradual appearance of recitados and areas), the use of tonalities and performing forces in Pradasís villancicos, and a complete catalog. The book also includes an extensive bibliography. It is handsomely produced.
I have had the opportunity to examine the scores of a number of Pradasís villancicos, and can affirm his importance as a composer of the genre. Palacios Garoz has approached these works in a number of useful ways, performing great service for the discipline. Many more such studies are needed.
Paul R. Laird
Back to Vol 5, no. 1 contents