Welcome history buffs. This week our train
of thought brings us to an interesting byway of historical research: the liturgical
music of post-Conquest Ibiza. More than just music, this field of research opens
up an unsuspected world of culture, art and architecture, for, as our guest
historian Franscisco Torres Peters points out, "The various fields of humanistic
expression have always travelled hand in hand throughout the ages."
Peters is an Ibicenco-born scholar/priest
whose mother is English, hence his second surname and identifying cachet in
local circles. In addition to his priestly duties at Sant Jordi church, he dedicates
much of his time to historical research and writing, and is also an accomplished
organist. This summer, Peters was awarded the Island Council's prize for academic
literature, the prestigious 'Vuit d'Agost', for his outstanding work on music
and musicians in 16th- 17th- and 18th-century
Ibiza. LiveIbiza is pleased to offer you the following interview with one of
the island's most vigorous thinkers.
Contrary to popular belief, it appears that Ibiza was actually quite well endowed
with both the talent and the financial wherewithal to produce very fine choirs.
Francisco Torres Peters:
"Exactly. It has always been thought that Ibiza was a culture-less island,
but, from the evidence I've been able to piece together, I can affirm that it
was in no way culturally inferior to any other city of its size (2-3 thousand
inhabitants) and that, in all likelihood, it surpassed many small cities of
the day - at least until the beginning of the 18th century."
Why did you choose to delve into the musical aspect of island history as opposed
to some of the other still-unresolved riddles of Ibiza's past?
Well, because I have always held music as a personal love, I wanted to somehow
demonstrate the universality of the musical impulse in the human family. Academic
treatises on music seem to always centre around the great geniuses - Mozart,
Beethoven, Bach, etc. when, in fact, lesser mortals also engaged in music-making
and got to be very good at it.
What were your sources?
FTP: I combined general research
on standard church practises with specific findings from the archives of Santa
MarÝa, Ibiza's cathedral. From earliest Christianity, all churches had their
own music school with a choir and, eventually, instruments. Ibiza was no exception
to this rule. The archives show that a respectable amount of money was spent
on maintaining the music school and choir, even when funds were scarce. Unfortunately,
this practice has been lost in modern times.
Who was responsible for running the music school?
There were two main positions, the choirmaster and the head organist, and, in
most cases, they came to the island from the Spanish mainland. These posts were
not regulated by the church, so that musically inclined clergymen (only the
men were allowed to sing in public) were an itinerant group, travelling from
church to church as vacancies arose. This non-regulation added a somewhat competitive
note that actually helped keep the level of ability very high. Applicants had
to prove their worth in order to be taken in by local ecclesiarchs.
The Dominicans were the predominant order
in Ibiza, and their convent is still an important centre for concerts. This
weekend, as a matter of fact, the Viennese sextet 'Orpheon' is giving a performance
of Renaissance music played on historical instruments.
Yes, the oboe and the clarinet, for example, are relatively modern developments,
but the wind instruments that preceded them were also played in Ibiza and taught
at the music school.
Conceivably, then, a concert very similar to the one being given this weekend
could have been performed here in Ibiza at the same convent during the Renaissance?
It's a distinct possibility! Once, in the 16th century, a fleet of
galleons sailed into the harbour on one of the island's important holidays -
Sant Ciriac, I think it was. There were musicians on board and they gave a concert
to honour our feast day.
What a nice story. Getting back to the music school, who were the pupils?
The pupils were children from the local population. Their parents entrusted
them to the care of these two teachers who taught the youngsters how to read
and write as well as how to sing and play music. The teachers were also responsible
for feeding the children, and, I suppose (I'm guessing here) that any children
from outside the city would sleep in lodgings provided by the church during
the week. Sometimes there were only four or five pupils - which made a very
small choir - but often there were more.
Didn't this 'higher education', so to speak, set these children apart from the
rest of society?
Very much so, and naturally many of the children went on to form part of the
Did they have any choice in the matter?
Yes, it was a completely free decision. But, you have to keep in mind that society
in those days was totally theocentric, that is, God was at the centre of every
aspect of life, especially during the Gothic period. It was during this time
that Ibiza was conquered by Christian Catalonia. Europe was just emerging from
the Crusades and people were very gung-ho on the Church.
So, Ibiza's first Christian culture was Gothic?
Yes, the cathedral doesn't look it from the outside, but the floor plan is a
thoroughly Gothic design. The central nave is intersected by a transept in the
form of a Latin cross and there are chapels between the buttresses. Liturgical
music at this time consisted mainly of Gregorian Chanting with no instrumentation
When did instruments begin to come into the picture?
Well, Ibiza acquired its first organ in 1423 which was already the beginning
of the Renaissance in Italy, but provincial areas (like Ibiza) still retained
a strong Gothic character up until the 16th century. The transmission of culture
was very slow in those days.
How was the Renaissance different from the Gothic period in musical terms?
In addition to having an organ and other instruments (in Ibiza there were only
wind instruments, no string - at least not in the records!), the Renaissance
brought polyphony to the island. This type of singing, which is perhaps best
described as voice weaving - as opposed to the monotones of the Gregorian chants,
had already reached a level of perfection in Paris by the 13th century.
But, it did not arrive in Ibiza until the mid-16th century.
I suppose the advent of polyphony marked a high-point in island music.
It certainly foreshadowed it. The real period of musical splendour in Ibiza
occurred about fifty years later toward the end of the 16th and the
beginning of the 17th centuries, the start of the Baroque period.
There was a lot of activity in all sectors of the arts. A type of one-act morality
play, often called an Everyman play, became very popular. These Biblical dramas
were put on during mass, making the services - which were always in Latin -
much more entertaining and educational for the people. There was also a proliferation
of the fine arts, with Biblical scenes being depicted in painting so that people
could begin to understand at least some of the Good Book's message. Ibiza also
got a new organ in 1715 with state-of-the-art acoustics. It was still in use
until the modern day when it was destroyed during the Spanish Civil war.
Wow! What a whirlwind of culture. Ibiza's Renaissance came very late, then.
Yes, but unfortunately, it died very soon afterwards, when Philip V came to
power after the war of Succession. Musical activity after that became very basic
until Abad y Lasierra came along to revive it.
What a great guy! All of our readers are very familiar with Abad y Lasierra.
He certainly gave his all to the people.
Yes, he did.
Well, thank you very much for your time. It's been fascinating.
Thank you for your interest. The pleasure's been mine.