Home page


Musical portrait of Philip II


At the time of his birth (Valladolid 21 May 1527), Nicolás Gombert, a Flemish musician who was in the service of the Emperor Charles V, composed in his honour the motet Dicite in magni. It was not going to be the only time Gombert was going to exalt him in his compositions, since in 1531 he wrote a new piece, Felix Austriae domus, to celebrate the coronation of Ferdinand I as King of Romans. The motet in praise of the house of Austria ends up with the words Philippi et Ferdinandi gloria. The only work written by this author in Spanish that we know of is the carol Dezidle al caballero, also present in the works of Cabezón and Pisador.

The chronicler brother fray Prudencio de Sandoval writes: "At the time of the christening, that occurred on a Wednesday, five days before July in this year of one thousand five hundred and twenty seven, prince Philip was baptised at the monasterio de San Pablo, in Valladolid. A passage was made for the event that lead to the high altar ... with triumphal arches... and beside the first one, the singers, some of them dressed as angels, sang Gloria in excelsis Deo as the prince was carried out.

Of his childhood years we can point up, among others, two important facts: a fondness for birds that he maintained all his life -during his travels he used to take with him a good number of cages-, and the apprenticeship of the vihuela, although he never reached with it the dexterity of his sister Joan. Since 1535 he lives surrounded by an institution, the House of the Prince, that includes singers for the chapel as well as a dance master and a vihuelist. Some singers seem to have a more profane than religious occupation, or do both things simultaneously, as happened with the two players of keyboard instruments Francisco de Soto -who always appears as músico de cámara- and Antonio Cabezón. The chroniclers often report in their journeys moments of musical entertainment led by the singer Juan de Resa accompanied by Cabezón.

The figure of Cabezón became the big musical luxury of the court of Philip II since his begining, and the prince himself would admit that later on by asking to have a portrait of him done -which was lost at the fire of the fortress-, by taking him with him in his journeys to Italy, Germany or England -in spite of the troubles that so much travelling meant for a blind man- and rewarding him with sums which were only comparable to the ones Tizian received. The works of Cabezón for keyboard, harp and vihuela published by his son Hernando in 1578, are a good example of the best music of the time and one of the basis of the repertoire that must inexcusably appear in a musical portrait of the monarch. We find in it religious and also profane genres as characteristic as the tiento or the diferencia, with comments about the polyphony of Spanish, Flemish or Italian composers, together with villancicos and romances (ballads) from the Spanish popular tradition. Guárdame las vacas, Conde Claros, Madama le demanda and Dezidle al caballero are some of the traditional topics that Cabezón plays with mastery. A complementary source for this repertoire is the Libro de cifra nueva (1557), published by Luis Venegas de Henestrosa, that includes works of Cabezón and Soto as well as other authors from the milieu of Philip II.

The group of musicians in the service of the prince would increase as the years go by. From 1547 the Burgundy etiquette prevails. At that time begins his work as director of the niños cantorcicos (children's choir) the vihuelist Luis de Narváez, who ten years earlier had published his Seis libros del Delfín, de música para vihuela, that include Mille regretz, of Josquin Desprez, as 'Canción del Emperador', together with the famous diferencias on Guárdame las vacas.

If we put together the names of composers that were at some time or other in the direct service of Philip II, we will find -apart from the ones already mentioned and leaving out other less important names- the Spaniards Juan García de Basurto and Pedro de Pastrana, as well as the Flemish Pierre de Manchicourt and Philippe Rogier. If we enlarge the circle to a nearby sphere such as the capilla de las infantas (infants' chapel) or the monastry of the Descalzas Reales, we can also add the names of Mateo Flecha 'El Viejo' , Bartolomé de Escobedo and Tomás Luis de Victoria. Escobedo is the author of a Missa Philippus Rex Hispaniae. These are emblematic works that have a close and evident relationship with Phipil II.

The relationship of other composers with Philip II can be deduced from several facts. Francisco Guerrero -who had visited the Emperor at Yuste- met him in Madrid and travelled to Santander at the head of his Sevillian chapel to meet princess Anne, the king's fiancée. Later on he accompanied her to Segovia where the wedding was to be celebrated. Fernando de las Infantas sends him an important memorandum where he informs him about the projects of the Vatican regarding the reforms of the Gregorian chant, and dedicates him four books of polyphony published in Venice (1.578-79). These books contain some commemorative pieces like the celebration of the victories against the Turkish or the death of Charles V. Many musicians from Spain as well as from abroad, aware of the economical benefits it meant for them, dedicated their works to Philip II. We could briefly mention the vihuelist Miguel de Fuenllana and Diego Pisador - por si Vuestra Alteza, quieriéndose desocupar en los trabajos de gobernación, quisiere descansar en este ejercicio de la vuihuela (in case Your Highness, wishing to get away from your governing duties, desires to take a rest playing the vihuela)-, and also Tomás Luis de Victoria -Missarum libri duo in 1581- and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who dedicated two books to him.

The travels and weddings were the cause of different manifestations and musical interchanges. The early death of his first wife, María Manuela de Portugal, was no obstacle for further musical contacts with this kingdom, because later Philippe will be king of Portugal. Thus, once the mourning was over, a tourney was held in Valladolid surrounded by mythological and knightly elements. In one of the charts prepared for the occasion, the fable Venus and Cupid was performed, and accompanying it were some black men playing small arch vihuelas and nine Portuguese singing folías as they played their rattles.

The wedding with Mary Tudor allowed Cabezón and other musicians from the royal chapel to live for many months within the English court. At the suspicion of the Queen's pregnancy, Cabezón composed an invocation, a litany, the only vocal work of his that we know of. Thomas Talis, for his part, composed for the same purpose the Misa Puer natus and the motet Suspice quaeso, that were performed by the two royal chapels during the Christmas time of 1554.

The chapter about the works dedicated to Philip II must necessarily be closed with the motets composed for his funeral, which ought to stand side by side with the famous sonnet by Cervantes Al túmulo de Felipe II en Sevilla. At present we know of two of them: Mortus est Philippus Rex, by Ambrosio Cotes, at that time chapel master at the capilla metropolitana of Valencia, and Versa est in luctum, by Alonso Lobo, who holded the same post in Toledo.

Go t o the beginning of this document