GLOSAS—The Liner Notes

by Vicente Parrilla Average Reading Time: about 6 minutes.

This is the full text of the essay included in GLOSAS, our new CD. 1 A pdf version of the booklet is available here, containing this same text in Spanish and German as well.

Libreto Yr a oydo

1. The idea

Glosas” is a very personal project which brings together original and unpublished material, and one that I’ve had in mind for a long time. (Once again, a challenge.) If our previous recording (Yr a oydo, 2010) intended to confront the enormous demand posed today by improvisation within early music, the main idea behind “Glosas” is to produce a disc in which each and every note I play are, in one form or another, mine (except, of course, for the original melodies): improvised, composed, or—in the case of Ganassi’s glosas—chosen by me. Moreover, they are the three fundamental options of interpretation that a Renaissance musician would have surely been in command of. And most likely in that order.

2. On the glosa

The role of the glosa in music, especially the Renaissance type, is probably as important as its literary equivalent. In a recent visit to Seville (April, 2011), Bob Marvin shared a reflection with me:

Literary glosses expand on the main text, adding new breadth or depth; or they give the reader’s personal reactions. Can musical glosas do likewise, beyond being merely ornamental?

I am convinced that they can. Musical glosas (probably as old as music itself), an equal of its literary counterpart, has the potential to comment, clarify, explain, or contradict a text, generating a meta-text which, in turn, makes room for as many interpretations as there are listeners. With varying degrees of presence, elaboration, complexity, codification, and importance (and without any kind of geographic or temporal barrier), the glosa appears to have been a part of most varied repertoires. Such fidelity is not surprising if we consider ornamentation or the glosa as an inherent part of musical language, given its overwhelming tendency to continuously appear in musical discourse as a select tool, at the musician’s disposal, used to realize ideas most varied in nature. In the case of Renaissance music, the glosa is especially relevant because of its ubiquitous presence (appearing in both printed music collections or theoretical treatises as much as improvisation, reflecting the styles and personal preferences of their authors, and present in every kind of musical genre), becoming an inseparable aspect—and without which would be incoherent—of an overwhelming amount of repertoire.

Bob Marvin autograph question on glosas

—Bob Marvin autograph. 2

3. The repertoire

Glosas, like improvisation, happen… at the very least, in my head: Doctor, I hear glosas. They are the natural consequence of relishing an especially attractive melody or harmony (so much so that they are difficult to rid from our heads) which, once absorbed, interpreted, or lived, are reproduced with slight—or not-so-slight—variations.

This is what gives meaning to the program chosen for this recording, in which is found a number of songs and madrigals that enjoyed great popularity during the Renaissance (Mille regretz, De tous biens playne, Anchor che col partire, Je suis une jeune fillette, or Doulce Memoire), as can be seen in numerous reissues and various surviving editions.
Another set of works is made up of early Italian polyphonic works, such as the frottolas Chi me dara and Per dolor or the madrigals of Verdelot (Madonna per voi ardo and Igno soave). For two pieces, I composed contrapuntal lines—the recercada by Diego Ortiz, which I added a voice in imitation, and the Contrapunto sobre Ave Maris Stella, a most free line although inspired by the duos of Antonio de Cabezón.
Finally, two works included could also be considered bonus tracks, since they don’t belong to the set of glosas that I created: Diferencias sobre La Dama le Demanda, which appears as was published in the Obras of Cabezón (arranged for voice and instruments, not just keyboard); and a free improvisation over a passacaglia bass which we put down on the final day of recording, already exhausted yet filled with purpose.

4. Approach to the repertoire

The main idea of this recording entails the creation of new glosas applied to the Renaissance repertoire. The material is then original and unpublished, newly created, and therefore especially close to me.

The process of creation has been quite varied—from the selection and organization of existing glosas, taken from the Fontegara (S. Ganassi, Venice, 1535), as in the case of the frottolas (tracks 2 and 3) and the madrigals of Verdelot (tracks 6 and 7), to the newly-composed contrapuntal lines in the fourth recercada of Ortiz (track 12) and Ave Maris Stella (track 11), through the free improvisation over a passacaglia bass (track 14).

In the creation of many of the glosas, however, I did not consult any historical treatise. I simply wrote down glosas heard in my head (applied to Mille Regretz, Anchor che col partire, Une jeune fillette and Doulce Memoire.
Special mention goes to De tous biens playne, since it is a transcription of a live improvisation, a curious case—it is an improvisation I played during a concert in Seville in May of 2002, which emerged spontaneously and without being planned. Thankfully, the concert was recorded, which allowed me to transcribe it later. I did it because the result struck me as interesting and also because, as I recall, it was the first time I had ever improvised in public (and without it being planned).

Vicente Parrilla - More Hispano - GLOSAS - grabación

5. The instruments and voice

The arrangements have been (almost always) small-scale, primarily the duos for recorder (or voice) and lute (tracks 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12), to which is added a viola da gamba in three trios (tracks 1, 2, and 3), and finally in a pair of pieces that include recorder and viol consort, plus lute (track 6) and harpsichord (track 7). Special cases, again, are the works La Dama le Demanda, with the same instrumentation as Yr a oydo (track 13) and the improvisation over a Passacaglia with tenor recorder, theorbo, and percussion (track 14).
The human voice was, without question, the model for Renaissance instrumentalists (and, in one manner or another, it can be said of every period). Declamation—colors, inflections, and certain timbres (and what better model than the wonderful voice of Raquel— makes many instrumentalists look to her as the highest model of imitation, while recognizing her unquestionable supremacy over instruments.

There are, however, certain areas in which instruments can create a type of interpretation sufficiently rich so that a mere “instrumental voice” can, in itself, create a high degree of interest.

These areas are usually related, in my experience (and I’m not referring to my experience as creator or interpreter, but as a listener), with the inventive, with the creation, and this is, in cases where it reaches a point of excellence, the only road that can permit an instrumentalist to create an interest and a richness comparable to those that are accomplished by the human voice. In my view, the glosa—at least in the hands of the old masters—is one of those places.

Vicente Parrilla
April 2011



  1. I’d like to thank Bernard Gordillo, who did a terrific work in providing the English translation of my text for the CD booklet.
  2. Bob visited me just a few days before I started writing GLOSAS’ liner notes. In spite of the fact that this question naturally arose as we were discussing the CD’s main topic, I asked him to write it down for me—as I was already thinking of including his exact words on the liner notes.