The Complete Organ Works of Francisco Correa de Arauxo: Correa in the New World

January 1, 2019

Robert Parkins is university organist and professor of the practice of music at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. He has specialized in early Iberian keyboard literature, and his publications include articles on performance practices in this music as well as the chapter on “Spain and Portugal” in Keyboard Music Before 1700 (Routledge, 2004). His organ and harpsichord recordings have appeared on the Calcante, Gothic, Musical Heritage Society, and Naxos labels. Parkins received his academic degrees from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and the Yale University School of Music. In 1973 he was awarded a Fulbright grant to study in Vienna with Anton Heiller. Other teachers have included Gerre Hancock, Ralph Kirkpatrick, Charles Krigbaum, and Michael Schneider.

The Complete Organ Works of Francisco Correa de Arauxo: Correa in the New World, Robert Bates, organist. Loft Recordings, LRCD 1141–45 (5 CDs), $49.98. Available from www.gothic–catalog.com.

Francisco Correa de Arauxo (1584–1654) was the middle figure among “the three C’s” of early Spanish organ music, between Antonio de Cabezón (1510–1566) and Juan Cabanilles (1644–1712). Like the venerable Cabezón, Correa de Arauxo received his first major appointment in his mid-teens, serving as organist in the Collegiate Church of San Salvador in Seville (1599–1636) for most of his professional life. Later, after a four-year stint at the cathedral of Jaén (also in the southern region of Andalusia), he finished his career at the cathedral in Segovia (northwest of Madrid) from 1640 to 1653.

In 1626, while still employed in Seville, Correa de Arauxo published his Facultad orgánica (Art of the Organ), the only extant volume of Spanish keyboard music to be printed in the seventeenth century. Following an extended preface by the composer, this Book of Tientos and Discursos of Practical and Theoretical Organ Music, consisting of 67 solo organ pieces (plus two intabulated vocal settings), constitutes the whole of his known musical oeuvre. Since Correa’s purpose was partly didactic, he provided a special index that groups the pieces in ascending order of difficulty from 1 to 5.

Robert Bates has completed the daunting project of recording The Complete Organ Works of Francisco Correa de Arauxo on five different organs over a span of seventeen years (in 1997, 2001, and 2014). Three of these are eighteenth-century instruments in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, and two more are late twentieth-century organs in northern California. Subtitled “Correa in the New World,” the five-CD set purports to be the first recording of the complete organ music of Correa de Arauxo in the Americas.

The music of Correa has been said to bridge the Renaissance and Baroque eras in Spain. That assessment could also be applied to the predominant genre of early Spanish keyboard music: the tiento, which evolved from little more than an intabulation of four-voice imitative vocal polyphony in the sixteenth century to a variety of idiomatic subgenres by the early seventeenth century. Of the sixty-nine compositions in Correa’s magnum opus, sixty-two are labeled tiento or discurso, the latter term reserved for more advanced works, although he sometimes uses the two words interchangeably. Notated in Spanish number tablature, each piece is preceded by a few introductory remarks, including occasional nuggets of information on pertinent performance practice issues, such as tempo, ornamentation, rhythmic alteration, and registration. The composer’s valuable comments sometimes offer additional insights on topics already addressed in his detailed foreword.

If nearly every tiento on this recording seems to begin in an eerily similar fashion, it is not only the resemblance of the opening measures to a stile antico motet but also Correa’s directive that the organist should adorn the first note with a short, accentual ornament called a quiebro. The simpler of its two forms is equivalent to a mordent (for shorter pieces like versets), while the slightly more complex one is identical to a turn beginning with the upper neighbor. Less clear is the precise location of the ornament, although beginning the turn-like quiebro before the beat seems more consistent with the prevailing practice at the time to play the consonant main note on the beat. Bates dutifully follows the composer’s recommendation to embellish the initial note with a quiebro, but he elects to follow a more flexible approach to rhythmic placement.

A longer ornament mentioned in Correa’s preface, called a redoble, is in the form of a trill with prefix. Redobles are often indicated in the score by an “R,” sometimes with a prefix actually written out before the consonant main note on the beat. Correa admits that many other types of embellishments are possible, and a number of different redoble variants appear throughout the Facultad orgánica. Bates is not shy about adding some of his own redobles as well as other ornaments described in earlier sources (e.g., Tomás de Santa María’s Arte de tañer fantasía, 1565) in a judicious and stylistically appropriate manner.

The track list for this superb recording is organized according to venue and instrument, yielding a more randomized order rather than the original succession of pieces. Each work is identified by the number assigned when Santiago Kastner edited the first modern publication of the Facultad orgánica (Barcelona: Instituto Español de Musicología; 1948, 1952). Bates, a careful scholar as well as a first-rate performer, relied on Kastner’s edition for this project from the outset—but not without comparing it scrupulously to a copy of the original 1626 publication, now available in facsimile (Geneva: Minkoff, 1981). Two more complete editions have been published since the inception of Bates’s project, edited by Guy Bovet (Bologna: Ut Orpheus Edizioni, 2007) and Miguel Bernal Ripoll (Madrid: Sociedad Española de Musicología; 2nd ed., 2013).

The organizational scheme for the recording focuses special attention on the organs as well as the music. All five instruments share characteristics in common with most seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Castilian organs. Each possesses only a single manual keyboard, all registers are divided between bass and treble stops at c1/c#1, and the tuning system is meantone temperament (either strict 1/4 comma or the more versatile 1/6 comma). Pedals are minimal or nonexistent, serving only to pull down the low bass notes of the manual when needed. Each stoplist also includes at least one horizontal reed, although Bates is sparing in his use of them since exterior trumpets were not in evidence until after the Facultad orgánica was published.

The first two CDs in this set were recorded in Oaxaca City and nearby Tlacolula, beginning with the organ in Oaxaca Cathedral. Constructed in 1712 by Matías de Chávez (with later additions in the eighteenth century, followed by a number of twentieth-century changes), it was reconstructed by Susan Tattershall in 1997. The current specification lists eight (half) stops in the bass and ten in the treble.

More than half of the compositions in the Facultad orgánica were written for divided stops (a new development in the latter sixteenth century), and CD 1 includes one of Correa de Arauxo’s most alluring works in this subgenre. As the composer indicates in the title, the Tiento de medio registro de tiple de décimo tono (No. 36) is a divided-register piece (in mode 10) requiring a solo registration in the treble (with a more subdued accompaniment in the bass). The imitative contrapuntal opening in “motet style,” a hallmark of the Spanish tiento, is played here on Principals 8′ and 4′. Robert Bates introduces the fourth entry, a solo for the right hand, on the brilliant Corneta, expertly guiding the serpentine melisma of sixteenth notes that emerge from the subject’s initial long notes. The third and last of the five solo entries include diminutions in triplet figures, to be played (as described by Correa elsewhere) unequally for the most “graceful” effect, “almost” like making the first note twice as long as each of the two that follow. Bates’s tempo is on the brisk side, and the rhythmic nuance becomes so subtle that the inequality is just barely noticeable until the tempo relaxes (e.g., at cadences).

The organ in the church of Santa María de la Asunción in Tlacolula was completed by Manuel Neri in 1792 (including pipework from as early as 1666). Subjected to alterations in the nineteenth century, it was restored in 2014 by Gerhard Grenzing. The result is a simple disposition (eight registers in the bass and seven in the treble) with separate ranks for the upperwork, as in contemporary Italian organs, rather than mixtures.

Tiento 55, a Discurso de dos baxones (with two solo lines in the bass), is notable for its chromaticism in the main subject, strikingly atypical for Correa. Choosing a registration for a tiento de medio registro in five voices can be problematic, but the mixtureless chorus in the bass yields a penetrating clarity without overwhelming the treble Principal 8′, or Flautado (Correa’s “default” registration for accompanying voices). Sufficiently challenging to play on an organ with a split keyboard (although apparently no problem for Bates), this discurso serves as a useful example of how complicated some divided-register pieces can become when an organist must employ two manuals and pedal to achieve the desired effect. If the two hands (mainly the thumbs) are not allowed to assist each other in managing five parts on the same keyboard, the coupled pedal must supply one of the two bass voices when needed.

Among a handful of compositions not classified as tientos in Correa’s collection is No. 65, a set of sixteen continuous variations on Guárdame las vacas (“Watch the Cows for Me”). The familiar folk tune (and chord progression) had been popular among composers of variations (diferencias) since the early sixteenth century, including Cabezón. Bates skillfully interweaves the threads of migrating diminutions (glosas) among the long notes of the harmonized cantus firmus.

CD 3 takes us to the church of San Jerónimo, Tlacochahuaya, also not far from Oaxaca City. An anonymous builder constructed the organ around 1729 (modified in 1735), and in 1991 its restoration was completed under the direction of Susan Tattershall. With seven bass stops and an equal number in the treble, this modest but beautiful instrument has a Bourdon (Bardón) at 8′ pitch rather than the usual Flautado.

No. 18, a “first level” piece intended for an undivided registration (registro entero), resembles an older style of tiento with only a moderate degree of figuration. Bates’s principal chorus is not precisely the same in the bass and treble, demonstrating that the ingredients can be tweaked a bit to produce a more satisfactory balance in the whole recipe. The organ’s unmodified meantone temperament heightens the contrast between consonance and dissonance, spotlighting in particular several prominent occurrences of an augmented triad (composed of two pure major thirds), a distinctive harmonic feature in seventeenth-century Iberian organ music. The tuning also renders simultaneous cross relations, discussed by Correa in his preface, particularly salient (as in m. 119).

No. 34, a tiento de medio registro de baxón, features a sprightly bass solo. Heeding the composer’s advice to omit the 8′ level in the bass registration occasionally for clarity’s sake, Bates assigns the left-hand solo to the Bajoncillo, a 4′ reed. Musically engaging but fairly predictable, this tiento surprises the listener near the end with a shift to septuple time, one of several instances where Correa experiments with irregular meters or rhythmic subdivisions. At one point in the 1626 print, the bass line actually crosses the “Great Divide” between c1 and c#1, one of myriad errors in the score that Bates had to confront, especially in Kastner’s modern edition.

The last three tracks on the third disc and all of CD 4 were recorded at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, where Greg Harrold installed a Spanish-style organ in 1989. Modeled after Aragonese instruments (specifically in the area around Zaragoza, ca. 1700), it has since been relocated to Oberlin College in Ohio. With fourteen bass and sixteen treble stops, it is considerably larger than the other organs on the recording.

The fourth disc begins with Tiento 16, described by the composer as being “in the style of a chanson” (a modo de canción). After the typical opening, it becomes a mélange of contrasting textures, rhythms, and meters in the tradition of batallas (including Correa’s own Tiento 23, based “on the first part of the Batalla of Morales”) and other Spanish keyboard pastiches. Bates takes advantage of the sectional structure to make judicious stop changes, ordinarily not feasible in most of these tientos. Particularly noteworthy is a segment of eight measures in a jazzy 3+3+2 rhythm—common among other Spanish composers of the time, but rare and more fleeting in the music of Correa de Arauxo.

On the fifth and final CD, the listener arrives at the last stop on this organ tour, also in the San Francisco Bay Area. The instrument in the Mission San José in Fremont, California, was built by Manuel Rosales in 1989. Although strongly influenced by early Castilian (and Mexican) organs, it adheres somewhat less strictly to earlier historical precepts than the preceding four on this recording. Nonetheless, a fully chromatic bass (rather than a short octave) and a seventeen-note pedalboard do not violate the essential ethos of this instrument as an appropriate vehicle for the performance of Correa’s music. The manual’s twenty half stops are divided evenly between bass and treble, and the pedal enjoys the luxury of a Bardón at 16′ pitch.

Tiento 59, a medio registro de tiple, is one of eight works assigned a difficulty level of 5 and one of only four with diminutions in thirty-second notes. Bates follows Correa’s advice to use a principal chorus (lleno) for the treble coloratura above the quietly moving lower voices. The solo in the right hand exploits a number of irregular rhythmic subdivisions; in addition to the more common triplets, Correa includes groups of five, seven, and nine notes as well. The performer’s goal is to maintain a steady pulse for the long notes while controlling the improvisatory rhythmic shifts as well as the almost frenetic streams of thirty-second notes in the right hand. Bates is more than equal to the task in executing this fascinating tiento, among the longer and more complex pieces in the Facultad orgánica.

Accompanying the CD set is a sumptuous 120-page booklet (25% of which is devoted to a Spanish translation of the English text) that includes a rich selection of full-color photos. A handy “Index of Tientos,” numbered according to the original published order, matches each one with the corresponding CD track and Correa’s suggested level of difficulty. Although providing liner notes on sixty-seven individual pieces would have been prohibitive, Robert Bates offers a succinct overview on the composer and his music in historical context, as well as a brief synopsis of the Facultad orgánica.

In addition to a biography of the performer (who holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford University and retired not long ago as professor of organ at the University of Houston), there are descriptions (including specifications) of the five instruments, as well as a brief essay on historical Spanish and Mexican organs in general. Following a short introduction by Bates on his “considerations” for choices of stops is a detailed list of the registrations used. Last but not least, a contribution by producer Roger Sherman on the “adventures” of recording in Mexican churches lends a lighter tone to the production notes.

Kudos to Robert Bates for this splendid contribution to the culture of early Iberian keyboard music. Although organists are now appreciably more aware of this marginalized repertoire than a few decades ago, it remains unfamiliar territory for many. Congratulations are due also to Loft Recordings for another significant addition to its continuing series of “complete works.” Beyond their sheer musical interest, these integral collections possess an undeniable documentary and instructional value.

Every music library should own this five-disc package comprising Francisco Correa de Arauxo’s Facultad orgánica, a bargain at $49.98 (when ordered directly from Loft). For individual fans of organ music, it is also available for download from the Gothic website as a complete album or as single tracks.