Cantiga - The Song of Inês de Castro


soprano and chamber orchestra
Hemingway M (Author)
Solo Voice(s) with Orchestra, Soprano
Maggie Hemingway
2(=picc) - 2210 - perc(1/2): timp/sleigh bells/vib/crot/mar/BD/ch.cym/susp.cym - harp -strings (min. 86442)

Commissioned for Jill Gomez by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, with funds provided by Greater London Arts

First Performance
27.7.88, BBC Promenade Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London, UK: Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Jill Gomez/Roger Norrington

Full score 0-571-51290-9 on sale, vocal score and parts for hire

Programme Notes

The initial idea for Cantiga came from Jill Gomez, who had visited the abbey church at Alcobaça, near Lisbon, and seen there the tombs of Inês de Castro and her lover Dom Pedro, who as Pedro I was king of Portugal from 1357 to 1367. On his orders, the tombs, which are strikingly elaborate and beautiful, were placed one in each of the transepts, so that at the Last Judgement the couple will rise up and face each other. Pedro further ordered a motto to be inscribed on each of the tombs: ‘Ate O Fim Do Mundo’ (‘until the end of the world’). The tragic story of Inês de Castro is one of the great themes of Spanish and Portuguese Renaissance literature. It is a little difficult to disentangle fact from myth, but the story as usually told is as follows. Inês de Castro was a Galician noblewoman who came to the Portuguese court in about 1340 as lady-in-waiting to her cousin Constança, the infanta of Castile. The king of Portugal, Alfonso IV, had arranged for his son Dom Pedro, the crown prince, to marry Constança, but Pedro fell in love with Inês, and when his wife died a few years later he secretly married Inês. This was very much against the will of the king, who was at odds with the powerful Castro family, and eventually in 1355, he had Inês murdered. Alfonso died two years later, whereupon Pedro, on becoming king, had Inês’s murderers executed. Her body was exhumed, dressed in golden robes and set on the throne, and all the courtiers had to pay homage to her as queen. Pedro never remarried and, according to the Cambridge Medieval History, ‘he devoted himself to the stern administration for justice and to the increase of the crown revenues, and amassed a large treasure which was squandered by his son Ferdinand’. The dramatic potential of this story was obvious and I asked the novelist Maggie Hemingway to expand it into a poetic narrative. Her words speak for themselves and need no comment from me. As for the music, I originally had in mind a kind of eighteenth-century scena and a wronged heroine like Mozart’s Electra or Donna Elvira. This original conception survives in the quasi-Baroque Allegro at the end of the second part. The text falls naturally into three sections, so there are two orchestral interludes, both agitated, the first commenting on Inês’s expulsion from the court, the second on her murder. The second interlude ends with a highly condensed recapitulation of all the music so far, as if episodes from her life were flashing before her at the moment of her death. Much of the music is in dance metres of various kinds. The last section becomes a ghostly sarabande, with funeral-march overtones, as Inês sings of her obsession from beyond the grave. Death for her is, finally, something to be exultantly embraced. ‘Cantiga’ is simply the Spanish and Portuguese word for ‘song’: the piece is subtitled ‘The Song of Inês de Castro ‘. In the later Middle Ages a cantiga de amor was a Spanish courtly love-song, usually deeply pessimistic – so the title seemed not inappropriate. Cantiga was commissioned by Jill Gomez, with funds partially provided by Greater London Arts, and is dedicated to her.

© David Matthews

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News & Reviews

'Cantiga' review

'…a rapturous threnody, a dramatic lament of macabre joy… The gradually and subtly shifting atmosphere of Miss Hemingway’s mellifluous poetry… offers a musical potential to which Matthews has responded with a work of striking power and sensibility. For one thing, his setting of the words is instinctive, felt from within; the moods and inflections are heightened with imaginative precision. Nor is the orchestral writing merely illustrative but rather senses the depth of sentiment in the vocal line Read more

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