Cantigas de Santa Maria

The following text is from the Introduction to the book The Notation of the Cantigas de Santa Maria: Diplomatic Edition, Manuel Pedro Ferreira (Dir.).


The Notation of the Cantigas de Santa Maria: Diplomatic Edition, dir. Manuel Pedro Ferreira, musicography by Rui Araújo, collaboration of Ana Gaunt and Mariana Lima. Lisboa: CESEM, 2017 [e-book], 3 volumes (2 tomes each):

The Cantigas de Santa Maria (CSM) is one of the major monuments of European medieval culture. It consists of a vast, carefully organized collection of devotional songs in Galician-Portuguese (419 songs), in praise of the Virgin Mary or narrating miracles attributed to her. The poetry was written and the music composed or transcribed at the royal court of Castile and León, centered in Seville, under the direction of King Alfonso X, called el Sabio (the Learned). Staves with musical notation, provided for hundreds of songs written in three books between approximately 1270 and 1285, offer an enormous amount of information on musical practice, in a well-defined spatial and temporal context.

The repertoire of the Cantigas de Santa Maria is impressive not only on account of the sheer number—more melodies survive for them than for all the lyrics of the southern troubadours — but also because of their variety and vitality. Musicologists, however, have paid surprisingly little attention to this repertoire (Higinio Anglés in the second quarter of the 20th century, and Gerardo Huseby and David Wulstan two generations later, were notable exceptions). Late and inadequate access to the sources, the language used, and the fact that this repertoire does not easily fit French theoretical models (the current yardstick for 13th-century music), among other reasons, caused a certain estrangement.

Higinio Anglés published the first complete musical edition in 1943, with an introduction of more than one hundred pages, followed in 1958 by two substantial commentary volumes. This was not only a formidable, but also an original and enduring musicological achievement (Higinio ANGLÉS, La Música de las Cantigas de Santa María del Rey Alfonso El Sabio, Barcelona, Biblioteca Central, vols. II-III, 1943-1958.). The monumental presentation of the edition certainly led many to believe that most musicological issues had been satisfactorily confronted and resolved. Nowadays, however, many of these issues deserve a fresh look, amongst them being the examination and evaluation of the manuscript sources.