CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.1 The west

1.2. Higher cultures in the 17th & 18th centuries: Romance language-area

Documentary evidence: 13 of 14


A most interesting parallel is shown by Rafael Mitjana's article on Spain in Lavignac's Encyclopédie kindly brought to the author's notice by Anthony Baines.


fig. 84: 'El jilgerito, arietta, Laserna, 1779;
from Lavignac

In the section on opera in the later 18th century, he writes:
"... Laserna, par sa grace naturelle et sa fraicheur juvenile, rapelle souvent, toutes proportions gardées, le divin Mozart. C'est le cas da la Tonadilla à trois voix: Los mantes chasqueados ..., composée pour la belle actrice Maria Guerrero. La Guerrera comme on la nommait habituellement y fit montre de ses habiletés come cantratrice et virtuose sur un instrument aujourd'hui désuet, mais très à la mode à Madrid pendant la seconde moitié due XVIII siecle, le salterio ou psaltérion. Le sujet de cet intermède, joué en 1779, est insignificant: deux viellards ridicules sont devenus follement amoureux d'une jeune fille, dont la servante, soubrette déluree, s'amuse à les exploiter tout en les bernant. En revanche la musique est spirituelle et charmante d'un bout à l'autre. Rien de plus gracieux que la scène dans laquelle le servante ayant promis aux deux céladons de leurs faire entendre chanter l'objet de leur flamme, les enferme dans un cabinet noir et se moque d'eux en contrefaisant sa maitresse. Tout en s'accompagnant avec le psaltérion elle chante une délicieuse Arietta en forme de Menuet, célébrant les graces d'un rouge-gorge imaginaire. Laserna a très fine instrumenté cette page exquise, confiée aux violons, altos, violoncelles et flutes, tout en tirent des effets excellents du timbre incisif et characteristique du psaltérion, dont les cordes métalliques frappées par de petits maillets en bois, font jaillir des sons pétillants come des étincelles ... Grace la partie obligée dudit instrument, malgré les vocalises quelque peu surannées bien que fort raisonnables puisque la jeune flue prétend imiter le chant du rouge-gorge, cette composition ne se ressent pas de l'influence italienne. Car Laserna, espagnol de bonne souche, fut toujours un ennemi des modes étrangères" (p.2241)

'...Laserna, by his natural grace and youthful freshness, often recalls the divine Mozart - in due proportion. This is the case with the Tonadilla à 3: Los amantes chasgueados, 'The Disappointed Lovers', composed for the beautiful actress Maria Guerrero. In it, La Guerrera as she was usually known, showed off her talents as singer and virtuoso on an instrument now obsolete, but very much à la mode in Madrid during the second half of the 18th century, the salterio or psaltérion. The story of this interlude, played in 1779, is insignificant: two ridiculous old, men have foolishly fallen in love with a young girl, whose servant, a clever and attractive maid, enjoys herself exhibiting and ridiculing them. The music, on the other hand, is witty and charming from end to end. Nothing is more gracious than the scene in which the maid, having promised to let the two rogues hear the object of their passion sing, locks them in a closet and makes fun of them by imitating her mistress. Accompanying herself on the salterio she sings a delicious Arietta in the form of a minuet, revelling in the graces of an imaginary robin. Laserna scored this exquisite page very delicately, using only violins, violas, cellos and flutes, while drawing excellent effects from the incisive and characteristic timbre of the salterio, from whose metal strings, struck by little wooden hammers, burst forth sparkling notes like tinsel. Thanks to the obligato for the said instrument, in spite of the somewhat outmoded vocalise - although perfectly reasonable since the girl is supposed to be imitating the robin's song - this composition does not suffer from Italian influence. For Laserna, a Spaniard of good stock, was always an enemy of foreign fashions'.

(tr. D.K.)

The range of Laserna's salterio part (fig. 84 above) is comparable with that of Monza's, although the former uses two more high notes; but the chromatique is very different, for the Spanish piece requires only three notes outside the diatonic scale of the piece, C#', c#" and f♮" , and could therefore be played on an instrument with two long bridges and a basically-diatonic tuning - thus, perhaps avoiding the 'foreign fashions' Mitjana spoke of. While the salterio part hardly calls for the virtuosity which he attributed to Sra. Guerrero, there are plenty of running passages that require at least familiarity with the instrument.

Nevertheless, the writing is extremely idiomatic: where there are fast passages they are all monophonic; the two-note chords come only on quavers, when there is an extra moment to prepare for them, and the three-note chords - all of G, and comprising a third and a larger interval - only come on a crotchet beat when there is time not only to find the right notes but also to arpeggiate them (Mitjana considered in the 1920s that the piece was played with hammers; but c.f. the rings-and-quills belonging to the Brussels Spanish salterio and Marcuse's reference to dediles discussed in Chapter 6.2.) The passage work in bars 8-10 is similarly gratifying to play: every other note is g", and as one normally plays with the two hammers alternately, only the left hand need move while the right stays on the g" ; bar 5 also flows rather better with f♮" than it would with f#" for reasons that need not take up a page of verbal explanation here.

Note that "Pralterion", printed against the score, is presumably a misprint, since it does not appear in the text. Incidentally, there seems to have been a change of use of bird names, if not a mistranslation: the libretto concerns el jilguerito the little linnet, while the robin would nowadays be called el petirrojo 'the red-breast'.