Renaissance Songs of Travel: Vozes Alfonsinas

Return to the era of exploration of Columbus and Magellan, when missionaries, merchants, diplomats, and artists first traveled to Asia. Hear sixteenth-century songs from Spain and Portugal that express the sadness of leaving home, the joy of returning, and the invigoration of experiencing new cultures. The ensemble Vozes Alfonsinas, based in Lisbon, features the Renaissance guitar and vihuela, the bowed rebec, and the long-necked theorbo, along with a variety of recorders, percussion, and vocals.


La Mar de la Musica: Songs of Departure and Return

Vozes Alfonsinas
Manuel Pedro Ferreira, director

Maria Repas, soprano
Susana Teixeira, mezzo-soprano
Gonçalo Pinto Gonçalves, tenor and percussion
Vítor Gaspar, baritone

César Viana, recorders and percussion
Madalena Cabral, rebec
Nuno Torka Miranda, Renaissance guitar and vihuela
André Barrosa, theorbo

This concert took place on July 26, 2007, at the Freer Gallery of Art in conjunction with the exhibition Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The podcast is made possible through support from the Thaw Charitable Trust. Audio preservation and editing of this recording were supported by funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Juan del Encina (1468‒1529/30)

  1. Vilancete: Un’ amiga tengo, hermana (Cancionero de Palacio)


  1. Vilancete: Porque me não vês, Joana (Cancioneiro de Elvas)

Diego Ortiz (ca. 1510‒ca. 1570)

  1. Recercada prima

Luís Milán (ca. 1500‒ca. 1560)

  1. Vilancico: Um cuidado que minha vida tem


  1. Cantiga: Parti ledo por te ver (Cancioneiro de Elvas)

Miguel de Fuenllana (act. 1553–1578)

  1. Endechas de Canarias: Si los delfines mueren de amores


  1. Vilancete: Cuidados meus tão cuidados (Cancioneiro de Elvas)

Luís Narváez (1500‒ca. 1555)

  1. Variations on the melody of Guardame las vacas


  1. Vilancete: Sempre fiz vossa vontade (Cancioneiro de Elvas)
  2. Vilancete: Parto triste, saludoso (Cancioneiro de Elvas)

Diego Ortiz

  1. Recercada a solo


  1. Canarios


  1. Vilancete: Ojos tristes non lloreis

Luís Milán

  1. Vilancico: Levay-me, Amor, daquesta terra

Diego Ortiz

  1. Recercada seconda

Gil Vicente

  1. Romance: Ninha era la infanta (Cancioneiro de Lisboa)


  1. Chaconas (dança)

Francisco Martins (ca. 1620 or ca. 1625‒1680)

  1. Vilancico: Sentado ao pe de hum rochedo


  1. Guineo (dança)
  2. Vilancico: Sã qui turo zente pleta (negro)


La Mar de la Musica: Songs of Departure and Return

The conquest of the Atlantic Ocean altered not only the history of Portugal but also its music. Up until the seventeenth century, the Portuguese nation was intimately connected to neighboring Spain. The discovery and populating of the Atlantic islands and the exploration of the west coast of Africa left their mark on the Iberian musical panorama of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The musical influence of the colonization of the Americas became apparent later.

Just as wine returns from a journey with characteristics different from those it originally had, so Iberian musical culture, once tempered by the Atlantic experience, acquired new compositional flavors. This performance calls attention to these outside influences by presenting some written vestiges of this “music of the return journey,” the greater part of which, dependent on oral tradition, has perished in the vortex of history.

In elevated social circles of Portugal culture during this period, music of a more elaborate kind did not, at first, allow itself to be affected by overseas influences. In vocal music, the themes of distance and love-stricken yearning, in spite of their renewed relevance, do not seem to have particularly interested composers in the 1500s. The lyricism typical of the polyphonic song of the time is here illustrated by songs in Portuguese: “Porque me não vês, Joana” (no. 2), “Cuidados meus tão cuidados” (no. 7), and “Sempre fiz vossa vontade” (no. 9). These are anonymous pieces taken from Portuguese songbooks, where “Ojos tristes” (no. 13), here performed by instruments, is also found. In strictly instrumental music, variations on a fixed harmonic pattern became fashionable around the middle of the sixteenth century (no. 8); the free Recercadas (nos. 3, 11, 15) won an unexpected artistic prominence in the hands of Diego Ortiz.

The three Castilian songs in this concert have a different, contrasting character. “Un’ amiga tengo, hermana” (no. 1) by Juan del Encina explores a light, humorous vein; “Parto triste, saludoso” (no. 10) glosses the sadness of departure and separation; the tempestuous sea waves are used for striking poetic effect in “Parti ledo por te ver” (no. 5). An exceptional direct reference to travel by sea is found in the romance “Ninha era la infanta” (no. 16), a narrative song on the departure of young princess Dona Beatriz from Lisbon to get married in 1521. The text is found in a play written by Gil Vicente to commemorate the occasion and also (in a fragmentary, different form) in the Lisbon Songbook, from where the present musical version is taken. Here, the princess, still a child, is presented as the granddaughter of the king of Castile and as the daughter of the king that all kings of the Far East respect the most (i.e., the king of Portugal). The longer version is also given below, for comparison.

Visible in the popular imagination expressed in the texts of songs and ideas associated with dances is the influence of maritime legends: not the darker ones inhabited by monsters and bottomless deeps, but those with more enchanting qualities, such as friendly dolphins and fantastic lost islands. These myths were fed not only by sea journeys but also by contact with the primitive inhabitants of the Canary Islands, which were rediscovered by the Portuguese before 1336 and were disputed for more than a century between Portugal and Castile.

The expression Endechas de Canarias (no. 6) refers to a sentimental song alluding to dolphins. It was inspired by the plaintive and sorrowful melodies of the aborigines of the islands of Hierro and Gran Canaria. The version of the Endechas used here is that transmitted by Miguel de Fuenllana, who was in the service of King Sebastian of Portugal (1554–1578) from 1574 to 1577. Also of indigenous inspiration are theCanarios (no. 12), stylized dances that became particularly popular around 1600. The leaps and taps typical of this dance were especially vigorous, leading one writer of the period to insinuate that the Canario was nothing more than “tapping feet.”

The mythical “lost island,” a paradisiacal that expressed desires of earthly happiness, is the utopian horizon of the song “Levay-me, Amor, daquesta terra” (no. 14) by the celebrated vihuelist Luís Milán, who also composed “Um cuidado que minha vida tem” (no. 4). Milán dedicated his book El Maestro, the source of these songs, to the Portuguese king John III (1502‒1557). This explains the choice of Portuguese texts alongside Castilian ones. The following eulogy is part of the dedication: “The sea upon which I have launched this book is, piously, the kingdom of Portugal, which is the sea of music: for there it is as esteemed as it is understood.” The rhetorical context in which the expression “the sea of music” appears should not allow us to forget that at the Portuguese court, nourished by maritime commerce, the Atlantic experience was able to influence, more so than elsewhere, informal musical practices, particularly dances.

At the end of the sixteenth century, the mythical “lost island” acquired the name Chacona. There, everything was said to be abundantly available, which explains the popular refrain, “The good life, the good life, now we’re off to Chacona.” The nameChacona was given to a sung dance that was considered to be shockingly erotic; the instrumental Chaconas (no. 17) included in this concert derive from this same dance.

While the theme of leaving is taken up in some vilancetes (Portuguese for early villancicos) and cantigas (Spanish: canciones), travel is rarely referred to in polyphonic works. “Sentado ao pé de hum rochedo” (no. 18), by Francisco Martins, presupposes distance from the loved one. Although it concentrates on the idea of longing, it also has a religious facet, in that the yearning may be understood metaphorically as longing for Christ, which justifies the association of this villancico with the Ascension.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, most men of working age were engaged in non-productive activities, and the Iberian economy resorted to slave labor. The cultural repercussions of importing black slaves from the coast of Guinea are, as far as music is concerned, hardly documented and little studied. It is clear, however, that percussion instruments invaded the streets. In the realm of theater appeared the negro, a subcategory of the villancico that is distinguished not only by the language employed—a proto-Creole based on Portuguese—but also by a strong rhythmic character that at times shows African influence. No sixteenth-century negros survive with their music.

The villancicos from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century developed around the celebration of Christmas and Epiphany, festive occasions that were naturally spectacular and therefore attracted a great many faithful. In the negro “Sã qui turo zente pleta” (no. 20), sung in Coimbra at Christmas 1647, the texture is relatively simplified, but the number of voices (eight), though modest, already expressed the noticeable taste for poly-chorality that would characterize Iberian music of the seventeenth century. The syncopated rhythms and responsorial acclamations are made to echo African traditions then alive in Portugal.

As with the negro “Sã qui turo,” the Guineo (no. 19) is a dance that took its inspiration from the culture of the black slaves from the coast of Guinea. Moreover, a negro for voices could also be called a Guineo: the term was used with a certain flexibility. The gestures associated with the Guineo dance could be considered improper, or even indecent. In spite of this, the dance, already known in the sixteenth century, gained in popularity in the following century, and it was incorporated into theatrical representations up to the first years of the eighteenth century.

— Manuel Pedro Ferreira

Un' amiga tengo, hermano,
galana de gran valía,
juro a diez mas es la mía.

Juro te para San Gil
que si tu la conociesses
a botas que no dixesses
aver otra más gentil:
no puede ser entre mil
otra de más galania
juro a diez mas es la mía.


A mistress I have, brother,
gallant and of great worth—
I swear to the gods it must be mine.

I swear by Saint Gil
that if you knew her
I dare you not to say
There is one more handsome.
There cannot be in a thousand
another one of more gallantry—
I swear to the gods it must be mine.


Porque me não vês, Joana,
Pois sabes que meu desejo
Crece quando não te vejo.

Crece s'estou na cidade,
E não me deixa no mato,
Não sei donde me resguarde,
E de tudo me recato.
Não me custa tão barato
O dia que não te vejo,
Que não morra de desejo.

Why don't you see me, Joanna,
knowing that my desire
grows when I don't see you.

It grows if I am in town,
and does not leave me in the grove.
I don't know where I can find shelter,
and I shy from everything.
The price of a day without seeing you
is for me no less

than dying of desire.

Um cuidado que minha vida tem,
que nom o saberá ninguém:
Um cuidado de minha querida,
minh' alma tem e ao corpo dá vida;
meu corpo o sente, minh 'alma o tem,
que nom o saberá ninguém.
My life has a concern
of which no one will ever know:
A concern for my beloved
caught my soul, and enlivens my body.
My soul has it, my body feels it,
of which no one will ever know.
Parti ledo por te ver
Por la mar de mis pesares,
Allé rebueltos los mares,
Temor he de me perder.

Y su furioso zelo
Ansi rebuelve las ondas,
Que de las partes más hondas
Muestran arenas al cielo.
Aunque es cierto el perder,
Livre soy, si tu mandares,
Que si son altos los mares,
Muy más alto es tu poder.

I set out merrily to see you
through the sea of my sorrows,
I found turbulent waters,
I fear I will be lost.

And their furious violence
so agitates the waves,
that from the deepest depths
the sand appears to the heavens.
Although losing is certain,
I will be free if you so ordain,
for no matter how high the seas are,
your power will still be higher.

Si los delfines mueren de amores,
triste de mí, que harán los hombres
que tienen tiernos los corazones?
If the dolphins die of love,
how sad am I; what will those men do

who have tender hearts?

Cuydados meus tão cuidados,
que farey?
Que nunca vos tais cuidey.

Para cuidados não mais
em todos vos escolhi,
Fizestes-vos em mim tais
que me descuidais de mim.

Agora que sinto em mim
o que andei, cuidados meus,
que farey?
Que nunca vos tais cuidey.


My cares so cared about,
What shall I do?
For I never noticed yours.

I chose no more cares
from among all of you.
You did to me such things

That you do not care for me.
Now that I feel in myself
What I was, my cares,
What shall I do?
For I never noticed yours.

Sempre fiz vossa vontade,
mas agora,
não sois vós minha senhora.

No tempo que mais folgava,
mór engano recebia.
Se com razão me queixava,
co contrairo me vencia.
Ó quam mal vos conhecia,
mas agora,
não sois vós minha senhora.

I always complied with your will,
But now,
You are no longer my lady.

At the time I made most merry,
The more was I deceived.
If I was right to complain,
It was the opposite that won me.
O how little I knew you,
But now,
You are no longer my lady.

Parto triste, saludoso,
mis ojos, por me partir
el alma se quere morir.

Quitaste sperança mia,
yo parto triste, pençoso.
El alma sin alegría,

el coraçon sin reposo.

I am leaving sad and moody,
eyes of mine; since I depart
my soul just wants to die.

You cut me from hope:
I go pensive and sad,
a joyless soul,
a restless heart.

Levay-me, amor, daquesta terra,
que non farei mais vida en ela.

Levay-me, amor, à ilha perdida,
levay-me convosco poys soys minha vida.
Que corpo sem alma non vive ena terra,
que non farei mais vida en ela.

Take me, love, away from this land,
For I will live in it no more.

Take me, love, to the lost isle,
Take me with you for you are my life.
For a body without a soul does not live on earth,
For I will live in it no more.

Ninha era la infanta,
neta del rei de Castilha,
Dona Briatiz ha por nome,
todalas gratias tenia.
Hija del rei que nel mundo
otra tal non se sabia:
todolos reis del Oriente
le hazem gram cortesia.

Niña era la Infanta,
Dona Beatriz se decía,
Nieta del buen Rey Hernando,
El mejor rey de Castilla.
Hija del Rey Don Manuel
Y Reina Dona María,
Reyes de tanta bondad
Que tales dos no había.
Niña la casó su padre,
Muy hermosa a maravilla,
Con el Duque de Saboya,
Que bien le pertenecía,
Señor de muchos señores,
Más que rey es su valía.
Ya se parte la Infanta,
La Infanta se partía
De la muy leal ciudad
Que Lixbona se decía;
La riqueza que llevaba
Vale toda Alejandria,
Sus naves muy alterosas,
Sin cuento la artillería.
Va por el mar de Levante,
Tal que temblaba Turquia,
Con ella va el Arzobispo,
Señor de la cleresía;
Van condes y caballeros
De muy notable osadía;
Lleva damas muy hermosas
Hijas d'algo y de valía.
Dios los lleve a salvamento
Como su madre querría.

Very young was the Infanta,
Granddaughter of the king of Castile,
And her name was Beatrice,
She had every possible grace.
Daughter of the king that on Earth,
And such was never seen:
Every king in the Orient
pays great homage to him.

Young and fair was the Infanta,
And her name was Beatrice,
Granddaughter of King Ferdinand,
The best of all kings of Castile,
Daughter of King Manuel
And Doña Maria the queen,
Sovereigns both of such high worth
That their like was never seen.
Young and fair then was she married,
Beautiful exceedingly,
To the duke, the duke of Savoy,
By her father fittingly.
For he was lord of many lands.
More than king in state was he.
The Infanta is setting forth
Now upon her far journey,
From the very loyal town,
Even fair Lisbon city.
The wealth of Alexandria
Goes with her for her dowry;
Splendid ships provide her escort.
Countless their artillery.
Such that Turkey fears and trembles—
As they pass the eastern sea.
With her goes the good archbishop,
Lord of all the clergy he.
Earls and knights of noble valor
Go there in her company;
Ladies, too, of rank and riches,
Very fair were they to see.
May God bring them safe to port

And her mother's prayer granted be.

Sentado ao pé de hum rochedo feito para saudades,
Formando os olhos em fontes que assim se abrandam seus males,
R/.       Escondei-me montes, enterrai-me, vales,
            Mais quero morrer que ter saudades...

Chorava uma alma devota, e por não querer queixar-se
Mil queixas fazem por ela, enternecidos, os vales.
R/.       Escondei-me...

A causa de seus suspiros he seu amante ausentar-se
Que só quem sabe de amores sabe sentir saudades:
R/.       Escondei-me...

Deixaste-me, meu querido, em tão tristes saudades!
Adeus meus olhos, meu bem, que já de mim não sei parte.
R/.       Escondei-me...

Seated near a rock made for longing,
Making my eyes into fountains that thereby lessen the pain,
R. Hide me, mountains, bury me, valleys,
I should rather die than suffer longing…

A devoted soul was crying, and in order not to complain,
The valleys tenderly raise a thousand complaints on her behalf.
R. Hide me…

The cause of my sighs is the absence of my love;
For only he who knows of love knows how to feel longing:
R. Hide me…

You left me, my love, in such sad longing!
Goodbye, my eyes, my love, for I no longer know myself.
R. Hide me…

Sã 'qui turo zente pleta,
turo zente de Guine,
tambor, flauta y cassaeta
y carcavena sua pé.
Vamos ó fazer huns fessa
ó menino Manué.

Canta Bacião, canta tu Thomé,
canta Flansiquia,
canta Caterija,
canta tu Flunando,
canta tu Resnando,
oyá, oyá,
turo neglo haré cantá.
Frugamo y tanhemo,
frugamo y cantemo,
tocamo pandero, flauta y carcavé.
Dizemo que biba mia siola y biba zuzé.
Anda tu Flancico, bori-mo esse pé.
Biba esse menino que mia Deuza he!
Biba Manué!

Copla: Nacemo de hunsmay donzera huns Rey que mia Deuza he
Que ha de forra zente pleta que cativo he

dar sua vida por ela que su Amigo até moré.

All the black people are here,
All the people of Guinea,
Drum, flute, and castanets
And rattles on the feet.
Let’s give a party
For the child Emmanuel.

Sing, Bastian, you sing, Thomas,
Sing, Francisco,
Sing, Catherine,
Sing, Fernando,
Sing, Resnando,
Oya, oya,
All the blacks will sing.
Let us celebrate and play,
Let us celebrate and sing,
Let’s play the tambourine, the flute, and the rattles
Let’s say long live Our Lady and Saint Joseph!

You go, Francisco, move your feet,
Long live this child who is my God!
Long live Emmanuel!

Verse: There was born of a maiden a king who is my God.
May all the captive black people be freed and give their life for
He who loved them enough to die.


Vozes Alfonsinas

The ensemble Vozes Alfonsinas, based in Lisbon, Portugal, has been active since June 1995. Its focus is Iberian music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The repertory is largely based on original research by musicologist Manuel Pedro Ferreira, the group’s founder and artistic director. Vozes Alfonsinas has performed all over Portugal and also in Spain, Italy, Holland, and the United States. The group’s CD recordings include cantigas by Martin Codax (Xerais, 1998), other medieval songs under the title The Time of the Troubadours (Strauss/PortugalSom, 2000), villancicosfrom La Mar de la Musica (EMI-Classics, 2001), a selection of pieces from Visigothic times to the Renaissance, and chants from the rite of Braga (Arte das Musas/CESEM, 2008). Classics Today considered Time of the Troubadours “a fine bit of work, recommended for anyone interested in medieval music—or just looking for something very old and different.”

Plainsong and Medieval Music says of the most recent recordings: “The singing is of exquisite purity . . . the selection is well chosen and beautifully performed. Highlights include duet performances of some of the early polyphony. . . . The second CD is a much appreciated inclusion, [on account of] the beauty of the singing and the value of the disc as an aid to reimagining the medieval liturgical soundscape of one of Braga’s most important feasts.” Another CD, Mon Seul Plaisir, based on a fifteenth-century Italian manuscript now in Oporto, awaits an opportunity for publication.

Manuel Pedro Ferreira

Manuel Pedro Ferreira, artistic director of Vozes Alfonsinas, was born in 1959 in Lisbon, Portugal. He received his PhD from Princeton University in 1997 on the topic of Gregorian chant at Cluny. Since 2000 he has served on the faculty of the Music Sciences Department of Lisbon’s Universidade Nova. He is also executive director of the Music Sociology and Aesthetics Research Centre at the university.

Ferreira, an active member of scholarly boards in Brazil, Spain, Britain, and Belgium, is also a member of the Academia Europaea. He was recently elected to the Directive Board of the International Musicological Society. He has served as visiting professor at the Universidade Federal Fluminense (Brazil), at the Universidad de Granada (Spain), and at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (France). In addition to being a consultant for the Israel Science Foundation, the Research Foundation Flanders, and the University of Bologna, Ferreira led and managed musicology projects in Portugal and has participated in several others that were related to art and literature in Portugal and Spain.

Dedicated to the study of medieval culture, Ferreira has published numerous papers on early and contemporary Portuguese music. He is considered the leading expert on the music of the Galician-Portuguese cantigas, and as such he has been a consultant for the Centre for the Study of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (University of Oxford). He received the Music Essay Award from the Portuguese Music Council for his 1986 bilingual publication The Sound of Martim Codax and was responsible for the facsimile edition of both Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Publia Hortensia de Elvas (Lisbon, 1989) and the Porto 714 MS (Porto, 2001). He also wrote the monograph Cantus Coronatus:Seven cantigas d’amor by King Dinis (Kassel, 2005) and edited books on twentieth-century music and the Renaissance. Many of his most significant papers relating to the Middle Ages were issued in book form in Portugal (Iberian topics) and the UK (French topics).


This podcast is coordinated by Michael Wilpers, public programs manager.

It was made possible through support from the Thaw Charitable Trust. Audio preservation and editing of this recording were supported by funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Thanks to Andy Finch for audio recording, SuMo Productions for audio editing, Neil Greentree and John Tsantes for photography, Nancy Eickel for text editing, Torie Castiello Ketcham for web design, Betsy Kohut and Cory Grace for artwork images, and especially the artists for permission to present this performance as a podcast.

Related Images