Ibiza History & Culture

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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Music and Culture in Post Conquest Ibiza

Historical Information

Welcome history buffs. This week our train of thought brings us to an interesting byway of historical research: the liturgical music of post-Conquest Ibiza. More than just music, this field of research opens up an unsuspected world of culture, art and architecture, for, as our guest historian Franscisco Torres Peters points out, "The various fields of humanistic expression have always travelled hand in hand throughout the ages."

Peters is an Ibicenco-born scholar/priest whose mother is English, hence his second surname and identifying cachet in local circles. In addition to his priestly duties at Sant Jordi church, he dedicates much of his time to historical research and writing, and is also an accomplished organist. This summer, Peters was awarded the Island Council's prize for academic literature, the prestigious 'Vuit d'Agost', for his outstanding work on music and musicians in 16th,17th and 18th century Ibiza. LiveIbiza is pleased to offer you the following interview with one of the island's most vigorous thinkers.

LiveIbiza: Contrary to popular belief, it appears that Ibiza was actually quite well endowed with both the talent and the financial wherewithal to produce very fine choirs.

Francisco Torres Peters: "Exactly. It has always been thought that Ibiza was a culture-less island, but, from the evidence I've been able to piece together, I can affirm that it was in no way culturally inferior to any other city of its size (2-3 thousand inhabitants) and that, in all likelihood, it surpassed many small cities of the day - at least until the beginning of the 18th century."

LI: Why did you choose to delve into the musical aspect of island history as opposed to some of the other still-unresolved riddles of Ibiza's past?

FTP: Well, because I have always held music as a personal love, I wanted to somehow demonstrate the universality of the musical impulse in the human family. Academic treatises on music seem to always centre around the great geniuses - Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc. when, in fact, lesser mortals also engaged in music-making and got to be very good at it.

LI: What were your sources?

FTP: I combined general research on standard church practises with specific findings from the archives of Santa María, Ibiza's cathedral. From earliest Christianity, all churches had their own music school with a choir and, eventually, instruments. Ibiza was no exception to this rule. The archives show that a respectable amount of money was spent on maintaining the music school and choir, even when funds were scarce. Unfortunately, this practice has been lost in modern times.

LI: Who was responsible for running the music school?

FTP: There were two main positions, the choirmaster and the head organist, and, in most cases, they came to the island from the Spanish mainland. These posts were not regulated by the church, so that musically inclined clergymen (only the men were allowed to sing in public) were an itinerant group, travelling from church to church as vacancies arose. This non-regulation added a somewhat competitive note that actually helped keep the level of ability very high. Applicants had to prove their worth in order to be taken in by local ecclesiarchs.

The Dominicans were the predominant order in Ibiza, and their convent is still an important centre for concerts. This weekend, as a matter of fact, the Viennese sextet 'Orpheon' is giving a performance of Renaissance music played on historical instruments.

LI: How interesting.

FTP: Yes, the oboe and the clarinet, for example, are relatively modern developments, but the wind instruments that preceded them were also played in Ibiza and taught at the music school.

LI: Conceivably, then, a concert very similar to the one being given this weekend could have been performed here in Ibiza at the same convent during the Renaissance?

FTP: It's a distinct possibility! Once, in the 16th century, a fleet of galleons sailed into the harbour on one of the island's important holidays - Sant Ciriac, I think it was. There were musicians on board and they gave a concert to honour our feast day.

LI: What a nice story. Getting back to the music school, who were the pupils?

FTP: The pupils were children from the local population. Their parents entrusted them to the care of these two teachers who taught the youngsters how to read and write as well as how to sing and play music. The teachers were also responsible for feeding the children, and, I suppose (I'm guessing here) that any children from outside the city would sleep in lodgings provided by the church during the week. Sometimes there were only four or five pupils - which made a very small choir - but often there were more.

LI: Didn't this 'higher education', so to speak, set these children apart from the rest of society?

FTP: Very much so, and naturally many of the children went on to form part of the clergy.

LI: Did they have any choice in the matter?

FTP: Yes, it was a completely free decision. But, you have to keep in mind that society in those days was totally theocentric, that is, God was at the centre of every aspect of life, especially during the Gothic period. It was during this time that Ibiza was conquered by Christian Catalonia. Europe was just emerging from the Crusades and people were very gung-ho on the Church.

LI: So, Ibiza's first Christian culture was Gothic?

FTP: Yes, the cathedral doesn't look it from the outside, but the floor plan is a thoroughly Gothic design. The central nave is intersected by a transept in the form of a Latin cross and there are chapels between the buttresses. Liturgical music at this time consisted mainly of Gregorian Chanting with no instrumentation at all.

LI: When did instruments begin to come into the picture?

FTP: Well, Ibiza acquired its first organ in 1423 which was already the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy, but provincial areas (like Ibiza) still retained a strong Gothic character up until the 16th century. The transmission of culture was very slow in those days.

LI: How was the Renaissance different from the Gothic period in musical terms?

FTP: In addition to having an organ and other instruments (in Ibiza there were only wind instruments, no string - at least not in the records!), the Renaissance brought polyphony to the island. This type of singing, which is perhaps best described as voice weaving - as opposed to the monotones of the Gregorian chants, had already reached a level of perfection in Paris by the 13th century. But, it did not arrive in Ibiza until the mid-16th century.

LI: I suppose the advent of polyphony marked a high-point in island music.

FTP: It certainly foreshadowed it. The real period of musical splendour in Ibiza occurred about fifty years later toward the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries, the start of the Baroque period. There was a lot of activity in all sectors of the arts. A type of one-act morality play, often called an Everyman play, became very popular. These Biblical dramas were put on during mass, making the services - which were always in Latin - much more entertaining and educational for the people. There was also a proliferation of the fine arts, with Biblical scenes being depicted in painting so that people could begin to understand at least some of the Good Book's message. Ibiza also got a new organ in 1715 with state-of-the-art acoustics. It was still in use until the modern day when it was destroyed during the Spanish Civil war.

LI: Wow! What a whirlwind of culture. Ibiza's Renaissance came very late, then.

FTP: Yes, but unfortunately, it died very soon afterwards, when Philip V came to power after the war of Succession. Musical activity after that became very basic until Abad y Lasierra came along to revive it.

LI: What a great guy! All of our readers are very familiar with Abad y Lasierra. He certainly gave his all to the people.

FTP: Yes, he did.

LI: Well, thank you very much for your time. It's been fascinating.

FTP: Thank you for your interest. The pleasure's been mine.

Emily Kaufman