Summer doldrums did not keep music lovers from settling into seats in the intimate Ernest Nelson Music Room in the East Duke Building of Duke University’s East Campus. The Department of Music presented the first of two free concerts in association with the FIMTE (International Festival of Spanish Keyboard Music) summer workshop held June 2-6. This concert presented an enterprising program of harpsichord music from the Spanish Court during the Renaissance played by Luisa Morales. Morales is internationally recognized as one of the most outstanding performers of Spanish keyboard music in addition to her scholarship in the field. She performed on a fine Richard Kingston instrument (1983).

Morales has made a special study of Antonio de Cabeçón (1510-66), the earliest important keyboard composer of the Spanish Renaissance, who was blind from birth. She opened her program with three of the composer’s works. A pavana is a slow, stately court dance in duple time. The name comes from pavano or peacock. Cabeçón’s “Pavana con su glosa” has a three-part structure with an initial simple exposition given increasingly elaborated repetitions. The other two works were inspired by poems which Morales spoke in Spanish and English translations. Romance: “Para quién crie yo cabellos” was followed by “Diferencias sobre el ‘Canto Ilano del Caballero,'” which conjures the world of nobles going off to fight the Moors.

Many of this program’s selections were in the form of variations or “diferencias.” The next two selections made extensive use of linked keyboard manuals. “Diferencias sobre ‘Conde Claros'” (Libro de Cifra Nueva) was listed as by Anonymous with parenthetical speculation that it might be by Venegas de Henestrosa, 1557, a Spanish composer of the period about whom little is known. “Diferencias sobre la ‘Romanesca'” by Antonio Valente (c. 1520-c.1580) is striking. He was another blind composer/organist born and based in Naples, Italy. The Spanish Court imported the latest music and musicians.

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) is the most widely known of these composers based in the Spanish Court. Morales played a selection of six less familiar Sonatas (K.429, K.376, K.54, K.443, K.380, and K.234). The second, in B Minor, is based upon the seguidilla, a quick, triple-time old Castillian folksong and dance form. The fifth, in E Major, is based upon the bolero, a lively Spanish dance in 3/4 time. All of them made extraordinary use of crossed hands.

The next two selections displayed extraordinary rich textures, almost evoking an orchestral quality. Sonata in G, R.45, by Antonio Soler (1729-83), is frequently heard on recitals and recordings. Soler was a Spanish composer whose works span the late Baroque and early Classical periods. The Sonata in D by Mateo Albéniz (1755-1831) is based upon the zapateado dance styles of Mexico, with a lively rhythm and punctuated by the striking of the dancer’s shoes. (Mateo is not related to the great Isaac Albéniz.)

A lively fandango attributed to Scarlatti ended the formal program with verve, and the warm enthusiasm of the audience was rewarded by an unidentified selection based upon a familiar melody.

Luisa Morales took no prisoners over the course of her extraordinary performance. The clarity of her articulation was breath-taking, no matter the tempo. I am always impressed by crossed hands playing, often a feature of Scarlatti. Morales’ boarding house reach across her arms was stunning – and often at a fast clip! Her registrations and her tone were superb. This was a splendid evening of wonderful musicianship!