The CANTIGAS FROM OVERSEAS form part of Pneuma's project to record a
retrospective of the entire collection of the Cantigas de Alfonso X and continue to
explore the theme of miracles in the Eastern Mediterranean, completing CDs PN-
880 Cantigas of Byzantium, PN-1490 Cantigas of Rome, PN-1510 Cantigas of
Alexandria and the future CD Cantigas of Jerusalem.
Stories unfolding in Constantinople and Christian Syria, Rome and the Byzantine
Empire (wise hermits and the Sufis from the East), give the impression of a travel
novel packed with mystic teaching.
The valuable and unique repertoire of cantigas that were composed in the court of
Alfonso X the Wise is now kept in the original 13th century codices in the library of
the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and in the Spanish National Library,
both located in Madrid and therefore in the custody of the Madrid Regional
Government. This previously unreleased musical heritage bridges the gap between
the Christian East and the Iberian Peninsula.
Alfonso X had very important European ancestors. He was the great-grandson of
the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Irene of Byzantium - sister of the Emperor
Alexios IV of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and key throughout
the epic of the Crusades. The codices of the cantigas were written in Galician-
Portuguese verse in the court of Alfonso X the Wise, 1253-1284. They were one of
the greatest literary products of the time and constitute the most important
collection of melodies of 13th century Europe.
All the cantigas in Pneuma's comprehensive anthology are sung with the full text,
which in itself is a challenge, since some are very long with simple and repetitive
melodies. Without knowing how they were performed in the court of the Wise
King, we used resources that enabled us to give each song its unique flavour. The
singing is backed up by the chorus, sometimes enhancing it with 13th-century style
polyphony: canon where the words are repeated in succession at different intervals
and the melody is mirrored on the main note of the scale or mode; recited
narrative or dialogue, very common in poems; and the tones and textures of
instruments profusely illustrated in the miniatures that appear in the codices of the