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Antonio de Cabezón

The Palencia Cathedral, where Cabezón probably received his music education from one García de Baeza.

Antonio de Cabezón (30 March 1510 – 26 March 1566) was a Iberian keyboard composer.


  • Life 1
  • Works 2
    • Liturgical organ music 2.1
    • Tientos 2.2
    • Variations 2.3
    • Intabulations 2.4
  • Media 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6
    • Sheet music 6.1
    • Recordings 6.2


Isabella of Portugal, queen consort of Charles V, Cabezón's first patron. Portrait by Titian.

Cabezón was born in Golden Age. On 14 March 1516 Charles V was proclaimed King of Castile and of Aragon jointly with his mother, the first time the crowns of Castile and Aragon were united under the same king. After the death of his paternal grandfather, Maximilian, in 1519, Charles also inherited the Habsburg lands in Austria, and later went on to become Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and one of the most powerful monarchs in the world.

In 1525 Charles married vihuelist Luis de Narváez, known today for his advanced polyphonic fantasias, and Tomás de Santa María, theorist and composer whose important treatise on instrumental music, Arte de tañer fantasía, was examined and approved by Cabezón.

In 1538 Cabezón was made músico de la cámara (chamber musician) to Charles (who as a child was educated in music by the noted organist Italy, the Netherlands, Germany (in 1548–49), and England (in 1554–56), where Antonio's variations may have influenced William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, who latter took up the form.[1]

Practically nothing is known about Cabezón's personal life. He married one Luisa Nuñez de Mocos from Ávila, and the couple had five children. One of Antonio's sons, Hernando de Cabezón (1541–1602) became a composer and it was through his efforts that the bulk of Antonio's oeuvre was preserved. Another son, Agustín de Cabezón (died before 1564), became a chorister of the royal chapel.[1] Cabezón died in Madrid on 26 March 1566.


Title page of Obras de música

A few of Cabezón's works appeared in print during his lifetime in mass by Cabezón is contained in a 1611 inventory of music from Cuenca Cathedral, but the actual music is lost, as are, presumably, many other works by the composer.[1] A good keyboard improviser, many works by Antonio de Cabezón transcribed by his son Hernando were "mere crumbs from my father's table".[2]

Liturgical organ music

While French and Italian organists of the time frequently composed versos on the Kyrie. Consequently, most of Cabezón's liturgical music was intended for the Daily Offices—prescribed prayers of the daily round.[3] The mass is represented by the nine sets of Kyrie verses for organ. These fall into the following groups:

  • Kyrie de Nuestra Señora, a three-voice setting, three parts (Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie) with the cunctipotens ("Mass IV") chant in the tenor.
  • Tema Rex virginum, a four-voice setting, four parts (on the same chant: Kyrie, Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie rather than the expected even verses K-Chr-Chr-K)
  • Kyries de primer, segundo, [...] septimo tono, seven four-voice settings, all in four parts (Kyrie, Christe, Christe, Kyrie); the original source places quinto tono last, possibly by mistake.

Cabezón's music for the Daily Offices comprises 32 hymns and three collections of versets for the psalms and for the Magnificats:

  • Salmodia para principiantes (sets of four versillos on each of the 8 psalm tones "for beginners")
  • Fabordon y glosas [del primer, segundo, [...] tono] (faburdens with 3 glosas or divisions in upper, bass and inner voices for each tone)
  • Salmodia para el Magnificat (7 Magnificat verses for each tone)


The tiento was a polyphonic form of instrumental music that originated in the Iberian peninsula, and has been linked to both tastar de corde (an improvisatory prelude) and the ricercar (an improvisatory prelude or, at a later stage of development, a strict imitative composition). Twenty-nine tientos by Cabezón survive. Fourteen appeared in Libro de cifra nueva: these works are all written out in long note values, alternating between imitative counterpoint and non-imitative sections. Usually there are three or four themes, and the first to be presented is also the most developed. The non-imitative parts frequently employ techniques unusual for the genre at the time: extended duets, motifs transforming into ostinato patterns.[4] Twelve more tientos appear in Obras de música: six from an earlier period in Cabezón's career, and six late works. While the earlier pieces are similar in many respects to the Libro de cifra pieces, Cabezón's late tientos use smaller note values, have a tendency towards longer and more characteristic subjects, and many of their features anticipate the music of the Baroque period.[5]


Nine sets of variations (in Spanish tradition called discantes, diferencias, or glosas) are included in Obras de musica:

  1. Diferencias sobre las Vacas (3 variations)
  2. Pavana italiana (6 variations)
  3. Diferencias sobre la Gallarda milanese (2 variations)
  4. Diferencias sobre el canto del Caballero (5 variations)
  5. Diferencias sobre la Pavana italiana (5 variations)
  6. Diferencias sobre el canto de La Dama le demanda (6 variations on Arbeau's La Belle qui tiens ma vie)
  7. Diferencias sobre el villancico De quién teme enojo Isabel (7 variations)
  8. Diferencias sobre las Vacas (6 variations)
  9. Otras diferencias de Vacas (4 variations)

Cabezón's variations are one of the earliest high points of the genre, and presumably influenced English composers such as Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.[1] All of the variation sets begin with the first variation, assuming the theme is already known to the listener, and connects individual variations using free transitions, thus frequently making analysis of the structure complicated.[6] Cabezón uses numerous techniques, such as a migrating and/or heavily ornamented cantus firmus. The models are taken from popular Spanish songs, dance forms, and established melodic-harmonic frameworks.[1]


The intabulations in Obras de música are ordered according to polyphonic complexity, starting with the simpler four-part pieces and culminating with six-part ones. They are based on works by composers such as Josquin des Prez and Orlande de Lassus and are more or less similar to most such compositions of the period.[1]


performed on a harpsichord by Robert Schröter

performed on a clavichord by Joan Benson

Problems playing these files? See .


  1. ^ a b c d e f Jambou, Grove.
  2. ^ Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada Hispanoamericana. Madrid, Espasa Calpe. ISBN 84-239-4500-6
  3. ^ Apel 1972, 129.
  4. ^ Apel 1972, 188–189.
  5. ^ Apel 1972, 190–191.
  6. ^ Apel 1972, 265.


  • Apel, Willi. 1972. The History of Keyboard Music to 1700. Translated by Hans Tischler. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21141-7. Originally published as Geschichte der Orgel- und Klaviermusik bis 1700 by Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel.
  • Jambou, Louis. "Cabezón. 1. Antonio de Cabezón". In Macy, Laura. (subscription required)  

External links

Sheet music

  • Obras de musica para tecla, arpa y vihuela (click "View options" JPG icon) - Biblioteca Nacional de España info
  • Free scores by Antonio de Cabezón at the International Music Score Library Project
  • Free scores by Antonio de Cabezón in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
  • A generous number of editions from Obras and Henestrosa (in Japanese)
  • Antonio de Cabezón, at Cancioneros Musicales Españoles (in Spanish)


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