The Kennedy Center

Juan Cabanilles


Organist and composer Juan Cabanilles was born in Algemesi, Spain, in 1644. One of the finest Spanish baroque composers, he is sometimes called the Spanish Bach. While he is generally assumed to have received his musical education as a cathedral chorister, nothing beyond his baptismal certificate is known of him until 1665, when he was appointed second organist at Valencia Cathedral. The following year he became first organist, testimony to his unusual talents, since his ordination--generally a precondition for such a position--did not occur until 1668. It
is primarily to his student, Josep Elias, that the world is indebted for information on Cabanilles’ life and the preservation of his work.
Of the nearly 200 pieces of music, vocal and instrumental, that were preserved, the majority are pieces for organ, notably “tientos,” the Spanish relative of the later Baroque fugue. On the one hand, Cabanilles is a quintessentially Spanish musician.  The culmination of a century of notable Spanish organists, his works reflect the forms, melodies, and rhythms of his native tradition. 
In terms of his harmonic practices, opinion is divided.  For some his use of chromaticism and dissonance signal represents a revolutionary step beyond now-solidifying Baroque canons of tonality and harmony. For others Cabanilles’ practices represent reaction, a retreat to the modality of his Spanish Renaissance heritage. Nevertheless, Cabanilles is solidly within the mainstream of the European Baroque, with music showing not only familiarity with but indistinguishable from contemporary Italian, German, Flemish and English modes of composition.  
Juan Cabanilles