Alfonso X (“el Sabio”): The Wise King Who Loved Music – Nov. 23

Alfonso X

Born: Nov. 23, 1221, Toledo, Spain
Died: April 4, 1284, Seville, Spain

Alfonso X, King of Castille, Leon, and Galicia, was appropriately nicknamed “El Sabio” (the Wise). His 32-year reign in Spain was a time of artistic and intellectual advances, in an atmosphere of religious tolerance and cooperation. Here are a four reasons why this wise King of Medieval Spain was a Renaissance man ahead of his time:

1. As a poet and musician, Alfonso contributed to the poetry, music, notation, and codification of the beautiful Cantigas de Santa Maria (“Canticles of Holy Mary”). No minor achievement, this was one of the largest collections of monophonic solo songs of the Middle Ages. 430 poems, written in the lyrical language of Galician-Portuguese, were notated with music, encompassing elements of secular as well as religious music. The Cantigas included the miracles of Mary, hymns, folklore, and Marian festivities, which helped humanize the Holy Mother and engender a moral code of ethics.

Hear Alfonso’s Cantiga “Porque Trobar”:

2. As an intellectual, Alfonso established Castilian as the vernacular language of learning, replacing Latin. A shared language contributed to scientific and cultural advances during his reign, where Christian, Jewish, and Islamic scholars cooperated in an atmosphere of religious tolerance.

3. As a scientist, Alfonso encouraged astronomy. He established the Toledo School of Translators to translate the latest works of Islamic  astronomy, which led to the creation of the Alphonsine Table of astronomical data. His love of astronomy and discovery were immortalized when a crater on the moon was named for him.

4. As a lawgiver, Alfonso was the author of the Royal Code of laws, Europe’s most advanced code of laws at that time, and was the originator of Spanish jurisprudence. For these achievements, he is honored as one of history’s 23 Lawgivers who are honored with marble medallions in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lawgiver Medallion in U.S. House of Representatives
Lawgiver Medallion in U.S. House of Representatives

5. As a lover of games, he had The Book of Games translated from Arabic into Castilian. He also wrote one of the first Western treatises on the game of Chess.


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Paul Dukas – Oct. 1

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George Gershwin – Sept. 26

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Dmitri Shostakovich – Sept. 25

Born Sept. 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg, Russia Died Aug. 9, 1975 in Moscow, Russia A product of the Bolshevik Revolution, Shostakovich was the most famous of all  Soviet composers. He led a politically and personally troubled life, yet produced some of the century’s most celebrated and frequently performed works even today . Born into… Continue Reading

Jimmy Reed – Sept. 6

Born September 6, 1925 in Dunleith, Mississippi Died August 29, 1976 in Oakland, California Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed, musician and songwriter popular during the 1950’s and ‘60’s, was noted for his electric blues guitar sound, lowdown harmonica, and slack-voiced, twangy singing style (which was his charm and trademark sound which many musicians imitated). He composed… Continue Reading

John Cage – Sept. 5

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Darius Milhaud – Sept. 4

Born Sept. 4, 1892 in Aix-en-Provence, France Died June 22, 1974 in Geneva, Switzerland   “Don’t be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don’t ever feel discomfited by a melody".  Milhaud to his student Burt Bacharach Milhaud was a student of Charles Widor, Vincent d’Indy, and Paul Dukas.  A member of Les… Continue Reading

King Henry VIII: Better Musician Than Husband

King Henry VIII, famous for his marriages on the rocks (and the blocks), is lesser known for his talent as a musician and composer. Tall, handsome, and charming in his youth, he played several musical instruments, and was a skilled singer and dancer. Some of his musical compositions are still performed today. Continue Reading