A Renaissance poet, dramatist and composer sometimes labelled 'the founder of the Spanish theatre', Juan del Encina wrote plays in which his own music played an integral role. This repertory of four-part villancicos for the actors to sing and dance to is preserved in several songbooks, revealing the composer's gift for simple word-setting, and the influence of popular idioms on his music.
Encina was born Juan de Fermoselle in Salamanca on the 12 July 1468, the son of a shoemaker. We know he became a choirboy at Salamanca cathedral in 1484 and may also have studied music under his brother, Diego while a student at Salamanca University. By 1490 he had changed his name to Juan del Encina and, after graduating in 1492, entered the service of the Duke of Alba, Don Fadrique de Toledo.
In 1498, Encina applied unsuccessfully for the post of cantor at Salamanca Cathedral and by 1500 had moved to Rome, where he found favour with cardinals and popes. In 1508 he was made archdiaconate of Málaga cathedral by Julius II, even though he still wasn't ordained. He resigned the post in 1518 and was finally ordained the following year, making a trip to Jerusalem before taking up a post at Léon Cathedral in 1523. He held this post until his death in late 1529 or early 1530. It was his wish that he be buried in Salamanca cathedral, so his remains were moved there in 1534.
Remarkably, almost all of Encina's known works were written and composed before his mid-30s; many were published in Salamanca as early as 1496. His output includes sacred and secular plays, a pioneering treatise on metrics, lyric verse, and at least sixty songs. Many of the songs reflect the popular un-written music traditions of the day, notated and formalized for presentation at court, and reveal Encina's talent for music alongside his undoubted skill as a poet.