Juan Del Encina
About Juan Del Encina
Born Juan de Fermoselle to a shoemaker, possibly of Jewish descent, the ambitious composer, dramatist, and poet later known as Juan del Encina would ultimately mingle with the highest ranks of the Spanish court and Vatican hierarchy, and become one of the leading artistic figures in Spain at the turn of the sixteenth century. Remembered internationally today for his some 60 surviving part songs and several ensaladas, Encina gained prominence in his lifetime largely as a playwright, with many of his works written especially for performance at the palace of the Duke of Alba.
As a child, he served as a chorister at Salamanca Cathedral; in 1492 he obtained a degree in law from the famed university in Salamanca. His résumé is murky at this point; he may have gone directly into the service of the Duke of Alba, or he may have served for three years as a magistrate in northern Spain. At any rate, once he was ensconced in the ducal palace, he began writing a series of eglogas, or pastoral plays; these included rustic musical sequences called villancicos, for which he wrote the words and the music. By 1500 his ambition and various behind-the-scenes intrigues as he jockeyed for position had taken him to Rome, where he enjoyed the favor of various cardinals and popes. In 1508, even though he had not been ordained, Encina was granted the archdiaconate in Málaga. He benefited from several other such appointments during the remainder of his career, but he spent his last years as a simple prior in León. He took ill in December 1529; his death date is unknown, but his will was read the following month.