New World Cathedrals: Music in Mexico and Guatemala
Plegaria a la virgen attr. Hernando Francisco
Memento mei Deus Hernando Franco (1532–1585)
Sacris solemniis Manuel de Sumaya (1678–1756)
Oh, señora! attr. Francisco
Alma redemptoris mater Francisco Guerrero (1528–1599)
Circumdederunt me Cristobal de Morales (ca. 1500–1553)
O vos omnes Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611)
Adjuva nos Anonymous
Salve Regina Guerrero
Esclareçida Juana Guerrero
Sancta Mariae yn ilhuicac cihuapille attr. Francisco
Dios itlaçonantzine attr. Francisco
Salve Regina Pedro Bermúdez (fl. 1592–1606)
Shannon Canavin & Sara Ofner, soprano
Thea Lobo & Aaron Russo, alto
Jason McStoots & Eric Rice, tenor
Brian Church & Darrick Yee, bass
Friday, June 2, 2006 at 8pm
The First Lutheran Church of Boston
Saturday, June 3, 2006 at 5pm
Spontaneous Celebrations, Jamaica Plain
Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 4pm
Corpus Christi Parish, Lawrence
Notes on the Program
The marriage of Catholic monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castilla in 1469 ushered in Spain’s “Golden Age,” a time marked by political and institutional reform, fervent religious devotion, worldwide exploration, and a flourishing of artistic creativity. Music in Spain was at its peak during this time, with arguably the country’s greatest music composed during the 16th century. Such composers as Tomás Luis de Victoria, Cristóbal de Morales, and Francisco Guerrero helped to shape Renaissance music throughout Europe, and their influence lasted for decades, if not centuries. Their music was brought to New Spain where it provided the foundation for extensive music programs at the cathedrals built in Spain’s new territories. The archives of these New World Cathedrals contain vast collections of Spanish polyphony representative of Spain’s Golden Age as well as the accomplishments of the pioneering cathedral musicians—both Spanish and Indian.
In 1519 Hernan Cortés travelled across the Atlantic in search of additional lands to be ruled by Spain. He and his 508 soldiers ultimately conquered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and founded what was to become Mexico City. The first Christian church was built in 1525 above the ruins of an Aztec temple on the north side of the zócalo, the heart of the city since 1325. In 1573, Cortés ordered the construction of a cathedral on the site of the Aztec temples, and today the Mexico City Cathedral (or the Catedral Metropolitana) stands as the largest Christian structure in the western hemisphere. By the 17th century, Mexico City boasted musical excellence matching, if not surpassing, that of the great Spanish cathedrals.
Hernando Franco was born in 1532 in Galizuela de la Serena, near Badajoz, in Extremadura, the homeland of the conquistadors. He is recorded as a choirboy at Segovia Cathedral in 1546, and later held positions in Lisbon, Hispaniola, Cuba, Guatemala City, and finally Mexico City, where he was maestro de capilla at the Cathedral from 1575until his death in 1585. His Memento mei Deus alternates polyphony with plainchant and places the chant melody in one of the voices during the polyphonic sections—in this case, the alto—both very common practices of the 16th century. Plegaria a la virgen and Oh, señora represent the Spanish-language versions of two pieces later on the program with texts in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The music for these pieces has long been wrongly attributed to Franco, but according to Eloy Cruz’s recent article in Estudios de cultura náhuatl, they may have been written by a Nahua named Hernando Francisco. Plegaria a la virgen is a primarily homophonic piece praising the Virgin Mary, while Oh, señora takes a form similar to strophic Spanish songs. Manuel de Sumaya was one of the greatest Mexican chapelmasters and a pivotal figure in the introduction of the Baroque style into the music of Mexico. His Sacris solemniis is a simple homophonic piece, but the tendency towards common practice harmony can be heard particularly in the bass part, with much tonic-dominant activity.
Our second set samples some of the great compositions of the Spanish triumvirate of Golden Age composers Victoria, Morales, and Guerrero. Guerrero’s Alma redemptoris mater and Victoria’s O vos omnes are both found in collections at Puebla and are now among their most famous and performed compositions. Morales’s Circumdederunt me is found at Mexico City, and is documented to have been performed under the direction of Lázaro del Álamo, choirmaster at Mexico City from 1556 until his death in 1570.
The second oldest extant New World repertory of imported polyphony is found at Guatemala City and is preserved primarily in four choirbooks in the cathedral’s archives. Adjuva nos, a highly imitative three-voice piece asking for God’s forgiveness, comes from the Mass Ordinary. Guerrero wrote many devotional pieces for the Virgin Mary, including several “Salve Regina” settings, as was common for Catholic Spanish composers. The setting performed on this concert, found in the fourth Guatamalan choirbook, matches the piece’s first printing in 1570; later editions by Guerrero changed the alto’s last few notes so that the final sonority included a major third, and we include this ending here. Guerrero’s masterful text-setting reflects his abiding faith and provides a wonderful example of his understanding of the Salve text.
While most of the works found in the archives of New World Cathedrals were sacred, there were also many secular songs to be found. Guerrero’s Esclareçida Juana is in a Puebla choirbook; as was often the case, the music was also used for a sacred text for economy, in this case Esclaraçida Madre. The following pieces in the Nahuatl language, Sancta Mariae yn ilhuicac cihuapille and Dios itlaçonantzine, are set to the same music as our earlier pieces Plegaria a la virgen and Oh, señora respectivetly, and likely represent the contributions of the native people of New Spain. The absolute belief of the Spanish conquerors in the rightness of the Catholic faith and Spain’s sacred duty to spread the word of God to new lands challenged them to convert their most recent charges. Finding rich musical traditions among the Aztecs, missionaries used music to their great advantage to convert the natives to Christianity and numerous Indians were hired to sing in the cathedrals as part of this mission. It is likely that many pieces of music would be performed in both Spanish and Nahuatl for this reason.
Pedro Bermúdez was a Spanish composer who traveled to the New World and became chapelmaster at Cuzco, mountain capital of the Inca. He later became chapelmaster at Guatemala, where all but a handful of his compositions can be found. Of the several “Salve Regina” settings Bermúdez composed, the one presented on this concert displays a unique use chromaticism and cross relations, such as the diminished fifth between soprano and alto on the text “suspiramus” (we sigh) immediately preceding “gementes” (moaning).
It has only been in recent decades that the attention of the musical community has turned to the music found in Latin and South America. As we hope is evident from this small sampling of music found in the New World Cathedrals, there is a vast repertory worth exploring and bringing to today’s audiences.
The phrase “historically informed performance” reflects our approach to presenting music in accordance with what the historical record tells us about the nature of performances at the time the music was composed. For music composed before the advent of recorded sound, performers and scholars examine writings on music, surviving instruments, and original sources (in both manuscript and print), all of which provide clues on aspects of performance. From such sources dating from the Renaissance, we learn that the optimal sound for vocal music was clear and pure; while many modern audiences are under the impression that this refers to a complete lack of vibrato or fluctuation in pitch, it is more likely that vibrato was used as an ornament on certain notes of the singer’s choosing rather than as a constant. Another important element of singing is pronunciation. As late as 1779, Samuel Johnson wrote that “he who travels, if he speaks Latin, may soon learn the sounds which every nation gives to it…and if strangers visit us, it is their business to practice such conformity to our modes as they expect from us in their countries.” Other texts also suggest that Latin was pronounced as if it were the singer’s native tongue, so that the rules of pronunciation in his or her native language were applied to Latin. By consulting primary and secondary sources as well as contemporary musicologists, Exsultemus strives to bring the music of the past to life by staying true to the original intent of the composers and the practices of the performers while making our performances compelling and exciting for today’s audiences.
Special thanks to Joe Campbell for his assistance with Nahuatl pronunciation and translation; Scott Metcalfe for his many insights and background information; Pastor Ingo Dutzmann and the staff of The First Lutheran Church of Boston; Edwin Pabon and Spontaneous Celebrations; and Pastor Thomas Domurat and the staff of Corpus Christi Parish.