A Portuguese Christmas
Ibant magi quam viderant Estêvão de Brito (ca. 1575–1641)
Christus natus est nobis Gaspar Fernandes (ca. 1570–1629)
Puer qui natus est de Brito
Regina caeli laetare João Rodrigues Esteves (ca. 1700–after 1751)
Missa Puer qui natus est Manuel Cardoso (1566–1650)
Sanctus & Benedictus
Obra de 1re Tom Frei Luis Coutinho
Meio registro de 2 Tom de dois tiples e dois contrabaixos Coutinho
Christmas Responsories Estêvão Lopes Morago (ca. 1575–after 1630)
Hodie nobis caelorum
Hodie nobis de caelo
O magnum mysterium
Beata Dei Geinitrix
Shannon Canavin, soprano
Martin Near, countertenor
Michael Barrett & Owen McIntosh, tenor
Brian Church, bass-baritone
Paul Guttry, bass
Friday, December 17, 2010 at 8pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston
Notes on the Program
Portugal lays claim to the first church musician known by name on the Iberian Peninsula, a man called Andreas who was the princes cantorum (“leader of the singers”) at Mértola from 489 to 525. Polyphony seems to have first appeared in Portugal in 959, the year in which a convent inherited several liturgical books from Muma Donna of Gulmarães. Portugal enjoyed a long history of musical exchange with its neighbors Spain and Italy, and throughout the fifteenth century, as Portugal’s exploration expanded, her travelers encountered foreign musicians, many of whom returned to her courts. While the Portuguese composers from 1550 to 1650 were very familiar with the compositional practices of Palestrina (and the church’s mandate to emulate that style), they were more interested in modeling their music on that of the Netherlandish school led by Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin, Gombert, and others, finding that this style better suited their inherent expressive and dramatic temperament. When combined with the traditions carried from port to port through oral traditions, the Portuguese school of polyphony amassed a rich repertory of music, of which their works for the Christmas season are particularly striking.
The Portuguese composer and organist Gaspar Fernandes (ca. 1570–1629) first appears in 1590 earning two salaries at Évora Cathedral as a singer and an organist, and in 1599 he was engaged as an organist at Guatemala Cathedral; soon afterwards he was named maestro de capilla. Fernandes left Guatemala in July of 1606 and named maestro de capilla of Puebla Cathedral later that year. After being dismissed for providing unauthorized music at a funeral in 1616, he was reinstated just a month later. The demanding duties at Puebla took a toll on Fernandes’s health, and in 1622 they engaged Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla to assist him, and they worked together until Fernandes’s death in 1629.
Nothing is known of the life of Estêvão de Brito (ca. 1575–1641) before his arrival at Badajoz in 1597. His works were praised throughout Spain, and it appears he was a pupil of the renowned Filipe de Magalhães (1571–1652). From Badajoz, de Brito traveled to Talavera and later received his holy ordination in 1608, allowing him to be appointed chaplain of the choir (a post which required “pure blood”). In 1613, de Brito transferred to Màlaga where he served as the cathedral’s maestro de capilla, composing and giving lessons at the college. The composer asked repeatedly to be released from his teaching duties to rehearse the choir for the very important services of Christmas, Corpus Christi, and other high holy days, for which composers were required to write extensive villancicos and chanzonetas; while de Brito’s are certainly contained in the volumes upon volumes of these works surviving in libraries today, none have yet been identified. De Brito was a composer for Portugal’s royal court, and much of his secular music must have been performed there.
Manuel Cardoso (1566–1650) was also a student at Évora, one of Portugal’s main musical centers, serving as choirmaster at the cathedral there until 1588; the following year he took his vows for the priesthood at Lisbon’s Convento do Carmo and became their organist and choral conductor. From 1613 until his death, he served the Duke of Barcelos at the Vila Viçosa. While the earliest existing example of sacred Portuguese polyphony dates from 1490, the true flowering of Portugal’s polyphony is said to have begun in 1613 with the publication of Cardoso’s Magnificat settings, the publication of which seems to have been inspired by those of his friend Duarte Lôbo (1565–1646).
Born in Spain, Estêvão Lopes Morago (ca. 1575–after 1630) studied with the Portuguese composer Filipe de Magalhães from 1592 to 1596 at the Colégio dos Mocos do Coro, maintained by the Évora Cathedral. After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree, he was appointed mestre de capela of the cathedral at Viseu, Portugal, probably on the recommendation of the new bishop, who had been a canon of Évora Cathedral. After becoming a priest and a licentiate, he spent 25 years in the position, at wish time he attempted to publish a substantial amount of his church music. He was given leave to negotiate personally with the royal printer at Lisbon, but was unable to secure a favorable contract and returned to Viseu to supervise the copying of one of the two surviving manuscript collections of his music, dated August 15, 1628. Immediately afterwards he seems to have left for a short visit to Spain, and returned to continue as chapelmaster until 1630, at which time he may have retired.
While Morago never achieved the fame of his contemporaries such as Magalhães, de Brito, Cardoso, and Lobo, his popularity is affirmed given the inclusion of twelve of his hymns in eighteenth-century partbooks. His style was rather conservative—he did not include continuo or much chromaticism, both of which were exceedingly à la mode by the early seventeenth century—but he often heightened the drama of his music by placing disparate chords next to each other and added much rhythmic variety and interest.
Notes by Shannon Canavin