December 17, 2016, Emmanuel Church, Boston
December 18, 2016, First Unitarian Church, Worcester
Versos Ignacio Jerusalem (1707-1769)
performed in alternation with Magnificat (chant, tone 6)
Por Aquel horizonte Juan Francés de Iribarren (1699-1767)
Tarará, qui yo soy Antón Antonio de Salazar (1650-1715)
Cherubes e pastores Ignacio Jerusalem
Folias Galeggas Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739)
A cantar un Villancico Roque Ceruti (c.1683-1750)
Versos José Manuel Aldana (1758-1810)
performed in alternation with Psalm111 (chant, tone 5a)
Gaitas Santiago de Murcia
Como aunque culpa Manuel de Zumaya (c.1678-1755)
Al dormir el sol Sebastián Durón (1660-1716)
Vaya de Jácara, amigos Rafael Antonio Castellanos (d. 1791)
Paysannos Santiago de Murcia
Válgame dios y que tres (excerpt) Fabián García Pacheco (c.1725- c.1808)
Jessica Petrus, soprano; Catherine Hedberg, mezzo soprano
Suzanne Stumpf and Rachel Kurihara, traversos; Sarah Darling and Jesse Irons, violins
Eloy Cruz, Baroque guitar; Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord
This program explores the lively, colorful, and expressive music composed for the Christmas season in some of the major cultural centers of New Spain: Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala. While some of the composers represented on this program were immigrant and others native-born, their styles generally reflect the musical trends of their Spanish contemporaries, with the occasional added spice of indigenous influences.
Although there is evidence that instrumental ensemble music was cultivated in Spain and its colonies during the Baroque period, the lack of extant sources in New Spain is truly puzzling. This may be accounted for, in part, by a strong improvisation tradition, particularly in the 17th century. There is, however, an important and little-known body of work for instrumental ensemble composed for liturgical usage. Known as versos, these pieces comprise a series of short movements written to be played in alternation with sung chant verses of psalms or canticles, essentially substituting for the sung verses they replace. While a tradition of verses played in alternatim with chant was common in the Catholic countries of Europe throughout the Renaissance and Baroque, the instrument most often used was the organ, so the instrumental ensemble versos of the Mexican repertory are highly unusual.
We have chosen to open both halves of our program with two very contrasting sets of versos. Both are receiving their regional premieres in our performances. The sources for the versos are found in the collection: “Microfilms de los acervos musicales de las catedrales metropolitanas de México y Puebla de la Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia” INAH, by Lincoln Spiess and E. Thomas Stanford. We thank the Boston University Music Library, Holly Mockovac, and Prof. Benjamín Juárez, for making the microfilms of these works available to us.
Ignacio Jerusalem was a prominent composer and maestro de capilla at the Mexico City cathedral. He set a high standard for music-making in the city, reforming and improving the musical forces there, and composing a large body of works that were performed widely and as far afield as the California missions. Jerusalem wrote several sets of versos for the instrumental forces of the cathedral in a variety of keys and instrumentations.
Another composer of versos was José Manuel Aldana. In contrast to most of the other composers on this program, Aldana was also heavily involved in secular musical activities as violinist, including
becoming leader of the theatre orchestra at the Mexico City Coliseo. His set of versos has a distinctly secular style reminiscent of a Classical divertimento.
The other instrumental works included on this program—Folias Galeggas, Gaitas, Paysannos—are by the Spanish guitarist Santiago de Murcia who is known as author of an important treatise on guitar playing and for three manuscript collections of guitar music. Two of these collections were exported to the New World in the 18th century. The “Salvidar Codex No. 4” collection was brought to Mexico and contains works based on popular tunes of the era, including some that have lived on as Christmas carols.
In the celebrations of Christmas and other major feasts in the liturgical calendar, the countries of the Iberian peninsula and their colonies developed the unique musical tradition of the villancico. This extra-liturgical musical form enjoyed great popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. It used local vernacular language in a rhythmically lively, strophic format, and its association with the rustic made it especially favored for use in Christmas celebrations.
The villancicos of Salazar and Durón featured in this program are typical of the style cultivated in the 17th century. These vocal duets with continuo accompaniment employ triple meter with frequent use of hemiola (a “jazzy” shift of metrical accent). Antonio Salazar was maestro de capilla in Puebla and Mexico City. Many of his villancicos are in the dance-song genres of the folía, jácara, negro, and others. His Tarará, qui yo soy Antón is in this earthy, dance-like vein. By contrast, the villancico Al dormir el sol by the Seville composer Sebastián Durón is a lullaby with its hemiolas creating a gentle rocking effect.
By the eighteenth century, the villancico form began to expand and change. To its traditional
refrain-verse-refrain structure, an introductory section was added, and internal verse-refrain sections were often found. An example of this later type is Vaya de Jácara, amigos by Rafael Antonio Castellanos, a Guatemalan composer who served as maestro de capilla at Guatemala City Cathedral, and brought its musical activities to a high level. The jácara of the work’s text is a lively dance song, and the propulsive energy of this villancico engages the listener in the story of the fall of Adam and mankind’s redemption.
A villancico of a humorous, theatrical character is A cantar un Villancico by Roque Ceruti. Born in Milan, Italy, Ceruti arrived in Lima, Peru in 1707 and entered the service of the viceroy Manuel de Oms y Santa Pau. While at the court, he composed operas and other dramatic works, then became maestro de capilla at Lima Cathedral where he served until his retirement in 1757. It is perhaps his background in opera that gives his villancico the flavor of an opera buffa scene. The irreverent banter between its two characters about singing prowess gives only secondary reference to the infant Jesus, to whom the song is offered.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, political forces brought about changes in Spanish musical style. With the change from the Hapsburg to the Bourbon dynasty under Philipe V, the Italian style became all the rage. A “modernization” of Spanish music was underway, and the cantata style was introduced soon after. Juan Francés de Iribarren was an important composer of Spanish cantatas. He served as the maestro at Salamanca and Málaga cathedrals, and his works were widely distributed in New Spain. A prolific composer of villancicos and cantatas, he makes frequent and imaginative use of obbligato instruments. The joyous cantata Por acquel horizonte uses the treble instruments effectively to represent the gentle zephyrs that accompany the happy scene at Bethlehem.
Manuel de Zumaya was Jerusalem’s predecessor at the Mexico City cathedral. A highly-respected composer native born to Mexico he was maestro at Mexico City and Oaxaca. Zumaya composed in both the earlier villancico style and the Italianate cantata style. His evocative cantata Como aunque culpa uses the harmonic progression of a chaconne, albeit one in duple rather than the more usual triple meter. Its text is about the coming of Christ to repair the damage wrought on earth by the fall of Adam. Composed in a similarly expressive vein, Jerusalem’s cantata Cherubes y pastores is a fine example of the harmonically-sophisticated cantata style.
Our program closes with an aria excerpted from the multi-movement villancico Válgame dios y que tres by the Spanish composer Fabián García Pacheco. He began his lengthy career as a church musician at the Toledo Cathedral at the age of ten and eventually held important positions in Madrid, where he also became known as a composer of incidental music for the stage. His widely circulated liturgical works were brought to the New Spain colonies, including this villancico which is found in the Guatemala Cathedral archive.
—Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf