Reviews of Recent Recordings of Latin American Colonial Music

by John Koegel (Nebraska Wesleyan University)

Masterpieces of Mexican Polyphony. Westminster Cathedral Choir, directed by James O'Donnell. Hyperion CD CDA66330, produced 1990.

Nueva España: Close Encounters in the New World, 1590-1690. The Boston Camerata, directed by Joel Cohen. Erato CD 2292-45977-2, produced 1993.

Música virreinal mexicana: Siglos XVI y XVII. Conjunto Vocal de Música Antigua Ars Nova, directed by Magda Zalles, produced 1993.

Mexican Baroque. Chanticleer and Chanticleer Sinfonia, directed by Joseph Jennings. Teldec 4509-96353-2, produced 1994.

The many musical celebrations surrounding the Columbian quincentenary have left quite a number of interesting and important new recordings of New World music which bring fresh insights into the performance of the Spanish colonial cathedral (and convent) repertory. The four recordings reviewed here take different approaches to the sacred (and secular) music composed and performed in Spanish America.

Masterpieces of Mexican Polyphony

The Westminster Cathedral choir has of late been very active in performing and recording masterworks of Spanish, Portuguese, and Mexican sacred polyphony. Precedent for such performances of Iberian polyphony by the Westminster Cathedral Choir was set by Sir Richard Runciman Terry, director of the choir at the cathedral between 1902 and 1924, who championed the works of Victoria, Morales, and Guerrero. The choir is to be commended for its continuing exploration of what is still to some an unfamiliar repertory; it is especially to be lauded for putting the music into regular use in cathedral services.

This CD includes works by four of the at least six major chapelmaster composers at Mexico City and Puebla from about 1575 to 1750: Hernando Franco, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, Francisco López Capillas, and Antonio de Salazar (only Gaspar Fernandes and Manuel de Zumaya are absent from this list). The intention was apparently to include works by composers active in Mexico "before the all-conquering Italian style took Spain and its Empire by storm." (Though Italian influences can be discerned in New World polyphony, Bruno Turner's over strong statement can be debated.) Of these four composers, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla is best represented, perhaps because Turner has edited a number of his works and the music is consequently available. Steven Barwick, pioneer in the study of Mexican sacred polyphony with his 1949 Harvard dissertation, has edited works by López Capillas and Salazar used in this recording.

Padilla's significance has been signaled by Turner, who views him as "the most talented and confident of the composers of the colonial period in Central and South America." While Padilla's great importance will not be challenged here, it will be valuable to note that not enough works--sacred or secular--by the major colonial composers of Spanish America have yet been edited for such a final judgment to be accepted.

The use of organ, dulcian, and harp accompaniment in the performances by the Westminster Cathedral Choir is well buttressed by contemporary evidence in capitular acts and other documents. Organ, dulcian (as substitute for the Spanish bajón), and harp function in this recording as part of the continuo group. However, the practice of instrumental performance of vocal parts in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexican sacred polyphony is a question still in need of greater study. Cathedral musical personnel lists of the time frequently included a number of instrumentalists (who often doubled as singers). However, from this period, at least, instrumental parts seems to be generally lacking. It has been thought that the ministriles (instrumentalists) kept their parts separate from cathedral archives, hence a possible explanation for their absence today.

In any event, with or without instrumental doublings of one or more vocal parts other than the bass, the performances rendered by the Westminster Cathedral Choir show the greatest sensitivity to text, as well as to the overall musical form. The use of boy trebles recreates in part the original sonorities heard in Mexican cathedrals (the practice of using adult male sopranos, not uncommon in colonial Mexico, is not replicated here).

Bruno Turner, proprietor and chief editor of Mapa Mundi, the London publisher of performing editions of Iberian and New World sacred polyphony, has provided excellent notes to accompany the recording. However, new information published by Robert Stevenson permits several corrections to be offered here. López Capillas's whereabouts between the time he left his post at Puebla on May 16, 1648 and April 21, 1654, when he was named chapelmaster at Mexico City, four days after the death of Fabián Ximeno (chapel master and organist 1648-1654), have not been positively identified. It is possible, however, as Bruno Turner asserts, that López was Ximeno's assistant at Mexico City between 1648 and 1654. Francisco López Capillas died in 1674 (not 1673). And Antonio de Salazar was most probably born in Puebla, Mexico, not in Spain.

Nueva España: Close Encounters in the New World, 1590-1690<

The Boston Camerata's Nueva España, while showing an inventiveness of programming and many moments of inspired singing and playing, is beset with problems of historical inaccuracy. As a title Nueva España (indicating the viceroyalty of New Spain--modern-day Mexico) is a misnomer as the recording includes music composed in Peru (which might never have been performed in Nueva España). Besides including music from distant regions of the Spanish New World when the apparent purpose was to present music from colonial Mexico, Cohen made the decision to juxtapose vocal sonorities and combinations which would have been most unlikely during the time.

A case in point is Cohen's combination of countertenor with the women's voices of "Les Amis de la Sagesse" in the chant Deus in adjutorium. Cohen assigns the "Gregorian psalm tone alternately to a 'European' cantor and a 'New World' choir." This is followed immediately by Pedro Bermudez's polyphonic setting of the same text. Cohen believes that "such vivid contrasts were certainly frequent in the turbulent reality of the Nueva España." One wonders whether or not that this polyphonic version of the canticle would be preceded in liturgical practice by the chant from which it drew its text. The contrast between the male "European" cantor and "New World" black female choir probably does not represent contemporary musical practice. Despite this example of musical incongruity, it should be noted that black musical confraternities sometimes competed with Creole and Spanish musicians for lucrative obenciones (tips) given for performing at funerals and other special religious services; there is evidence to suggest that black musicians were familiar with the cathedral music repertory. However, the issue of race and ethnicity among Spanish, Creole, Mulatto, Indian, and Black musicians and its bearing on cathedral music in colonial Mexico is one that requires further study. (The cover of the CD, a reproduction of the painting La mascarade nuptiale, appropriately shows an Indian Cupid and a black musician.) Robert Stevenson, from whose extensive publications Joel Cohen has drawn many of the musical editions for Nueva España (especially from Stevenson's Inter-American Music Review), has documented the numerous examples of "ethnic" influences on Mexican colonial sacred music.

Leaving aside the question of women singing tiple (soprano) parts today which were originally performed by boys or male sopranos/falsettists (it must be noted that the sopranos of The Boston Camerata and The Schola Cantorum of Boston interpret their parts with appropriate stylishness), it should be said that it would have been very rare to hear men and women singing chant or polyphony together in church services. This is not to indicate that women did not sing sacred and devotional polyphony. One need only study the many extant villancicos, masses, and psalm settings from the Convento de la Santísima Trinidad in Puebla (now in the Sánchez Garza Collection at the Centro Nacional de Investigación y Documentación e Información Musical "Carlos Chávez" in Mexico City) to know that nuns and novices sang and played the same or similar type of music as their male counterparts. In fact, Antonio de Salazar's (chapel master at Mexico City Cathedral 1688-1715) Christmas negro a duo (black dialect villancico) Tarara qui yo soy Anton , found in the Sánchez Garza Collection, is included in Nueva España.

Cohen is misinformed when he states that "virtually all the surviving repertory from the colonial period (with the exception of a few guitar tablatures) is sacred religious music." For even though the majority of surviving Mexican colonial music is of a sacred nature, a substantial number of important manuscripts document a well-developed instrumental music tradition in Mexico. These include the two Saldívar manuscripts in tablature for plucked strings, the remaining portion of an organ tablature in the Gabriel Saldívar Collection, the Eleanor Hague manuscript of eighteenth-century dance music for violin at the Southwest Museum, Vargas y Guzmán's Explicación para tocar la guitarra of 1776, MS 1560 (in tablature) of the Biblioteca Nacional in Mexico City, several important 17th- and 18th-century theatrical song and guitar manuscripts recently discovered in U.S. archives, as well as eighteenth--century dance music, keyboard music, and guitar and flute tutors.

Because of the time limit imposed upon the performance of villancicos in colonial Mexico, they were probably most often performed at a rather brisk tempo. Sets of eight or nine villancicos were divided up and performed, for example, in alternation with psalms or lessons at each of the three nocturns at vespers, hence the need for relative brevity if the office were to not exceed a reasonable length. Thus the tempo adopted by Cohen for Gaspar Fernandes's Xicochi xicochi conetzintle is probably too slow.

Unfortunately, typographical mistakes are not infrequent in the notes to the recording (Iberian is given as Iberic, Nahuatl appears as Nahuati, and Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla becomes Juan Guitterrez de Padilla). It is also to be regretted that truly substantive liner notes taking into account the recent advances in knowledge about Mexican colonial music were not commissioned for this otherwise well thought out recording.

Despite these criticisms, Nueva España is an engaging and appropriate survey of different styles of Mexican sacred and secular music. The final piece on the CD, Juan García de Zéspedes's (not Zéspiedes) Convidando esta la noche, with the dance-like Guaracha as refrain is especially engaging (a facsimile of the manuscript was sent to friends by Mexican collector and music scholar Gabriel Saldívar as a Christmas card in the 1960's, hence Stevenson's edition and Cohen's performance). This and other pieces such as Santiago de Murcia's (not Sebastián de Murcia as given in the liner notes) partly improvised Cumb&eacute; (not Cumba) for guitar, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla's touching Si al nacer o minino, and Juan de Lienas's moving Lamentations will be of great interest to anyone interested in music of the Spanish New World.

Música virreinal mexicana: Siglos XVI y XVII

Like Nueva España, the recording Música virreinal mexicana utilizes to a great extent Robert Stevenson's editions of Latin American colonial music published in Inter-American Music Review. It is heartening indeed to know that Mexican early music groups such as the Conjunto Vocal de Música Antigua are taking an interest in performing (and recording) their own national musical repertory. Correspondents from Mexico indicate that concerts of Mexican colonial music--given by Mexican groups--have been offered as far afield as Ensenada (in the state of Baja California del Norte)--surely distant from the epicenters of Mexican cultural life in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and other large cities in the middle of the republic. That audiences in these large cities might hear performances of Mexican early music is something that could be expected; that the far north (or south) of Mexico might be exposed to its musical patrimony is something to be highly encouraged. Música virreinal mexicana provides an impetus for such a dissemination of this music throughout Mexico (and elsewhere).

Some Mexican researchers (for example, Aurelio Tello with his edition and catalog of music from Oaxaca Cathedral) have followed Robert Stevenson (and Steven Barwick) in editing Mexican colonial music. However, it is imperative that sites other than those previously examined by Stevenson and Barwick (Mexico City, Puebla, and Oaxaca) be visited by Mexican (and non-Mexican) musicologists to uncover (and publish) more of Mexico's tremendous musical riches. Guadalajara, Durango, Mérida, Chihuahua, and Morelia--to name but five such sites--must all present splendid opportunities for future discoveries.

Three of the several vernacular strands of seventeenth-century popular sacred colonial polyphony are represented here, as villancicos and chanzonetas in Náhuatl, Spanish, and black dialect alternate. The Conjunto Vocal de Música Antigua has given a new twist to the performance of compositions by Hernando Francisco (= Franco), Gaspar Fernandes, Juan García de Zéspedes, José de Loaysa y Agurto, and Antonio de Salazar (some of which were also included in the Boston Camerata's recording Nueva España): a number of indigenous instruments are used to accompany several of the pieces, including turtle shells, teponatzli, huéhuetl, butterfly cocoons, and various bells, rattles, and clay pots. An interesting sound spectrum is produced, though one which may not reflect actual practice. However, one can see that the works by Fernandes in the Nahuatl language (Xicochi xichochi conetzintle, Tleycantimo choquiliya) might lend themselves to such an imaginative interpretation. Guitarist (and musicologist) Antonio Corona provides excellent accompaniments on the baroque guitar for most of the selections on the recording. Given the popularity of the guitar in New Spain, and the fact that continuo instruments are only sometimes precisely identified in seventeenth-century scores, it seems possible that these pieces might have been accompanied by baroque guitar at certain times.

Included are nine pieces by Gaspar Fernandes (chapelmaster at Puebla) found by Stevenson at Oaxaca Cathedral, and several pieces from the Sánchez Garza collection (originally from the Convento de la Santísima Trinidad in Puebla; now at CENIDIM in Mexico City)--including works by Puebla composers Juan García de Zéspedes and Antonio Salazar. Thus the sacred repertory from Puebla Cathedral and from one of that city's most important convents is strongly represented. (The composers not active in Puebla include Hernando Franco and Juan Arañés.) The Chacona (Un sarao de la chacona) by Arañés (originally published in Rome in 1624 in Arañés's Libro Segundo de Tonos y Villancicos a una, dos, tres, y quatro voces. Con la Zifra de la Guitarra Española a la usanza Romana) is probably included to demonstrate the New World origins of this dance. (It is also a good indication of the use of guitar to accompany seventeenth-century secular--and sacred?--polyphony.) The bawdy verses of the Chacona sung by the members of the Conjunto Vocal de Música Antigua are not included in Miguel Querol Gavaldá's edition of Arañés's Chacona (Monumentos de la Música Española, XXXII; "Música barroca española, Vol. 1, Polifonía Profana," Barcelona, 1970).

Thoroughly researched liner notes commenting on both the composers and the music represented would be a welcome addition to Música virreinal mexicana: Siglos XVI y XVII. The Spanish, dialect, and Nahuatl texts could also very profitably be included (along with appropriate Spanish translations) in such liner notes.

Mexican Baroque

The fortuitous discovery of three concerted masses by Mexico City maestro de capilla Ignacio de Jerusalem at the Archival Center of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at Mission San Fernando in 1992 led to performances of two of the masses, and a recording of the "Polychoral Mass in D Major" by Chanticleer, the San Francisco-based male professional male chorus. Perhaps brought to California from Mexico City by Spanish Franciscan missionary and choirmaster Juan Sancho in 1804, and--it is thought--possibly performed by mission Indian choirs and orchestras at the California missions, the three concerted masses at Mission San Fernando join the extensive surviving group of liturgical music manuscripts copied in or sent to the California missions. (Extant at Mission Santa Barbara--among other mission music manuscripts--is a fourth concerted mass by Jerusalem.) For Chanticleer's recording Mexican Baroque, Craig Russell has edited, in addition to the Jerusalem polychoral mass, other works by Jerusalem (Dixit Dominus, and the Responsorio Seguno de San Jos&eacute;) and Manuel de Zumaya (Sol-fa de Pedro, Celebren, Publiquen, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah).

Russell, who served as musical advisor to Chanticleer's recording project (as well as musical editor), with the assistance of Robert Snow (who kindly lent items from his extensive microfilm collection), has chosen an especially attractive group of compositions from colonial Mexico for Mexican Baroque. The balance between the Latin and vernacular pieces on the recording--and the dual emphasis on two of the three great eighteenth-century chapelmasters at Mexico City--is to be lauded (the other composer, Antonio de Salazar, is not represented here). Particularly telling is the contrast between Zumaya's stark Lamentations of Jeremiah (though copied by scribe Simon Rodríguez de Guzmán in 1717 it is written in a late Renaissance style) and Zumaya's descriptive solfeggio test piece Sol-fa de Pedro, written in May 1715 during the examinations held by the Mexico City cathedral chapter to elect the new maestro de capilla after the death of Antonio de Salazar. (Russell edited Zumaya's Lamentations from Choirbook IV in Mexico City Cathedral; this work also appears in Steven Barwick's Two Mexico City Choirbooks of 1717, along with a facsimile of the opening of the Lamentations). Russell rightly celebrates Zumaya as the first in North America to compose an opera (Zumaya's La Parténope of 1711, the first North American opera, is the second New World opera--Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco composed La púrpura de la rosa, the first New World opera, in 1701).

Chanticleer's performances in Mexican Baroque are all that could be wished for; indeed they meet the highest standard. The Chanticleer Sinfonia, made up of San Francisco Bay area musicians playing seventeenth- and eighteenth-century instruments (and copies of early instruments), provides very stylistically appropriate accompaniments.

Russell's liner notes for Mexican Baroque are well written and very informative (they appear in English, and in Spanish, German, and French translations). An attractive feature of the program booklet is a timeline of European and New World historical, cultural, and musical events (including mention of Zumaya and Jerusalem).

It is to be hoped that the demonstrated commercial and artistic success of Mexican Baroque will lead to further recordings by Chanticleer of Iberian and New World polyphony. They have made a wonderful beginning with Mexican Baroque; may they continue in this area!

The recordings reviewed here will undoubtedly spur on future performances of these works; they should also encourage the preparation of further editions of Spanish-American colonial music. Many future recording possibilities exist, for these recordings only represent a small portion of the surviving musical repertory. Many more compositions of the highest merit remain to be reclaimed throughout Mexico and Latin America.