Voyage: From Spain to Colonial Latin America


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Spain is geographically situated on a peninsula that borders Europe, and a short ship journey away from Africa. Due to this unique location, people from the Mediterranean coast and Africa settled upon the Spanish peninsula and brought with them culture and music from their homeland. For centuries, African musical elements of the Moor people who lived in Spain, such as the lute, drumming and rhythmicized song, influenced both the secular and sacred music of the Christian Spanish culture. The villancico (a sacred or secular celebratory song) demonstrated more rhythmic variety and dance-like characteristics than its Euro-centric counterparts. However, Spanish sacred composers also trained with Italian and Franco-Flemish masters and honed their skills as expert creators of motet, responsories and the Mass. It is a combination of these musical elements that took a voyage across the sea.

When the Spanish explores came to the New World, they brought with them Christianity, instruments of war, and disease. However, they also brought art, philosophy and music. Additionally, they brought African people through the slave trade practice. The ancient musical traditions of Europe, along with African musical festivities and drumming, blended with time-honored traditions of South American (wind and percussion instruments), and Southwest American Indian song and dance. All of these elements found route into South America and fused into what became the music of Colonial Latin America.

Medieval Spain

Cuncti Simus and Stella Splendens – Anon. (14th Century)

These two festive songs come from medieval Catalonia at the Montserrat Abbey/Monastery (northeastern Spain and southern France) in a collection entitled Libre Vermell de Montserrat (The Red Book of Montserrat), named after its red velvet cover. A center for learning and the home of the ‘Black Virgin’ statue, large numbers of pilgrims visited the desirable Montserrat holy shrine. They often expressed jubilation upon their arrival by singing and dancing in the church area around the shrine. Although the Monks of the Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery appreciated and understood the pilgrim’s celebratory exultation, the monks felt the secular music did not befit such a holy place. Instead, the monks assembled a collection of music more suitable to the revered shrine. Most of the pieces in the book are secular melodies of the fourteenth century, set with new religious texts.

Sacred Villancico, Spain

Nino Dios de Amor Herido –  Francisco Guerrero (1528 – 1599)

Although Francisco traveled extensively, having visited Jerusalem, Damascus, Bethlehem and Jaffa, he never set foot in the New World. However, his music lived on in cathedrals from Guatemala to San Francisco. New World musicians performed Guerrero’s music more frequently than any other composer, including Morales and Victoria, and it is in the Americas where his reputation remained assured for two centuries after his death. Composers wrote this type of spiritual Villancico for Catholic festivals such as Christmas and Easter. The settings are folk-like, humorous and often the text combined textual metaphors with counterpoint, rhythmic and instrument overlay. In “Nino dios de Amor Herido” the text compares the baby Jesus to a young child who suffers from the beauty and pain of love.

Hoy Comamos y Bevamos – Juan del Encina (1468 – 1529)

A prolific composer of sacred dramas (Eglogas) for Christmas, Shrove Tuesday, Holy Week and Easter, Juan del Encina’s propensity for drama influenced his Villancico techniques. “Hoy Comamos y Bevamos” is light hearted and humorous sacred Villancico, composed to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (also known as Carnivale or Fat Tuesday) before the beginning of Lent. It demonstrates musical textures that intersperse with spoken dialogue in a celebratory song and dance.

Sacred Villancico, Colonial Latin America

Madre, la de los Primores – Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648 – 1695), Mexico

Sometimes compared as Mexico’s Hildegard Von Bingen, Juana Inés de la Cruz stands alone as Mexico’s renowned female poet and composer. A scholar of Greek, Latin, Nahuati and Aztec languages, her public reputation originated when a panel of scholars tested her intelligence and found her astute and bright. Although many pined over her beauty, she chose to enter orders and served at the Convent of the order of St. Jeromé where she wrote poetry, plays and studied music, philosophy and natural science. She is now remembered especially for her work as an advocate for women by challenging a woman’s right to education and other societal values in New Spain. Much of her poetry focuses on the difficulties women experienced when they attempted to flourish in academic and artistic settings. This Villancico, about the virgin mother, is one of three compositions that survived from Juana Inés de la Cruz’ hand.

La Bella Incorrupta – Manuel de Zumaya (1678 – 1756), Mexico

Manual de Zumaya, the first native born composer of the Americas, served as maestro de capilla  at the Mexico City Cathedral as well as the remote Oaxaca Cathedral. He is one of just a few native born musicians in the Colonial New World, as unfortunately most music posts went to the ‘preferred’ European born and trained musicians. As one of a handful of Zumaya scores that survived, this Baroque Christmas villancico is dedicated to the Lady of Guadalupe and exhibits both the estribillo (similar to a refrain but more complex), and the coplas (similar to a verse). These sections are performed in a certain order that is understood to represent the Mexican Baroque villancico. Zumaya sets his music with the natural speech rhythms of the local Spanish language, as well as demonstrates a fair amount of word play in the prose, which he likely penned himself.

Motet, Spain

Beatus Franciscus – Jerónimo de Aliseda (1548 – 1591)

Scholars know little about the life and works of Jerónimo de Aliseda (c. 1548 – 1591) except that he was a composer working at the Toledo Cathedral in Spain. This motet about St. Francis comes from the Toledo Polyphonic Choirbooks, a large collection of illuminated, musical liturgical sources from the Toledo Cathedral between 15th and 19th centuries. The atlas-sized book, only discovered in 2002, unearthed 170 previously lost Masses, motets and plainchants intended for liturgical functions. Although scholars do not have a large body of historical information about the piece “Beatus Franciscus,” it is a representative of the glorious Spanish motets found in the late Renaissance, which crossed the Atlantic Ocean and influenced motet composition and performance in the new world.

Ave Maria a4 – Francisco Guerrero (1528 – 1599)

Guerrero comes from the domain of great Spanish composers who flourished during the late Renaissance period, but his sacred music differs from those of his contemporaries through the use of harmony and voicing. Often denser, Guerrero’s motets often exhibit greater harmonic, rhythmic and voicing complexity. He often shifted vocal textures and colors to demonstrate sensitivity to text transitions and liturgical importance. As mentioned earlier, New World musicians performed Guerrero’s music more frequently than any other composer as his music became frequently sung repertoire of the cathedrals of the Americas.

Motet, Modern Premiere

Voyage Prayer (Ave Maria) – Kira Zeeman Rugen, Arizona

The Ave Maria liturgical text originates from the bible (Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42). At some point during the 11th Century, worshipers joined the two verses together in the form of a prayer. The full version of the prayer became finalized by the Council of Trent in the Roman Breviary, 1568. The prayer is a humble invocation of supplication, a plea for assistance in an hour of need, and is now a central pillar for Catholic devotion.  Kira Rugen wrote this motet with the title, “Voyage Prayer,” with the idea of a living journey at the heart of the piece. As sailors traveled across the sea on a voyage they encountered heavenly vistas and new lands, but also tempests, storms and unseen dangers. As indigenous people met European explorers for the first time, they exchanged language and culture, but also experienced disease and violence. As we humans live our lives, we experience love and joy, but also pain and suffering. Ave Maria is a prayer for the human voyage through life, and our humble plea to God in an hour of need.


Villancico, Colonial Latin America

Hanacpachap Cussiquinim- Anon. (16th Century) Lima, Peru

The sacred Villancico,Hanacpachap Cussiquinim,” is the first polyphonic vocal work composed and published in the Americas (1631). As the Catholic Church introduced the indigenous people of the Americas to the mass and singing in worship, distinctly native elements and native indigenous languages began to be incorporated into the music for worship. The piece “Hanacpachap Cussiquinim” (Joy of Heaven) is in the native Quechua language. Collectively the most widely spoken language of the natives in South America, Quechua was spoken by the people who lived in the Andes Mountains such as the Incas, Huancas and Amantani. Composers used music in the Americas to spread Catholicism and gain converts.

Motet, Spain

O Magnum Mysterium – Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611)

A student of Giovanni Palestrina in Rome, Tomas Luis de Victoria became known as one of the most important composers of the Renaissance, and some argue the most consequential of all Spanish composers. His reputation stems from his adherence traditional church polyphony and chant, a strong pull toward the forthcoming major minor tonality of the Baroque period, and his themes encapsulate Victoria’s deep mystical spirituality. Widely distributed throughout the New World, his music became heavily influential to colonial composers as they learned to blend European techniques with local musical attributes. “O Magnum Mysterium,” one of Victoria’s most well-known motets, honors the new-born Lord at his birth beginning with the words “O great mystery.” The song portrays the image of the oxen and donkey next to the manger of the holy child, as found in the famous painting by Hans Baldung (1520). This image quickly became a popular symbol in the Renaissance, depicting the mystery of the humble circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.

Motet, Colonial Latin America

Versa est in Luctum – Alonso Lobo (1555 – 1617)

Alonso Lobo composed ‘Versa est in Luctum’ during his time as maestro de capilla (director of music) of the Toledo cathedral. This six-voiced motet is one of his most well-known compositions due to the circumstances surrounding its creation. King Philip (a member of the Habsburg family, important patrons of music with close ties to the Burgundian court) died in 1598, and Lobo wrote this motet for the King’s funeral services. This motet received publication with six other motets and six masses in the collection Liber Primus Missarum (Madrid, 1602). Lobo’s compositional style combines the transparency of Palestrina, the imitative passages of the polychoral Venetians, and the luscious beauty of his fellow Spaniard, Tomas Luis de Victoria. Many consider him to be one of Spain’s finest Renaissance composers and his works traveled across the sea and became part of the domain repertoire, and performed in Cathedrals across the Americas.

Sancta Maria (Yn Il Huicac Cihuapille) – Don Hernando Franco (1532 – 1585), Guatamala

Originally from Spain, Hernando Franco began as a chorister at the Segovia Cathedral in 1542 -1549, and then records of his life are absent for the next twenty years. In 1573 he received the appointment of maestro de capilla at the Guatamala Cathedral where he likely composed this piece. He only composed sacred music with a simple polyphonic style, befitting untrained singers. Nahuatl was the primary language spoken by the tribes of central Mexico, from the Aztec Empire. This five voice motet, composed with the Sancta Maria text, honors the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although Nahuatl was not Hernando Franco’s primary language, he incorporated the indigenous tongue so that the local worshipers could understand the text.

Tristis est Anima Mea – Juan Gutierrez de Padilla (1590 – 1664), Mexico

A native of Spain, Padilla emigrated to Mexico where he became the most prolific and historically well-known Latin American colonial composer. He worked at the Puebla Cathedral in Mexico where he wrote a plethora of works which demonstrate imitation, chromaticism, cross-relations and expressive word painting. This motet is a simple four voice hymn, with three part women and one line for male voices. It comes from the period of Spanish and Mexican history known as ‘Siglo de Oro’ when Spain and Portugal took to the seas in an effort to discover lands new to them in the Americas. The harmonies and colors are distinctive to this time, and geographical location due to the juxtaposition of European colors with the native harmony in Mexico.

Negrito, Colonial Latin America

Los Coflades de la Estleya – Juan de Araujo (1646 – 1712) Lima, Peru

We complete tonight’s concert with two festive 17th Century Negritos. The first, “Los Conflades de la Estleya” comes from Lima Peru. Born in Spain, Juan de Araujo emigrated to Peru as a boy. He received musical training from composer Torrejón and Velasco and eventually succeeded him as maestro de capilla of the Cathedral of Lima. Additionally, he held the role of maestro de capilla at Cathedral of Cusco and Cathedral of La Plata (Sucre). His most complex polyphonic pieces come from Cusco where he utilized dramatic and theatrical elements in his music for the students in the seminary located at the cathedral, as they often performed elaborate programs as a part of their daily life. This piece features West African and Cuban rhythmic patterns (the basis for modern Rhumba) which stem from African slave’s traditional celebrations of the Lord’s birth. The effect is a cross-rhythmic festive dance which is playful, complex and gratifying.

Negrito, Portugal

Sa Qui Turo Zenta Pleta – Anon. (c. 1647) Combria, Portugal

The second Negrito ‘Sã qui turozenta pleta,’ comes from Combria. It portrayed a style of music from Portugal’s West-African missions in Guinea. These types of songs display multiple instruments, bold rhythms and often are composed for lavish Christmas celebrations. Negritos were some of the first examples of African music performed in Colonial Latin America. In this song, African slaves prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth with instruments, encouraging each other to lift up their voices in song, and they sing about the freedom they have to play and dance for the holy family. Although likely written by a monk in Combria, it demonstrates the traditional African styles and lyrics that could be found among slaves from Guinea.

Tonight’s program demonstrates the vast influences Euro-Spanish, African, and Portuguese music had on Colonial Latin America. To show how music fusion can be furthered, we have chosen to fuse this Baroque Christmas Negrito with another African-inspired genre – Jazz. You’ll notice that the rhythms in this piece are ‘swung,’ meaning that pairs of eight-notes are played in unequal durations, with the first one slightly longer than the second. This gives the piece a soulful panache, as it fully displays a cornucopia of African, Portuguese, Baroque, Renaissance and Jazz rhythmic fusion. Get ready to tap your toes!


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