NOTES ON THE PROGRAM

In the mid-seventeenth century, Mexico’s Puebla Cathedral boasted a rich musical tradition, modelled on Old Spain yet influenced by the exotic rhythms of the New World and by the rich harmonies of African music, brought to Central America by slaves from the Ivory coast. Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, whose mass "Ego flos campi" forms the centre-piece of this concert, was born in the south of Spain and was maestro de capilla in Jerez and Cadiz, before crossing the Atlantic to take up the post of assistant in Puebla. He became maestro de capilla there in 1629.

By 1645, Padilla’s ensemble of singers, harpists, organists, bajonistas and violón-players comprised 28 men and 14 boys, the finest choir in all Spain’s foreign dominions. The Archbishop’s magnificent library was founded in 1646, and the new cathedral was consecrated in 1649, its apse adorned with an exquisite 16th-century Andalucian wood-carving of the Virgin, and with García Ferrer’s depictions of the Adoration of the Kings and of the Nativity, with Archbishop Palafox himself portrayed as one of the shepherds. Cristóbal de Villapando’s later 17th-century decoration of the cupola shows the Virgin, the Holy Trinity and various characters from the Old and New Testaments, with an angel choir singing and playing instruments.

In the cathedral nave, enclosed with high screens in the Spanish manner, Padilla’s mortal choir provided liturgical music for the conventional occasions: Latin masses, motets, vespers psalms, hymns, responsories, passions, lamentations, litanies, settings for Holy Week, Easter and Marian feasts. They also delighted the congregation with freshly-written villancicos, set to the sensual rhythms of popular dances, and representing the vernacular speech-patterns of stock characters drawn from the many ethnic groups that populated nueva españa: haughty Portuguese, rugged Basques, bucolic peasants – the villanos, cheeky street urchins, indios mixing broken Spanish with their native Náhuatl tongue, exuberant black dancers from Guinea, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

The accepted idiom for church music was modeled on the renaissance polyphony of the Spanish golden age, the siglo de oro. Just as Italian composers of Monteverdi’s generation distinguished the prima prattica style of religious polyphony from the "new music" of the Baroque, so Padilla and his predecessor, Gaspar Fernandes, employed a deliberately old-fashioned musical language for their liturgical settings. The seconda prattica, the progressive style of early Italian opera, was an intellectual construct – an imitation of the expressive power of classical Greek drama, moving the audience’s emotions with chromatic harmonies and angular melodic gestures in speech-like recitative. In contrast, the new music of New Spain was derived from popular culture –swaying listeners’ hearts by moving their feet to the persuasive rhythms of sensual dances. In Hispanic theatrical music, the use of specific dance-melodies colours the mood of each scene - an aural equivalent to stage scenery. Similarly in church: each dance lends a particular character and defining rhythmic energy to its villancico, as well as entertaining the congregation with a popular tune that everyone would know.

Padilla’s duties required him to teach polyphony but also to compose new chanzonetas each year for such major feasts as Christmas or Epiphany [the feast of the Three Kings]. Many texts draw attention to this love of novelty - "listen to the nice new xácara", "novelty of novelties", "novel comic interludes" – but Spanish culture was also fascinated with the aesthetic of the contrafactum, the art of creating new pieces based on existing masterpieces. The Tantum Ergo plainchant, the Spanish "romance" melody and the baile (dance) are all variants of the same basic tune. Just as the great cathedrals were constructed over many years, and by several generations of craftsmen, so musical works were built on a foundation of earlier material.

Ego flos campi is a so-called "parody mass" – the polyphony is created by myriad re-workings of material from an pre-extant motet. In this case, the original motet has not survived, but Padilla’s techniques can be observed in other parody masses he wrote, based on his own motets. Certain memorable melodic phrases and harmonic sequences recur as motives, especially at the beginning and end of each movement, but often with the counterpoint inverted or subtly transformed. Sometimes the voices combine in genuine eight-part writing, more often they are separated into two antiphonal choirs, exchanging short phrases in catchy speech-rhythms. In Ego flos campi, Padilla takes considerable liberties with the liturgical text, creating refrains that suggest the religious fervour of a gospel-meeting and hint at the didactic, evangelising purpose of music in the colonial church: "Goodwill to all men!", "Have mercy upon us!", "I believe!", "I acknowledge!", "Lord God of Hosts!"

Even in this formal style, Padilla’s music breathes the spirit of the dance, and details of individual dance-types are preserved in collections for guitar or harp by such composers as Santiago de Murcia, and Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz. Most of these books begin with the most famous of these dances, the xácara, sung in the dialect of the back streets of Madrid and traditionally accompanied by an ensemble of guitarists dressed in black Spanish cloaks, with daggers hidden in their sleeves. This 17th-century street music became fashionable even in high society, as Spanish composers used the vivid rhythms and dance-energy of the xácara to drive forward the plots of operas and to introduce theatrical excitement even into church music. Indeed, in Christmas villancicos by Padilla, by his successor as maestro, Juan García de Zéspedes, and by Francisco de Vidales (principal organist), the text draws the listeners’ attention to the secular origins of the music: "on with the xácara!", "a jaunty style and voice are always needed", "dance the canario and the villano" "celebrate with the guaracha" "with the gaucambe"

The attitude of the church authorities to these villancicos was at best ambivalent. The xácara and similar dances were repeatedly (and thus, one presumes, ineffectually) condemned as excessively arousing, yet Pedro Cerone, author of the famous 17th-century treatise El Melopeo y Maestro, defended the villancicos, which he compared to the the mascherate sung at Italian carnivals: "One hears now a Portuguese, now a Basque; once an Italian and once a German; first a gypsy, then a black man …. I would not like to say villancicos are bad thing, for they are received in all Spanish churches, and were it not for them, it would not be possible to reach the appropriate heights of solemn celebration… There are some people so lacking in piety that they attend church but once a year, and miss all the Masses of Obligation, because they are too lazy to get up out of bed. But let it be known that there will be villancicos, and there is no-one more devout in the whole place, none more vigilant than these people, for there is no church, oratory or shrine that they will not visit, nor do they mind getting up in the middle of the night in the freezing cold, just to hear them."

The cumbees is one of several African-inspired dances, linked to the zarambeques, guacambe, paracumbe, to the Afro-Cuban guaracha and to the Afro-Hispanic patios of the negrilla. The solo variations - diferencias – come from a Mexican guitar manuscript, recently identified as the lost book of dance-music by Santiago de Murcia: the African dance titles provide scat syllables for the improvising singers.

Just as musicians played diferencias over the repeated harmonic sequence of the xácara and other ground basses, so dancers would improvise choreographic variations – mudanzas – on the basic steps of each dance. Vocal music too was often in the form of verses - coplas – and chorus – estrebillo, avoiding the bi-polar contrasts of the Italian da capo aria in favour of ballad-style narration or meditative contemplation.

Certain poetic conceits can also be found in many villancicos: the contrast between the icy winter outside the stable and the fire of divine love within, the Babe who cries whilst the world rejoices, revelling choristers singing rousing choruses to lull the baby to sleep, metaphors of flowers and stars. Two suns chase away the darkness, one in the heavens, the other the resplendent light of the newborn Babe. God is the judge, the godfather, the divine giant; the Christ-child is the lover, the hero, the flower amongst thorns; Mary is the beloved, the dawn, the pearl of pearls, the flower of flowers. Such elegantly poetic titles can be found even in a raunchy xácara, or alongside the simple names of humble street entertainers: Antón with his tambourine, Gil dancing to the bagpipe-playing of Antón Pascual, Miguel dressed as a parrot, or Antonio in a monkey-suit.

In all kinds of Hispanic music, from street xácaras to court operas and elegant chamber music, the guitar was seen as the characteristic instrument of the new, baroque style. Ribayaz explained technicalities of harp-playing in terms of guitar chords; an 18th-century tutor for the castanets classifies rhythmic patterns in relation to the up- and down-strum of the guitar; a quartet of guitars – each one a different size and pitch – formed a consort that was, together with the Spanish harp, considered an indispensable element of the rhythm and mood of the aire español.

Harp and guitars combine with bass viol and organ in the high style; with bajón, shawms and sackbut in large-scale choruses; and in dance-music with all kinds of traditional instruments: tambourines, large African drums, woodblocks, shakers, the simple box-drum played by itinerant musicians throughout Latin America, small bells, rainstick, psaltery and even - in the jácaras de la costa – a conch shell.

This programme is not a liturgical reconstruction but a concert, bringing together dance-like religious settings with their original bailes, the actual dances that inspired them. The authenticity is not only musical, but cultural, revelling in the complex cross-currents of conservatism and experiment, of naiveté and sophistication, high and low art, intellectualism and sensuality, that characterise the Hispanic baroque. For whilst the 17th-century congregation and the clergy of Puebla cathedral listened to Padilla’s Mass interpersed with his Christmas villancicos, they would have been inescapably reminded of the raw origins of the xácara dance.

Andrew Lawrence-King


Biographies

 

Andrew Lawrence-King

An imaginative and virtuosic harp soloist and a uniquely versatile continuo player, Andrew Lawrence-King is recognised as one of the world's leading Early Music artists, and as a creative and inspiring Baroque conductor.

His musical career began as Head Chorister at the Cathedral and Parish Church of St Peter Port Guernsey, whence he won an Organ Scholarship to Cambridge, completing his studies at the London Early Music Centre. He rapidly established himself as continuo-player to Europe's foremost specialist ensembles and in 1988 founded and co-directed the continuo-group Tragicomedia. He joined Jordi Savall's Hesperion XX as harp soloist, and was appointed Professor of Harp and Continuo at the Akademie für Alte Musik, Bremen.

In 1994, Andrew Lawrence-King formed his own ensemble, The Harp Consort, and also made a series of solo recordings with Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, beginning with ‘La Harpe Royale’ and ‘Die Davidsharfe’. His achievements as a harpist were marked by the Erwin Bodky award from the Cambridge Society for Early Music and his contributions to the performance of Spanish baroque music by the Noah Greenberg prize. His direction of Handel’s first opera ‘Almira’ won the 1996 prize of the American Handel Society, and The Harp Consort’s recording of ‘La púrpura de la rosa’, the first opera from the New World (Lima, Peru 1701), was the Editor’s Choice in the inaugral issue of Gramophone's Early Music Quarterly Magazine. His Bach solo recital, ‘The Secret of the Semitones’ was described by Gramophone as combining "quiet, intoxicating virtuosity and an all too rare sensitivity".

Andrew Lawrence-King now records exclusively for HMU and divides his time between solo recitals, world-wide tours with The Harp Consort, and appearances as guest director for orchestras, choirs and baroque operas in Europe, Scandinavia and the Americas, interspersed with worldwide performances of Missa Mexicana, with which he made his conducting debut at La Scala, Milan this season. He is a regular guest conductor for the Danish baroque orchestra Concerto Copenhagen & for Finland's premier chamber orchestra, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, and he commutes to Florence to direct the Italian ensemble ‘L’homme Armé’. The CD ‘Italian Concerto’, on which he is both concerto soloist and orchestral conductor, won the German Philharmonic Society’s prestigious Echo Klassik Prize for the Best Early Music Recording of 1998, and his duo album with Paul Hillier was chosen by Elvis Costelloe as record of the year in Rolling Stone magazine.

A keen sailor, Andrew holds the Royal Yachting Association's coveted Yachtmaster certificate, and spends most of his free time aboard his boat, ‘Continuo’.

 

THE HARP CONSORT

The Harp Consort is a group of musicians who specialise in improvisation within the various styles of baroque and medieval music. The original Harp Consort was created in 17th century England at the court of Charles I: unlike the string orchestra (also formed at this time) in which many musicians played the same kind of instrument, the Consorte brought together diverse types of solo instruments to create new sounds with colourful combinations of harp, lutes, keyboards and strings. Like the 17th century Consorte, The Harp Consort is formed around the plucked and bowed strings of the basso continuo, bringing together an international team of musicians to create a rich variety of timbres.

Although continuo-players have a written bass-line, they must improvise harmonies and melodic figures on different instruments and in the appropriate style for the period and country. The Harp Consort takes continuo as a model for all kinds of performance, combining careful attention to the particular colours of each repertoire with the spontaneity of improvisation .

The Harp Consort's repertoires range from solo songs to baroque opera, from medieval drama to new music for early instruments, from the delicacy of instrumental chamber music to the exuberance of Irish dance. The Harp Consort’s debut CD, ‘Luz y norte’ (17th century dance music from Spain and South America) was a world-wide hit, gaining a Diapason D’Or in France, Record of the Year from Amadeus magazine in Italy, and topping the classical charts for five weeks in Australia.

The ensemble’s recordings on DHM include ‘Carolan’s Harp’ and Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, ‘Italian Concerto’, the medieval Play of Daniel, ‘Ludus Danielis’, ‘Spanish Gypsies’, and ‘La púrpura de la rosa’, the first New World opera, given in Lima, Peru in 1701. The ensemble has also recorded Purcell and Lawes for Berlin Classics and Astrée Auvidis, and formed the continuo band for Andrew Lawrence-King's recording of Handel's ‘Almira’ for CPO, for Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and for ‘Fire-Water’: Spanish renaissance ensaladas with The King’s Singers.

The Harp Consort now records exclusively for HMU, and their first release with their new label is Missa Mexicana.

 


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