The villancicos of TomÃ¡s de TorrejÃ³n y Velasco
Musical practice in the cathedrals of Colonial times fulfilled an essential duty, that of conferring solemnity and splendour to Christian ritual. To that end, all cathedrals were comprised of a musical chapel made up of singers and minstrels, one or two organ players, and a choirmaster, who exercised the highest authority over them. It was he who was charged with making sure they attended rehearsals and performances, as well as teaching singing and counterpoint and watching over the education of the choirboys. He also had to provide and conduct the polyphonic music which would be performed for the liturgy of the service. Faced with such a variety of tasks, the choirmaster had to avail himself of music of his own as well as that of other composers. This in turn increased the musical inventory of the cathedral where he worked.
As a result, at the present time valuable musical collections are kept safe in many cathedrals of the New World. Among these, the repertoire from the Guatemalan cathedral is the longest-standing, in addition to being one of the most plentiful. A great many pieces by Latin American and Italian choirmasters can be located alongside the works of Hernando Franco, Pedro BermÃºdez, Gaspar Fernandes, Marcos de las Navas y Quevedo, Manuel JosÃ© de QuirÃ³s, Rafael Antonio Castellanos, and Pedro Nolasco Estrada Aristondo -all of whom were employed as choirmasters at the cathedral of Guatemala.
Without a doubt, TomÃ¡s de TorrejÃ³n y Velasco is one the outstanding composers whose work is to be found in the musical catalogue of the Guatemalan cathedral. This remarkable musician's story is well known. He was born in 1644 in Villarrobledo and was engaged as a page boy at an early age by the Count of Lemos, don Pedro FernÃ¡ndez de Castro y Andrade, who was appointed as Viceroy of Peru in 1667. He traveled with him to the New World and took up a number of civilian and military posts before his appointment as choirmaster of the cathedral of Lima in 1676. He carried on this job for almost sixty years -the longest term ever in the Peruvian cathedral- and became one of the most influential Hispanic American composers of the late 17th century. Additionally, he is the author of the first opera known to have been composed and performed in the Americas, La pÃºrpura de la rosa, after the libretto by CalderÃ³n de la Barca. He died on April 23, 1728.
TomÃ¡s de TorrejÃ³n y Velasco's works signal the high point and culmination of the Spanish Baroque villancico in Colonial Latin America. Also, some of these pieces (no doubt the latter ones) are impregnated with the italianizing influence favoured by the House of Bourbon. Fifteen works by TorrejÃ³n y Velasco are extant in Guatemala; another thirteen are in Cuzco, two are in Bolivia, and a single one is in Lima, this being the aforesaid opera, La pÃºrpura de la rosa.
The manner in which TorrejÃ³n y Velasco's works reached Guatemala is still a matter for research. Is it possible that the renowned master composed some of his pieces to order, as some scholars have put forward? Could it have been that TorrejÃ³n's heritage arrived together with Father Pedro Pardo de Figueroa, a native of Lima, who was appointed Bishop of Guatemala in 1737 and became her first metropolitan archbishop eight years later? Was this repertoire acquired by Manuel JosÃ© de QuirÃ³s, choirmaster of the Guatemalan cathedral between 1738 and 1765, who took pains to obtain new works for the cathedral? To be sure, there is no evidence to support any of these hypotheses.
Most of the fifteen villancicos currently preserved in the Historical Archive of the Archdiocese of Guatemala follow the typical Spanish model that was used under the Hapsburgs. Four of them unquestionably bear the date when they were composed: the original copy of Es mi rosa bella, a three-part song in honour of St. Rose of Lima, shows the date 1679; Aves, flores, an eleven-part song for St. Catherine, was written in 1683; and, finally, Triste caudal de lÃ¡grimas, a duet for Ascension Day, and AngÃ©licas milicias, a song scored for four choirs in honour of the Holy Sacrament, were composed in 1687.
The title page of Cantarico que vas a la fuente bears the date 1723. However, we prefer to consider this as the date of its performance, rather than the date when it was written, since the musical structure and style of the piece comply entirely with the structure and style in fashion during the second half of the 17th century. On the other hand, this work could have been composed in 1681 or in 1686, because its text was taken from an auto sacramental by CalderÃ³n de la Barca, Primero y segundo Isaac, which was staged in Lima in the course of those two years.
Five other villancicos bear dates that unmistakably refer to their performance in Guatemala. The Christmas stage-piece, AtenciÃ³n, que para hacer en todo cabal la fiesta, was put on in 1772, "with [the addition of] instruments or musical variation". A rendering for tenor of an aria for the Assumption, by the name of Barquero que surcas, was sung in 1723. The duet to St. Rose of Lima, De esta rosa tan bella, was performed in 1744, when new words and music were composed for its coplas. One of the copies of Es mi rosa bella bears the dates 1748 and 1753. Last of all, the duet Triste caudal de lÃ¡grimas was performed in 1752.
Besides those mentioned above, seven other songs by TorrejÃ³n y Velasco are in existence in Guatemala. In all, there are fifteen villancicos, eleven of which make up this recording.
Notes on the recording
This recording took place in the choir of the church of La Merced in Guatemala City. The reverberation time and natural diffusion of sound inside the temple, which are distinctive of this kind of building, played a decisive role in the selection of this location so as to make an appropriate recording of the music contained on this disc. Obviously, this meant giving up the technological facilites of a recording studio -which would have been a lot more comfortable, but too restricted and phony- even at the cost of having to tolerate the significant amount of noise which is common to the historical district of a modern metropolis.
The church of La Merced is an architectural monument that continues to depict that unique blend of building styles and aesthetics that is partly Baroque and partly Neo-Classical, two centuries after the destruction of Santiago de los Caballeros -the former capital of the captaincy general of Guatemala- and its ensuing transferal to La Nueva Guatemala de la AsunciÃ³n. That period of transition is equally apparent, even as it occurs on a less pretentious scale, when considering its pipe organ, which is featured on several pieces on this disc. Its exuberant front belongs to the 18th century, while the famous organ builder Mariano LÃ³pez can be credited with the assembly of the much plainer back, together with its former workings, around 1811. The pipes, air chests, keyboard, pedalier, machinery, and bellows were replaced by E. F. Walcker & Co. of WÃ¼rttemberg, Germany, around 1960. The organ is tuned to about 9 hertz below orchestra pitch.
As to the main instrument drawn on to provide the ground bass, we used a harpsichord built in 1988 by R. Greenberg of San Francisco, California, after an Italian cembalo of the Renaissance. We have attempted to recreate the probable sound of period instruments such as the bassoon, the shawm and the baroque violin by using what is available in Guatemala. This includes several wind and string instruments, both bowed and plucked, such as recorders, oboe, guitar and a diatonic lap harp with a range of three-and-a-half octaves, all of which we have used in order to do justice to the historical performances of these works. The relevance of this performance is the recovery of Colonial music, rather than that of the instruments which theoretically might have been at hand at the time.
As a final point, it is worth noting that concerning the performance of both vocal soloists and chorus, we have sought to favour the transparency of the harmony and the polyphonic texture of this music, rather than overstated individual displays which would be incongruous with the musical richness intrinsic to the exogenous Guatemalan repertoire of TomÃ¡s de TorrejÃ³n y Velasco.
Ars Nova de Guatemala
Ars Nova de Guatemala is the first early music group in this country. During 36 years it has performed on all main concert stages in Guatemala, as well as Mexico, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.
Founded in 1967 by Jorge Pellecer, its repertory includes music from the Spanish Renaissance and from Colonial Latin America. Its members bring together vocal and instrumental performance, especially on period instruments such as recorders, crumhorns, lute, harpsichord, and regional percussion.
Ars Nova has recorded Missa de Bomba a 4 y otras obras de Pedro BermÃºdez and took part in the recording of El Repertorio Nacional de MÃºsica by Igor de Gandarias.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Aladas jerarquÃas
3. Ah, seÃ±or que se acerca
4. Luceros: volad, corred
5. Es mi rosa bella
6. Â¡Fuego, fuego!
7. Barquero que surcas
8. De esta rosa tan bella
9. Triste caudal de lÃ¡grimas
10. Al reloj se os compara
11. Â¡TÃ©nganmele, seÃ±ores!