March 13, 2004

Byron Colby Barn
Prairie Crossing, IllinoisMusic of the Mexican Baroque

One has only to walk around the cities of Mexico to see the architectural influence of 16th and 17th century Europe in cathedrals and public buildings. What has been less recognized is the rich baroque musical heritage that found its way to the Western Hemisphere. Two especially lively centers of musical activity were Mexico City and Puebla. Examples of these compositions are performed today along with contemporaneous works from Cuba, Germany, Italy and Spain as models for comparison. With the exception of the Gines, most are sacred works, with several composed to celebrate Christmas and the Epiphany. All the music is written by women who lived over 300 years ago.

Conditor Alme Siderum (Avila, ca. 1557)
Gracia Baptista (fl.Avila Spain, mid 1550’s)

Baptista appears to have been a Spanish nun who lived and worked in Avila, Spain, in the first half of the 16th century. There she produced the gloss (variations on a religious theme) on the chant “Conditor Alme Siderum.” Scored for voice and /or an undesignated instrument — most likely to have been organ or harpsichord — it was preserveed in a collection of music dated 1557 and belonged to Luis Venegas de Henestrosa, the organist/maestro de capella at the Alcala.

Due Canzone (Regensberg ca. 1600)
La Contessa (Maria Paterina) (fl. Regensberg, Germany 1587-1600)

Found in a set of choir books used at Regensberg Cathedral between 1587 and 1625, the parts to these instrumental canzone were pages deliberately inserted into the books’ bindings. They were identified in the upper right hand corner as being authored by “di La Contessa”, a woman for whom there is evidence was one Maria Paterina. The pieces use an antiphonal style characteristic of Paterina’s contemporaries, the Gabriellis. Dynamic variations are achieved by the weight of sound alone with single voices softer than paired voices and tutti ensemble being the strongest dynamic expression in each of these canzone.

Ymbitatorio a La Nascimento de Nuestro Senor (Oaxaca, 1692)
Guadalupe Ortiz (fl. Oaxaca, Mexico, 1688-1692)

The Ymbitatorio would have been the first music heard on Christmas after the sounding of the bells at midnight that called celebrants to worship at the creche. It is in the Venetian concerted motet style, with paired violins and voices accompanied by harpsichord and basso continuo. Ortiz was associated in some capacity with the Cathedral of the City of Oaxaca, but just how is unclear. The autograph of this work in the archive of the Oaxaca Cathedral is in a form thought to pertain exclusively to celebrations of the nuns in the city’s convents. But a search of other materials in the archive unearthed payroll for the Cathedral’s Christmas eve mass of 1692 showed that Ortiz was one of the musicians and was paid a sum of one peso, three centavos for her participation. This payment would not have been permitted by the rules of the cloister. So, was she a disobedient nun or one for whom an exception was made to the rules? Or was she a laywoman writing sacred music? The answer remains a mystery.

Laudate Domino (Milan, 1650)
Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (b. Milan,Italy 1602, d. Milan, between 1676 and 1678)

Cozzollani was the youngest daughter of a wealthy Milanese merchant family and as such enjoyed the fate of many well-to-do daughters — she became a nun. She entered the Benedictine convent of St. Radegonda in 1619, eventually rising to the positions of prioress and abbess. An accomplished composer, she published several collections of motets and concerti. “Laudate Domino” is from her Op. 3 collection. It is scored for solo soprano, two violins, and continuo.

“Tocotin” Hymn to the Virgin (Mexico City – 1679)
Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz (b. San Miguel de Nepantla, Mexico, 1648; d. Mexico City, 1695)

Juana de Asbaje was the illegitimate daughter of Captain Manuel de Asbaje and Isabel Ramirez. Sent to Mexico City at age ten to live with relatives, she had a gift for writing Latin verse that attracted the attention of the Viceroy and Vicereine. She lived at court for five years and became a famous intellectual. In 1667, she entered the convent of the discalced Carmelites and took the name Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Later, she transferred to the convent of Saint Paula where she directed the musical and dramatic activities in the convent schools. The owner of a personal library numbering some 4,000 volumes, Sor Juana also hosted a literary salon at the convent attended by women from the Spanish colonial court. Sor Juana was best known for her musical compositions and poetry, many of which were written in Nahautl (the native language of the Aztecs in which she was fluent). Though written in Nahautl, the religious verses used European form and were set to popular folk tunes well known to the native people. They were effectively used to evangelize the Aztecs. But while the texts to her music have survived, her notations in autograph have not. Such is the case with “Tocotin”, which is a hymn blending the Catholic tradition of the Virgin Mary with the Aztec Earth Mother. For this performance, the Nahautl text is aligned with its designated folk tune, El Cardador de Lana.

Musicos Ruysenores, Cantata a duo al Nascimiento (Puebla, 1688)
Maria Joachina Rodrigues (fl. Puebla de Los Angeles, Mexico, late 1600’s)

In 1538, the city today known as Puebla and then known as Civitas Agelorum, The City of Angels, was granted an imperial coat of arms by Queen Juana of Spain, acting as regent for Carlos V. This made it the second enobled colonial Mexican territory after Mexico City. It was to become an important religious and cultural center. All that is known of Rodriguez is that she was a nun in the convent of La Santissma Trinidad. This order, apparently granted more freedom than some others in Mexico at that time, trained musicians for service as composers and performers in the city’s Cathedral. This cantata, in the Venetian concerted motet tradition, was written for two sopranos, paired violins, and continuo. The subject is the Nativity and so would have almost certainly have been performed during the period between Christmas and the Epiphany.

Ad Gaudia, Ad Iubila (Milan, 16775)
Maria Xaviera Peruchona (fl. Milan, late 1600’s)

Peruchona was an Ursuline nun who published a single collection of music, “Sacred Concerti and Motets for one, two, three or four voices with violins and continuo”. This solo motet describes the birth of Christ child. Its fifth and final movement is a particularly tender and moving lullaby.

Son de La Ma Teodora (Santiago de Cuba – ca. 1600)
Teodora Gines (b. Hispanola ca. 1580; d. after 1598)

Gines, of African descent, was born into slavery. Both she and her sister, Michaela, showed remarkable musical gifts, despite a lack of formal musical training. For this reason, around 1597, they were freed to enter the service of the Cathedral at Santiago de Cuba as musicians. Theodora played bandora (a plucked bass instrument) and bowed bass. Her sister was a singer. Together with a Spanish violinist and a Portuguese schawm player, they formed the nucleus of the Cathedral’s orchestra. Gines is credited with being the mother of modern Cuban folkloric music. Son de La Ma Teodora, as do many of her compositions, uses characteristic elements of plucked bass and syncopated polyrhythms with constant shifts from two to three beats in a single bar. Also note a fusion of African call and response with European harmony of F Major.

Notes by Susan Riegler and William Bauer


Cecilia Amorocoho – soprano
William Bauer – violin, flautin indio, mandolin
Celina Casado – violin, tarahumara violin, mandolin
Jerry Fuller – contrabajo
Marina Nielsen – violoncello, omichicahuaztli, mandola
Jim Oxyer – harpsichord, teponaztli
Susan Riegler – locutor
Linda De Rungs – soprano