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Missa Mexicana

Festive polyphony and popular dances from 17th-century Mexico

 

Soloists, Vocal Ensembles & Double Choir
Hispanic Continuo-Ensemble: 

Organ, Spanish harp, sackbut, bajón, baroque guitars & percussion

 
14 performers (director: Andrew Lawrence-King)
 
“Missa Mexicana is at once thought-provoking and toe-tapping - an all too rare combination in classical music these days.”                                                                 Barnes & Noble, USA
 
“Beautifully sung … haunting loveliness … exuberant … verve and abandoned gusto … superlative … spell-binding … exhilarating”      
Fanfare USA
“Foot-tapping … irresistible”
                                       
The Times, London
 
“An intoxicating mix of voices and  exotic instruments … total technical command and inspired imagination..  a revelation not to be missed”  
BBC Music Magazine
Sanctus
Ego flos campi (Missa Mexicana )
Marizápalos
(Missa Mexicana)
Double Choir Mass: Missa Ego flos campi    Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c1590-1664)  (Puebla Cathedral, Mexico)
 
Spanish and South American villancicos      
Padilla, Francisco de Vidales, Joan Cererols & Juan Garcia de Zéspedes
 
Hispanic & African bailes and romances
Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz & Santiago de Murcia
 
Xácaras, Marizápalos, Cumbees, Guaracha
Serafín, que con dulce harmonía
 
 

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.

 

 

This conservative, formal style was regarded as a reflection of the ancient splendour and solemnity of the holy Mass, but Padilla brings the old forms to life with driving rhythms and sparkling syncopations. Just as the composer himself left Spain to make his home in the New World, his musical style was grounded in the traditions of the Golden Age and then nurtured by the colours and rhythms of central America.

 

 

Padilla’s music breathes the spirit of the dance, and the details of individual dance-types were preserved by Ribayaz’s 1677 book Luz y norte - Lantern and North Star -  an explorer’s guide to Hispanic dances. The most famous of these dances was 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 and by his colleague, Francisco de Vidales [the principal organist at Puebla cathedral], the text draws the listeners’ attention to the secular origins of the music: “Here’s a new xácara” “Always with the xácara attitude” “Come on, come on, let’s do the xácara now!”

 

 

Our 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. 

Cumbees
(Missa Mexicana)
Publa Cathedral, Mexico
The Harp Consort 
Missa Mexicana
in the Abbey of
St Michel en Tierache

Andrew Lawrence-King comments:

When I formed The Harp Consort in 1994, Luz y norte was one of our first projects. Back then, some musicologists and other performers were sceptical: could such a thrilling sound really be historically authentic?  But the key ingredients of the Luz y norte sound have now come to be accepted as the standard recipe for Hispanic baroque music:

Rasgueado: strummed (not plucked) baroque guitar. Steven Player led the way back in 1994, linking strummed rhythms to dance-steps. And now Xavier Diaz Latorre has beautifully integrated strumming and plucked punteado on his solo recordings, as well as in his appearances as continuo player for Jordi Savall and with The Harp Consort.  
 
Guitarras: Multiple guitars in different tunings. The renaissance concept of a consort of guitars at different pitches, preserved to the present day as a feature of Central and South American folk traditions, is obvious, once you think of it. Pat O'Brien thought of it first for The Harp Consort, and many other groups have now followed on, notably Mexico's Tembembe ensemble, with their consort of baroque/traditional central American instruments.   
 
Pasacalles: Not only variations on those particular harmonies, but the whole concept of improvised introductions and/or refrains. Ribayaz's book not only gives sample diferencias, but encourages musicians to improvise their own, spontaneous variations.
 
Ayre: the characteristic groove of Hispanic baroque music, carefully explained by Ribayaz, with Good notes on the first and second beats of triple time. Often the second beat is more important than the first. All the improvised variations - melodic diferencias, strummed repicos, danced mudanzas - fit within the same underlying groove. Percussionists, guitarists, singers, dancers and harpists all 'speak the same language'.
 
Luz y norte: Ribayaz's beautiful title characterises his book as a 'Light and a North-star' to guide you through what was back in 1994 the terra incognita of Hispanic baroque performance practice. It's not just a book of cool tunes, nor even just a blue-print for stylish improvisations. Maurice Esses’ book on Spanish dance-types and Louise Stein's work on Hispanic baroque music-drama define the wider cultural context.
 
The sound of Luz y norte is linked in a complex web of connections and citations to the movements  of dance; to the drama of renaissance theatre and baroque opera; to the powerful sensuality underlying each dance-type; to the interplay of high art and popular styles, sacred and secular; to Spain's historical contact with Jews and Moors and on-going exploration in South America:, northwards to Europe and southwards to Africa; to the glorious literary and musical heritage of the siglo de oro: indeed to every possible aspect of 17th-century Hispanic culture. 
The Harp Consort 
Missa Mexicana
at Bozarts
(Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels)