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Reference: AVSA9867

  • La Capella Reial de Catalunya
  • Hespèrion XX
  • Jordi Savall

The liturgy of the Dead – including the Requiem Mass, the Burial Service and the Office of the dead, properly speaking – was granted considerable importance by the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities and by the local church composers from very early times. Throughout the Middle Ages, according to the extant documentary descriptions, the death of a great Lord, such as the Count of Barcelona or the sovereign of any of the Spanish kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragon or Navarre, was usually mourned with impressive ceremonies in which the solemnity of the liturgy was often enhanced by the addition of the planctus, a kind of lengthy optional lament that was sung monophonically and of which several examples have survived.

Additional Information
Intèrprets

La Capella Reial de CatalunyaHESPÈRION XXDirección: JORDI SAVALL

Informació

Data i lloc de gravació : Collégiale de Cardona (Catalogne) 1991-1992

Llista de Temes

CRISTOBAL DE MORALESOFFICIUM DEFUNCTORUMMISSA PRO DEFUNCTIS, a 5FRANCISCO GUERREROSACRAE CANTIONESTOMAS LUIS DE VICTORIACANTICA BEATAE VIRGINIS

Categoria

Catàleg complet, Heritage

Description

The liturgy of the Dead – including the Requiem Mass, the Burial Service and the Office of the dead, properly speaking – was granted considerable importance by the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities and by the local church composers from very early times. Throughout the Middle Ages, according to the extant documentary descriptions, the death of a great Lord, such as the Count of Barcelona or the sovereign of any of the Spanish kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragon or Navarre, was usually mourned with impressive ceremonies in which the solemnity of the liturgy was often enhanced by the addition of the planctus, a kind of lengthy optional lament that was sung monophonically and of which several examples have survived.

When the Requiem Mass began to be set polyphonically in the late 15th century, following the examples of Dufay and Ockeghem, Spanish musicians were among the first to adopt this practice in a systematic way, and thus nearly every great Iberian composer of the 16th century, starting with Pedro de Escobar and Juan Garda de Basurto, has left us at least one polyphonic setting of the Missa pro defunctis. The atmosphere of brooding mysticism that dominated so much of Spanish culture during this period as a result of the spiritual turmoil and the crisis of values into which Europe had plunged since the outbreak of the Reformation was to have a direct influence upon this question. In fact, the highly dramatic content of the texts of the Requiem seemed to cover all the topics that polarized the great fears and doubts of 16th-century Man: the rapid passage of time, the transitory nature of earthly life, the contrasting mysteries of mortality and eternity, the guilt experienced by a soul facing God, the harshness of the last judgement and the human plea for divine mercy.

Cristobal de Morales’ five-part Missa pro defunctis was published in 1544 in his Christophori Moralis Hispalensis Missarum liber secundus, printed in Rome by Valerio and Ludovico Dorico. In 1552 this volume was reprinted at Lyons by Jacques Moderne and at least three manuscript copies of the mass have also survived in Madrid (Library of the Dukes of Medinaceli), Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek) and Toledo (Cathedral archives). We do not know the exact date of composition of the piece, although it was most likely composed during Morales’ tenure in Rome as a singer of the papal chapel, a position to which he had been appointed on 1st September, 1535, and which he would eventually leave on 1st May, 1545. The Italian musicologist Clemente Terni has suggested that the Requiem may have been written for the solemn exequies for the wife of Charles V, Isabel of Portugal, celebrated on 28th May, 1539, at Saint Peter’s, since Morales sang in the ceremony, together with the rest of the papal choir; however, this hypothesis does not seem to be supported by any documentary evidence. The choir also sang at the official unveiling of The Last Judgement at the Sixtine Chapel on 31st October, 1540, and, if Terni’s suggestion is disregarded, one is tempted to assume that the impact of Michelangelo’s powerful imagery on the creative mind of the composer may have had some influence on the expressive atmosphere of the Missa pro defunctis.

Morales’ Requiem follows the structural pattern that was common at the time for the genre: Introit (Requiem aeternam, with the verse Te decet), Kyrie, Gradual (Requiem aeternam with the verse In memoria aeterna), Sequence (not the complete Dies irae, which 16th-century composers tended not to set polyphonically in its entirety, but just the final verse, Pie Jesu Domine), Offertory (Domine Jesu Christe, Rex Gloriae, with the verse Hostias et preces), Sanctus (with Benedictus), Agnus Dei and Communio (Lux aeterna, with the verse Requiem aeternam). The setting is mostly for Soprano, Altos I and II, Tenor and Bass, although the Gradual verse, In memoria aeterna, is written for three voices (A II, T, Bass) and the Offertory verse, Hostias et preces is for four voices (S II, A, T, B).

Every section opens with its Gregorian intonation, and the original chant melody is then taken up by one of the voices (usually the Soprano) and sung throughout the movement in long values, while the other parts weave a contrapuntal net underneath it. The texture is mostly imitative, often based on melodic motives extracted from the chant, but the rhythmic motion, despite a certain fondness for the use of cross-rhythms between the different voices which lead to some metrical ambiguity, is grave and quiet. The bass line rarely participates in the imitation and proceeds mostly in fourths and fifths, with a clear harmonic function. Together with the occasional use of homophonic writing, this establishes a strong chordal effect, even if the text is largely set melismatically and therefore only a few sections sound truly declamatory in style. There is little, if any, use of word-painting; instead, Morales clearly prefers to create in each movement an overall emotional climate that is never broken by purely madrigalistic effects. His harmony shows a clear preference for minor thirds and sixths, a procedure that anticipates the recommendations of the late 16th-century Italian theorist Gioseffo Zarlino for establishing a plaintive mood in music, and the same goal is achieved through a moderate but very effective use of suspensions and other dissonances. Generally speaking, the Requiem is a work of truly magnificent dimensions and yet one of an austere, serene and introspective nature, as if Morales wanted to approach the subject of death in the most restrained and reverential way, far from any mundane display of ingenuity and virtuosity, and filled with heartfelt emotion.

Morales wrote another two compositions connected with the liturgy of the Dead: a second Missa pro defunctis, for four voices, and a series of several polyphonic settings of items belonging to the Officium deffunctorium. The four-part Requiem was apparently composed after his return to Spain, while he was serving as maestro de capilla at the court of the Duke of Arcos, at Marchena, from May 1548 to at least February 1551, before accepting an identical position at the cathedral of Málaga. The theorist and composer Juan Bermudo mentioned in his Declaración de Instrumentos Musicales (Osuna, 1555) that this work had been dedicated to the Count of Urueña, and he even reproduced an excerpt of the music in the treatise. On the basis of some similarities to the excerpt quoted by Bermudo, an anonymous Requiem copied in a manuscript belonging to a parish church in Valladolid has been tentatively identified as corresponding to Morales’ four-voice setting, but this identification remains problematic.

As to the Officium deffunctorum, it survives in a choirbook owned by the music archives of the cathedral of Puebla, in Mexico. It may have been composed more or less at the same time as the four-part Requiem, but no specific reference is made to that fact in the extant documentation regarding the final years of Morales’ life. We do know, however, that it was sung in Mexico City a few years after the death of the composer during the solemn funeral rites held in that city for Emperor Charles V, in November 1559. A detailed and colourful description of the ceremonies, with a particularly exhaustive account of all the musical aspects involved, was drawn by Francisco Cervantes de Salazar in his Túmulo Imperial (Mexico City, 1560). Since the palace of the viceroy and the cathedral of Mexico City were too close to each other to allow for a lengthy procession between the two buildings, the celebrations were held at the church of San José and in a patio between the church and the adjoining Franciscan monastery, where a large memorial monument to the deceased Emperor would be raised. The procession opened with two thousand Indians, headed by the indigenous governors of the four provinces of Mexico, and more than two hundred caciques, all dressed in formal mourning attire. After them came the clergy, headed by Archbishop Alonso de Monchúfar, the colonial administration and the nobility, with the Viceroy, Don Luis de Velasco, and a comprehensive representation of all bodies of colonial society, the complete procession lasting two hours.

The performance in the church was conducted by the chapelmaster of Mexico City Cathedral, Lázaro del Álamo, who had divided his musicians into two separate choirs so that these could either alternate or be combined in a single ensemble. Not every piece sung has been preserved in the Puebla choirbooks, and not all of them were by Morales or even in polyphony: for instance, Morales’ five-part motet Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis, which was performed immediately before the prescribed Invitatory (Regem cui omnia vivunt), survives in a manuscript at the Toledo Cathedral, but not in any Mexican source. Lázaro del Alamo himself was the author of several of the psalm settings performed, in which the first half of each verse was sung in chant by a soloist and the second half was sung polyphonically by a boys’ choir. On other occasions, a small polyphonic choir of eight soloists alternated with a larger choir. Some of Morales’ settings, such as that of the Psalm Exultemus, no longer exist. On the other hand, the Puebla choirbooks also contain three four-part funeral motets by Morales – Hodie si vocem eius, Quoniam Deus magnus and Quoniam ipsius est mare –, but the description by Cervantes de Salazar does not mention them as having being sung on this occasion. Therefore, the present recording includes only the extant polyphonic items by Morales that we can be sure were performed at Matins at the above-mentioned ceremonies.

These include the already mentioned five-part motet Circumdederunt me, the Invitatory (Regem cui omnia vivunt, with Psalm 94, Venite, exultemus Domino), the three Lessons of the first Nocturne (I – Parce mihi, Domine; II – Taedet animam meam; III – Manus tuae fecerunt me) and the third Responsory of the second Nocturne (Ne recorderis). The Invitatory, with its constant alternation with the verses of Psalm 94 establishing a kind of refrain, is particularly appropriate for experimenting with a variety of performance possibilities in terms of vocal and instrumental distribution, since we know that the performance practice of sacred polyphony in Iberian and Latin-America cathedrals was rarely – if ever – a capella but instead involved a substantial participation of wind, string and harmonic instruments.

The three Lessons, namely the first one, “the beauty of which enthralled everyone” at the Mexico City celebrations, in the words of Cervantes de Salazar, consist of very austere four-part harmonisations of the Gregorian reciting tones used for this genre, with the chant line in the Soprano. Except for a few unexpected harmonic changes, the emotional impact of these pieces lies mostly in the rhythmic declamation of the text, in which the constantly changing metrical patterns accelerate or slow down the recitations, thus generating, together with the interplay of sound and silence, strong dramatic possibilities (as in the way the word “Peccavi” – I have sinned – in the Parce mihi is very slowly articulated and framed by measures of general pause). Finally, in the Responsory Ne recorderis, all sections are based on the permanent alternation of short, sober homophonic passages with chant melodies. Once again, in the Officium Defunctorum as in the Missa pro defunctis (and in the latter perhaps to an even more striking degree), Cristobal de Morales left us in his compositions for the liturgy of the dead a restrained, severe but immensely powerful and dense meditation on the mysteries of Life and Death, and in doing so provided European sacred music and Spanish culture of the 16th century with two undying masterpieces.

RUI VIEIRA NERY

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