Showcase December 2014 - page 32

the text describes an 18th-century “little drummer boy”
demonstrating his
solfeg
, with a prayer for good intonation.
Salas’
Misa de Navidad
(Mass for Christmas Day) is one
of five mass settings by this pioneer of church music in his
native Cuba. For this special performance we interpolate
plainchant among the mass movements, in an attempt to
recreate the musical portion of the liturgy as it may have
sounded in 18th-century Cuba.
The music of 18th-century Cuba, particularly of
Esteban
Salas y Castro
(1725-1803), figures prominently in the
first half of our program. Though Salas’ music was heavily
influenced by French and Italian works of the period, it
is considered to incorporate an original Latin American
component. He was born in Havana on Christmas Day of
1725, so it should come as no surprise that roughly half of
his surviving music consists of
villancicos
for Christmas—
including our opening piece,
Un musiquito nuevo
. Here
32
MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
Program Notes
dec
14
El Nuevo Mundo
. A New World–
new lands, new peoples, new languages, new sights, new art and architecture,
and new possibilities—all confronted the “conquistadores” of old Spain and
Portugal and altered their lives ineluctably. One can only imagine the impact
on those new arrivals. East, the former West, intending to find a route to the
East, finds the new West! No wonder, then, if those explorers should seek
solace in the familiar and feel the need for stability and the comfort of the old.
According to accounts from the earliest years of exploration, there was a
remarkable and almost immediate response of the indigenous peoples of this
Nuevo Mundo
to the music of
Catholicism—of which it must be remembered: conversion and saving souls were principal goals. Of course, the
give and take between local traditions and European styles worked both ways. Yet the weight of European tradition,
coupled with the might of the conqueror, tipped the scales in favor of the music that was part and parcel of the
Europeans’ “one true faith.” Even composers who were native to the new colonies sought to create works according
to the prescriptions of European theorists and were taught their craft in the cathedral schools, studying the works of
the great European masters.
Choirmasters of the new cathedrals composed new music, of course, often drawing on models such as the
contrapuntal Renaissance idiom of mass and motet, the “formal Baroque” style and the “vernacular Baroque”
style found in the vivacious
villancicos
heard throughout this program. These styles, two somewhat restrained and
conservative, and the other typically youthful, found a common home in the New World liturgies—to the extent
that some priests complained of the overwhelming number of instruments, including guitars and percussion, the
large choirs of singers and the foot-tapping, hip-swaying music with earthen texts that had become
de rigueur
. Is
this reminiscent of the popular “guitar masses” in this country during the 1960s and ’70s, when folk music was
introduced into the liturgy as part of an effort to achieve a certain relevancy and fill the pews?
The
villancicos
, literally “songs of the people,” managed to do just this. With their dance-like rhythms, catchy
refrains, vernacular texts and evocative instrumental accompaniments, they assimilated dimensions of popular
life and indigenous music into the otherwise foreign Roman liturgy. A
villancico
could be large-scaled or more
intimately sized; the text could be in Old World Castilian or in one of the many languages current in
Nueva
España
, such as Náhuatl. The presence of a vigorous black musical culture is clearly evidenced in its influence on
both form and text in a number of the surviving
villancico negrillas
, which depicted the song and dance of African
slaves in the Spanish colonies.
Cathedral of Havana, Cuba, completed in 1773.
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