¡Navidad! – Christmas Music from New and Old Spain

Navidad! Photo by Mike Hipple.
Photo by Mike Hipple.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
Edmonds Methodist Church
BUY ONLINE or call 206.708.6003

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Mercer Island
BUY ONLINE or call 206.708.6003

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2016 – 2:00 p.m.
Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall
BUY ONLINE or call 206.215.4747

$45 General | $20 Students
Youth (5-17) free with accompanying ticketed adult

All tickets at Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall are reserved seating.

Colonial Latin America’s unique melting pot of Italian, Spanish, African, Portuguese, and native traditions led to the creation of the Christmas Villancico. This vivacious, rhythmic, and rustic form retells the Christmas story through the characteristic sounds of guitar, harp, harpsichord and strings with a quartet of voices. Experience a rich tapestry of works from Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia, and Spain in this unique holiday program. The program includes the US premieres of works by Guatemalan composer Rafael Castellanos (ca. 1721-1791) and Spanish composer Fabián Garcia Pacheco (1725-1808).



A Belem devem anar – Anonymous

Sonata 2 for two oboes and basso continuo – Segnores Plà

Ah del olvido – Sebastián Duron  (1660-1716)

Tu mi dios –  Esteban Salas  (Cuba, 1725-1803)

Válgame dios y que tres – Fabián Garciá Pacheco (1725 – c. 1808)


Resuenen armoniosos – Esteban Salas (Cuba, 1725-1803)

Por aquel horizonte: Cantada al naciemento (1759) – Juan Francés Iribarren (Sanguesa 1699- Málaga 1767)

Pastoreta Ychepe Flauta – Anonymous

Vaya pues rompiendo el aire – Sebastián Duron  (1660-1716)

Bello Sol rutilante – Juan Francés Iribarren (Sanguesa 1699- Málaga 1767)


Program notes:

Of all the celebrations of the Christian faith, Christmas stands out as having inspired some of the greatest – and certainly the greatest quantity of – Western sacred music. Ever since the early days of the church, religious observances of Christmas were inextricably bound to local secular folk traditions, and folk music (along with the ancient pre-Christian traditions in which it was rooted) was never far from Christmas celebrations. By the 16th century, Spain had developed a unique musical form called the villancico, a blend of Italianate Renaissance polyphony, native Iberian poetical and musical forms, and vivacious African and South American dance rhythms. In the 17th century, Spanish musicians brought this popular music with them across the Atlantic as they took positions in the new Cathedrals, parishes, and missions of the New World. There, the Christmas villancico evolved, incorporating into itself new European musical styles as well as elements of Indigenous music wherever the Church spread its influence.

The Spanish empire encouraged the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, to establish missions, or reducciones, across Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia with the goals to convert native populations to Christianity and ultimately subject them to Spanish governance and taxation. Music was one of their primary methods of evangelism, and the missionaries saw the very core of the Christmas story – the Infinite born as a baby, the most human of human experiences – as a particularly approachable gateway into the faith. Worship services in the larger Jesuit missions often included a choir and orchestra comprised of native musicians, trained and directed by Jesuit musicians from Italy or Spain. The communities became economically self-sustaining and often fought back against the raids of Portuguese slave traders, which helped to bring on the Jesuits’ explusion from Central and South America in 1767. The cultural effects of the Jesuit missions long outlasted their presence on the continent, and the European musical influence can still be heard today among the descendants of the indigenous peoples of the region.

The anonymous Catalan A Belén Devem Anar is a fine illustration of the musical and cultural melting pot that is the Old World Christmas villancico. Its form follows one of the more common patterns within its genre, with an introduction followed by an estribillo, or refrain, a middle dialogue section, and two coplas, or verses, framed by the estribillo. The text employs a literary device common to many Christmas carols of the time, drawing contemporary peasants into the Christmas story, where they offer gifts of local wines and cheeses to the infant Jesus.

Oboists Juan Bautista and José Plà came from a musical Catalan family (their brother Manuel (ca. 1725-1766) was a harpsichordist in Madrid) that worked as virtuoso oboists across Europe, spending time in Italy, Belgium, France, England, and Portugal. The Sonata in D minor is taken from a collection published and/or composed jointly by the two brothers, whose 30+ trio sonatas and almost 100 other works blend their native Iberian dance forms and melodic idioms with the cosmopolitan, Italian-influenced style of the European late baroque.

Born in Havana in 1725, Esteban Salas was the first known native-born Cuban Classical composer. While his music has enjoyed almost uninterrupted performance in Cuba, it is just beginning to be recognized outside of his native country. Salas served most of his life as maestro de capilla at the cathedral in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city. Salas’ music is full of contradictions – alternatively conservative and forward-looking, heavily influenced by prevailing trends in Italian music yet incorporating native Cuban poetical and musical elements, and effectively adapted to the performing forces he had at his disposal. His cantata ¡Tú mi Dios entre pajas! opens with a highly dramatic recitative followed by a lovely da capo aria in the galant style.

Fabián Garcia Pacheco trained as a chorister at the cathedral in his native Toledo, and worked most of his life in Madrid. His music was held in high esteem in the New World, and copies of his works survive in cathedral archives across Spain and in Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala. The Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City holds one of the largest collections of sacred music from the Colonial era, and includes some of the only surviving copies of many works by many well-known composers from the Renaissance to the early 19th century. The cathedral has undertaken a massive campaign to preserve and digitize their musical holdings, and much of it (including many works that are badly damaged or illegible) is now available online.

During his lifetime, Sebastián Durón was considered one of Spain’s leading composers of stage works, and balanced that aspect of his career with work as a cathedral musician and composer. Political intrigue caused him to flee to France, where he spent the later years of his life. Although Durón never left Europe, his music was especially well known in the New World, and both the lovely villancico for four voices and the feisty Jácara for solo soprano and basso continuo on today’s program come to us from the Archivo Colonial in Guatemala City.

The prolific Spanish composer Juan Francés de Iribarren, whose long career included 16 years as maestro de capilla at the Old Cathedral in Salamanca, followed by 33 years at the Cathedral in Malaga, left almost 1000 extant works, including 390 villancicos and over 100 Italian-style cantatas. The cantata Por Aquel Horizonte follows the same form as the Salas cantata on the first half of the program, a brief recitative followed by a da capo aria. Iribarren’s poetry expresses the overpowering joy at Jesus’ birth through imaginative and colorful imagery, which is carried into the cheerful and bubbling music of the aria.

In the six Jesuit missions in Bolivia’s eastern Santa Cruz region, Indigenous musicians continued to play 18th century music off of parts hand-copied from the originals well into the 19th century. Beginning in 1969, work to preserve the extensive archive of the Chiquitos and Moxos has resulted in bringing the wealth of Baroque music from this region to an international audience. The anonymous Pastoreta Ychepe Flauta was quite possibly written by an Indigenous composer, and is one of the small number of purely instrumental works in the Chiquitos and Moxos archive. Scored for recorder and strings, its style resembles the Neapolitan-influenced music that makes up a large part of the archive’s contents, bearing witness to the strong cultural ties between the Jesuits of that part of Spanish-controlled Italy and their New World colleagues.

By the end of the 18th century, the Christmas villancico was changing further, often trading its unique Iberian formal elements for those of the Italian cantata. That is evident in the latest work on today’s program, Esteban Salas’ Resuenen Armoniosos los Clarines, a villancico for four voices, strings, and continuo composed for Christmas 1798 or 1799. An instrumental sinfonia introduces a call-and-response dialogue between solo soprano and chorus, followed by an accompanied recitative and da capo aria. The final chorus blends native Cuban folk rhythms and melodic structures with Italianate classical string writing to bring the piece to a festive conclusion.

We end the program with Iribarren’s Bello sol rutilante, a villancico for four voices, instruments, and continuo written during the composer’s years in Malaga and preserved in the Guatemala City Cathedral archive. The text, a triumphal celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven after the Resurrection, serves to remind us that, much like the window into the music of the New World that this program provides, the events of that first Christmas were neither the beginning nor the end of the story, but a part of something much larger.

– Henry Lebedinsky