¡Feliz Navidad! Christmas from Spain and New Spain

Our recording of this program is available at our CD store.


Saturday, December 8, Emmanuel Church, Boston
Sunday, December 9, Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester

Viendo cómo al niño cantan         Antonio Ripa (1721-1795)

Por aquel horizonte              Juan Francés de Iribarren (1699-1767)

Passacalles III                 Juan Bautista Cabanilles (1644-1712)

Un ciego     que, con trabajo canta coplas        Antonio de Salazar (1650-1715)

Ha del rústico pastor         Antonio Literes (1673-1747)


Al dormir el sol en la cuna del alba    Sebastián Durón (1660-1716)

Cherubes y pastores            Ignacio Jerusalem (1707-1769)

Canción 8 (Pastoral) • Canción 3            Antonio Rodríguez de Hita (1722-1787)
Pues ya gozais, pastores                 Pere Rabassa (1683-1767)

Antón y Gila                Antonio Soler (1729-1783)

Deborah Rentz-Moore, Pamela Dellal, and Catherine Hedberg, mezzo-sopranos,
Matthew Anderson, tenor
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Christina Day Martinson and Hilary Walther Cumming, violins
Daniel Ryan, cello; Olav Chris Henriksen, Baroque guitar and theorbo
Nancy Hurrell, Spanish harp; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program Notes
In the celebrations of Christmas and other major feasts in the liturgical calendar, the countries of the Iberian peninsula and their colonies developed the unique musical tradition of the villancico. This extra-liturgical musical form enjoyed great popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. It used the local vernacular language in a rhythmically lively, strophic format, and its association with the rustic made it especially favored for use in Christmas celebrations.

The villancicos of Salazar and Durón included in this program are typical of the style cultivated in the 17th century. These vocal duets with continuo accompaniment employ triple meter with frequent use of hemiola (a “jazzy” shift of metrical accent). Antonio Salazar was maestro de capilla in Puebla and Mexico City. Many of his villancicos are in the dance-song genres of the folía, jácara, negro, and others. His Un ciego que con trabajo canta coplas is in this earthy, dance-like vein. By contrast, the villancico Al dormir by the Seville composer Sebastián Durón is a lullaby with its hemiolas creating a gentle rocking effect.

By the eighteenth century the villancico form began to expand and change. To its traditional refrain -verse-refrain structure, an introductory section was added, and internal verse-refrain sections were often found. Antonio Ripa’s Viendo cómo al niño cantan is typical of this later villancico style. Ripa was maestro at Seville and a widely admired composer both in Spain and in the New World. Viendo cómo displays the energetic rhythmic flair and folkloric flavor of the genre, with lively dialogue between soloists and ensemble.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, political forces brought about changes in Spanish musical style. With the change from the Hapsburg to the Bourbon dynasty, the Italian style became all the rage. A “modernization” of Spanish music was underway and soon after the cantata style was introduced, the villancico began to include some Italianate elements. A prime example of an Italianate Spanish cantata is Ha del rústico pastor by the composer and violone player Antonio Literes who was at the Royal Chapel in Madrid . This brilliant work, composed for the feast of the Epiphany, features arias with engaging exchange between the voice and ensemble. A further “fashionable” element in the work is the inclusion of a French minuet.

Another important composer of Spanish cantatas is Juan Francés de Iribarren, the maestro at Salamanca and Málaga cathedrals. A prolific composer of villancicos and cantatas, his works make frequent and imaginative use of obbligato instruments. One of hundreds of works composed for Málaga cathedral, the joyous cantata Por aquel horizonte uses the treble instruments effectively to represent the gentle zephyrs that accompany the happy scene at Bethlehem.

Ignacio Jerusalem was a prominent composer and choirmaster in Mexico City. He set a high standard for music-making in the capital, reforming and improving the musical forces there, and composing a large body of works that were performed widely and as far afield as the California missions. His cantata Cherubes y pastores is a fine example of his expressive and harmonically sophisticated style.

The villancico Pues ya gozais, pastores by the Catalonian composer Pere Rabassa blends both indigenous and Italianate elements. The virtuoso melismatic passages, evocative of the shepherds’ joy, are in a thoroughly up-to-date style, while the frequent use of hemiola gives the work the rhythmic flair of the earlier villancico style.

Antonio Soler was a multifaceted musician—composer, theoretician, and organ assessor, as well as mathematician and cleric. His villancico Antón y Gila is a work imbued with humor and theatricality that displays elements of both the traditional villancico form and Italian opera. In fact, the work is more like a miniature opera scene. The bulk of the piece is the spirited and often humorous banter between the protagonists (set in recitative and duo aria) as they look in on the manger scene.

Although there is evidence that instrumental ensemble music was cultivated in Spain and other Latin countries during the Baroque period, the lack of extant sources is truly puzzling. This may be accounted for, in part, by a strong improvisation tradition, particularly in the 17th century, and by the devastating fire of the royal Alcázar de Madrid in 1734 in which many sources of 18th-century instrumental music were lost. Surviving works by two organists were selected for inclusion in this program—the passacalles is a transcription of an organ work by Juan Bautista Cabanilles of Valencia and the canciónes are from a collection of 75 short pieces for wind instruments by Palencia Cathedral organist Antonio Rodríguez de Hita.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf