Photo: Courtesy of the Artist
Church music in Spanish colonial Mexico
The earliest composers in Spanish colonial Mexico were not usually native to that part of the world but came from the Iberian Peninsula, either Spain or Portugal. They were employed as chapelmasters at the cathedrals of Mexico City or Puebla, where their responsibilities often included providing music for masses and other church celebrations, training and directing choristers, playing the organ, and, in general, making sure that all of the musical demands of the cathedral were met.
One exceptional composer from this period was Gaspar Fernandes. Originally from Portugal, Fernandes first came to the New World employed as chapelmaster at the cathedral in Antigua, Guatemala, before being appointed to a similar position in Puebla.
Among his surviving compositions is a manuscript of canzonetas and villancicos that holds the distinction of the being the largest collection of music in the New World from the 17th Century. On top of that, his motet Elegit eum Dominus is the earliest known work in Latin written by a Spanish colonial composer.
Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla
By the time Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla left his native Southern Spain and took up a position as assistant to Fernandes at Puebla Cathedral in 1622, the cathedral itself was one of the finest musical establishments in all of Spanish colonial America. The city of Puebla was an arguably greater religious center than Mexico City.
For seven years, Padilla and Fernandes worked together until Fernandez passed away (leaving Padilla to take over as chapelmaster, a position he held for the rest of his life).
During the three-and-a-half decades that followed, Padilla composed the typical kinds of works expected of a man in his position, including masses, motets, other sacred music, and villancicos. Thanks to an order he received by church administrators when initially appointed chapelmaster, Padilla turned copies of his music in to the cathedral archives. Many years later—and months before his death—his works were officially organized and preserved.
Today, Padilla’s surviving compositions can be found in archives at Puebla and Mexico City.
Jesús Sánchez Garza Collection
Made up of nearly four hundred works in manuscript from the 17th and 18th Centuries, the Jesús Sánchez Garza Collection is an important resource for performers and scholars wanting to study music from the Spanish colonial Era.
The collection is the last vestige of repertoire that was once owned by the colonial convent of the Holy Trinity in Puebla. Acquired in 1967 by the National Institute of Fine Arts, the collection is a rich repository of music composed by Spanish and New World composers (both native and transplanted).
Our featured release focuses on the baroque guitar music of Santiago de Murcia from the Saldívar Codex no. 4 in a special recording that brings together Murcia’s original music with similar works found in the modern-day Son Jarocho, or traditional musical style of Veracruz, Mexico, which is said to have changed little since colonial times.
American early guitarist Lee Santana leads a Mexican group of guitarists, harpists, and a percussionist known as Ensamble Continuo.