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Dancing in the New World

Tap your toes, grab your dancing shoes, and find a partner. This week on Harmonia, we’re exploring dances heard in the Spanish Viceroys of Colonial America.

A map of colonial South America.

The stately pavon was a peacock and canarios a dance! Tap your toes, grab your dancing shoes, and find a partner. This hour on Harmonia, we’re exploring dances heard in the Spanish Viceroys of Colonial Central and South America. In addition, we’ll hear music from our featured release by Ensemble Mare Nostrum, the 2013 recording Nueva España.


Vocal and instrumental music from El Nuevo Musico, a recording featuring music heard in the Spanish Viceroys of the New World. Jordi Savall directed members of La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI, and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo. We heard “El Pajarillo,” or, “The Bird.”


Sacred or Not?

Welcome to Harmonia. Today, we’re exploring dance music from the New World Viceroyalties of the Spanish Empire. When the conquistadors crossed the Atlantic Ocean, they discovered both indigenous musical traditions and the rich musical heritage of the great Aztec, Incan, and Mayan empires of pre-Columbian Central and South America.

Mid-17th century composer Lucas Ruiz Ribayaz was born in Spain. In 1667, he traveled to Peru, where he lived for about a decade before returning to Spain. However, he left a great deal of music behind in Peru, including these dances. We’ll hear “Zarambeques,” “Pabanas,” and “Canarios,” performed here by Piffaro. 

We heard dances by Spanish composer Lucas Ruiz Ribayaz from the 2012 Piffaro recording, Los ministriles in the New World.

Naturally, most dance music was written to be danced to! However, some dance pieces weren’t actually intended for dancing – instead, they were composed to entice people to go to church. Since the Spanish crown used the excuse of evangelization in order to justify the expense of colonization to the Vatican, popular styles from both Europe and the New World were used in worship. We’ll hear a few dance pieces, in both Spanish and Native languages, masquerading as religious pieces.

Religious pieces in dance style, written by Gaspar Fernandez, and performed by Ensemble Elyma, under the direction of Gabriel Garrido. 


European Imports

In Colonial South America, European dance forms were freely combined with New World and African styles and rhythms. Mexico City, in particular, produced world-class cosmopolitan dance music by both native-born and European composers. In fact, the musical scene in Colonial Mexico City was said to rival that of Seville. Let’s hear a dance piece by Puebla-born composer Garcia de Zéspedes. 

We heard “Guaracha – Ay que me abaraso,” performed by Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, and Hespèrion XXI. Jordi Savall was the director of that 2010 release, El Neuvo Mundo: Folías Criollas.

Much of the dance music that was performed in the New World was imported from Europe. Music by Spanish composer Santiago de Murcia was almost certainly performed in the Spanish Viceroys of Central and South America. Some of Santiago de Murcia’s works survive in the Saldívar Codex no. 4. Dating from 1722, the codex includes music and instructions for learning to play the guitar. Since there is no evidence that Santiago de Murcia ever actually visited the New World, this work may have been a copy commissioned by patrons to take across the Atlantic. Here are a few dances from that work, performed by Ensemble Kapsberger. 

We heard “Fandango” and “Zarambiques,” dances composed by Santiago de Murcia, and performed by Ensemble Kapsberger.


And Guatemala, Too!

Welcome back. Today on Harmonia, we’re exploring dance music from Colonial Central and South America. New World music comes to us not only from well-known urban centers such as Bogotá and Mexico City – but also from Guatemala! Visitors to the Spanish Viceroyalties at the time of the conquistadors frequently commented on the sophisticated music heard in worship services in the New World. Let’s hear some celebratory dances from the recording, Oy hasemos fiesta todas, performed by Ensemble Lipzodes with The Pro Arte Singers of Indiana University. 

We heard dances from Guatemalan manuscripts, housed in the Lilly Library at Indiana University, and performed by Ensemble Lipzodes, on shawms, dulcians, and percussion, alongside The Pro Arte Singers.

Commonly heard instruments in the Spanish-speaking New World included loud Renaissance winds and plucked strings. These instruments’ large bores and sturdy materials were less susceptible to the extreme humidity felt around the equator than the finicky gut-stringed violins and viola da gambas of Europe. Contemporary iconography in Mexican churches depicts a slew of vihuelas and harps, alongside a veritable feast of Renaissance winds – so many that the casual observer might fail to notice the almost complete absence of bowed stringed instruments. Let’s hear some of those Renaissance winds!

Music from the recording Los ministriles in the New World, performed by Piffaro.


Nueva España

Our featured release is the recording Nueva España, which showcases the son, a particular genre of dance music that flourished in the New World. Like many other kinds of dance music, most pieces written in this style relied heavily on a common language of repeating rhythmic patterns and regular harmonic progressions.

We heard “Tres Morillas” and “Marizápalos,” from the recording Nueva España. The singer was Nora Tabbush. Andrea de Carlo directed and played viola da gamba with Ensemble Mare Nostrum.

The son remains a popular genre in Mexico today. Given its heavily improvisatory roots, many Mexicans consider it just the thing for a party – sort of like jazz in the United States!

Music from our featured release, Nueva España, performed by Ensemble Mare Nostrum.


Break and theme music

:30, El nuevo mundo: Folías criollas, Monserrat Figueras, soprano; Tembembe Ensamble Continuo; La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Hespèrion XXI; Jordi Savall, director, Alia Vox 2010, Tr. 2 Cachua a duo y Cuatro “Nino il Mijor” 

:60, Los ministriles in the New World, Piffaro, Navona Records 2012, Tr. 2 Folias gallegas

:30, Santiago de Murcia Codex: Selections from the Saldívar codex no. 4, 18th-century dance music transcribed for guitar, Ensemble Kapsberger, Tr. 4 Canarios

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.

Sarah Huebsch

Sarah Huebsch , DM, performs on period oboes throughout North America. Sarah holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and Indiana University. She started writing for Harmonia in May 2016.

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