Semana Santa in Popayán: 3. Monday of Holy Week

[J. Richard Haefer reports on the Festival de Música Religiosa in Popayán, Colombia:]

Popayán is one of Colombia’s oldest Colonial cities founded in 1537 by Sebastián Belalcazár and is located on the way between Bogotá (a one hour flight to the East) and Quito (about 20 hours by road to the Southwest). An important religious and cultural city (the university was founded in 1827) Popayán is today a curious mixture of Indito, Mestizo, and Hispanic culture and lifeways.

Monday of Holy Week featured the Misa del Cargueros. The cargueros are the men who carry the large palios or platforms with the life size statues and scenarios during the nighttime processions. It takes eight strong men to carry each platform that is about six feet by eight feet in size, many with three or four life-size statues. The Mass was prayed in honor for those who had died since last year and to honor those with up to fifty years of service.

At noon in the rebuilt 18th-century style church of San José with an audience of more than 150 the choir with the funny name “Las Gatos — Coro” (“Cats Choir“) presented a stunning concert of sacred motets from the 16th and early 17th centuries. Director Félix Córdoba Galvis showed a clear understanding of Renaissance motet style conducting the mixed choir of thirteen singers in an aesthetically pleasing presentation. Professor Córdoba from Cali, has a very relaxed conducting style but with an obvious control over the choir exhibiting carefully measured dynamics and tempi.

Of the fourteen motets (complete list follows at end) all would be suitable for use at a Mass. Most were “old war-horses” such as Lasso’s Super flumina Babylonis and Palestrina’s O bone Jesu and Sicut cervus, and most were for four part voices, though two were @5 with an SSATB chorus. Others such as Victoria’s Vere languores and O lux et decus Hispanie are less well known. Purists (or priests) might object to the Palestrina Haec Dies at the Gradual of the Mass for Easter but it is a wonderful composition.

The blend of the group was excellent for the most part, though frequently one soprano voice “stuck out” due to her vocal quality. Contrasts between homorhythmic sections and the contrapuntal points of imitation represented the style nicely and the choir managed the modal harmonies with little trouble.

Presented chronologically, the motets well represented the sacred music of the Renaissance from Lasso to Victoria. With the exception of the Franco-Flemish Rolando de Lassus (as Orlando di Lasso he wrote in the Italian style) and Francisco Guerrero and Tomas Luis de Victoria, the composers were all Italian though the latter represent the best of Spanish Renaissance music.

The program concluded with two secular villancicos by Manuel Machado and two madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi. One must carefully check the texts of villancicos to determine if they are secular or religious in nature. Some villancico texts may seem on the surface to be secular but they may well have been used for para-liturgical celebrations. More about that tomorrow, as we will hear more villancicos then. Some villancicos were also used in Colonial times to replace Responses at Matins for particular feasts. These two, however, are definitely secular compositions.

Machado was born and trained in Lisbon but moved to Madrid where his father was harpist at the Royal Chapel. In 1639 he became a musician at the palace of Felipe IV for the rest of his life. Although he wrote several sacred compositions, he is best known for his secular cantigas (@3 or 4) and villancicos.

Monteverdi’s two madrigals appeared to come as a shock to the audience with his harsh dissonances contrasting with the smooth, readily resolved dissonances of the rest of the program. However, to a musician who loves Monteverdi they were a pleasant ending to an excellent concert.

The evening concert was strictly secular music for a group of ten violas and an actress (with a pedagogical aspect suitable better for elementary school children). However, tomorrow promises to be another day of excellent religious, if not sacred, music.

List of compositions performed:
Orlando di Lasso: Super flumina Babylonis
Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina: O bone Iesu, Sicut cervus, Haec Dies, Adoramus te
Felice Anerio: Ave Maris Stella
Francisco Guerrero: Ave Virgo Sanctissima
Tomas Luis de Victoria: Vere languores, O lux et decus Hispanie
Tomas Luis de Victoria: O quam gloriosum, Popule meus, Estate forte in velo, Iesu dulcis memoria, Gaude Maria Virgo
Manuel Machado: Bien podeis corazón, [O]Escurece las montañas
Claudio Monteverdi: Lasciate mi moriré, Ecce mormorar fonde