Semana Santa in Popayán: 4. Tuesday of Holy Week

[Professor emeritus J. Richard Haefer continues his letters from the Festival of Religious Music in Popayán, Colombia.]

What a marvelous day for traditional Catholic music and Baroque music in general. Syntagma Musicum, a professional ensemble from Costa Rica, presented the noontime concert. All of the members except two are faculty at the University of Costa Rica and the flautist and oboist perform in the San José symphony. Baroque flute and oboe and a natural 4’ trumpet were used though the other instruments were modern. The concert consisted of several trio sonatas by Purcell, Loeillet, de la Guerre, and Mancini any of which would be suitable as special music before or after Mass. Of vocal interest were the several villancicos.

Ausente del alma mía by the New Spain Antiguan (today Guatemala) Rafael Antonio Castellanos (1727-1791) is a villancico for the Ascension for two violins, voice and continuo. Doctor María Clara Vargas Cullell, the director of the ensemble, performed on the harpsichord and a bassoon added the bass to the continuo. They chose to add castanets and tambourine as percussion, acceptable for the style of the times but for paraliturgical use (I would not add the percussion in church). The text is predominantly Spanish but with several africanisms. The syncopated style of the villancicos was well done. Castellanos was a prolific composer of villancicos and sacred compositions in Latin text and many are available in recordings today.

Three additional villancicos were performed in the same style: Alto mis gitanas (anonymous from the Cathedral Archive in Bogotá), Niño mio by José Francisco Velázquez (active in Caracas 1755-1805), and Atención a la fragua amorosa (anonymous, Ecuador, New Granada, 17th century). The first two are religious in nature, both for the birth of Our Lord while the latter is secular. The gitanas refers to the “Guitana” of the 16th chronicle of Juan de Castellanos, a character who is cruelly evil against all things or people who are good. The villancico text asks for Our Savior to free the people from the “Evil One,” and from the evil caciques in New Spain. The piece was found in the Archivo Musical de Chiquitos in Bolivia (Nueva Granada). Atención, also called a tonadilla, speaks of the meeting of lovers.

The motet Deus Meus by Francisco Antonio Godoy (late 18th century) was arranged for the entire ensemble including a small marimba (instead of the natural trumpet). The original was found in he archive in Antigua. Ignacio [de] Jerusalem (1710-1769)  was one of the most important composers in 18th century Mexico City. Although recruited to lead the music at the Coliseo de México he was soon recruited to provide compositions for the Cathedral but many of the priests resisted the modernity of his music. Finally in 1750 he was appointed Maestro de Capilla. Cherubes y pastores is an aria for the nativity season. Among the secular music performed was a Costa Rican Indian dance tune promising service to the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas, the crucified Christ depicted in a renowned image in Guatemala.   (Videos of the ensemble from a festival of early music are here.)

The five p.m. concert by the German ensemble Calmus (four men and one woman) provided an excellent presentation of Baroque music by German composers. All with German text (unsuitable for the Latin mass), the theme of the program was centered on Vulgate Psalm 116.The concert per se was by far the best of the series with the expected Germanic precision and control of all elements of the music. The texts were clearly understood and the intonation impeccable. The blend between soprano, countertenor, two tenors and bass provided a soothing sound. The only disappointment was the opening Canto Gregoriano, Dilexi quoniam audies Domine (Ps 116) that was sung on a psalm tone as an entrance procession. The mixture of male and female voices was most disturbing to a traditionalist.

Waiting now (11:00 PM) for the Procession to reach our hotel. It left the church of San Augustin some three hours ago.