The composers and works represented on this afternoon's concert span the whole of the 16th century and were created out of the rich cross-pollination of aesthetic seeds which first sprouted in Venice and Rome, were nurtured in Seville and Cadiz, and ultimately bore fruit in New Spain, an entire hemisphere removed. While the Latin texts may sometimes strike the casual listener as musty reminders of an age far removed from our 21st-century sensibility, all of this music was superbly crafted to reflect and amplify both the particular style and venue of each composer's circumstance - and like all great music that endures for four centuries, still illumines for us today the expression of divine truths while reveling in the glories of the human voice.
The first name linked to Gabrieli is usually Giovanni, but it was his uncle, Andrea, who is given credit for establishing a stature for Venetian composers that would cross all the boundaries of continental Europe at a time when the reputation of musicians from the Netherlands and surrounding region reigned supreme. Nevertheless, it was an artist from that same area of Europe, Orlande de Lassus, who further sparked Andrea Gabrieli's creative drive in the early 1560s. His first publication, a book of five-part sacred songs, was dedicated to Lassus's employer, Duke Albrecht. Andrea Gabrieli is credited with developing the concept of cori spezzati, or the spatial separation of two or more choirs - a technique developed more fully by his nephew, Giovanni.
While Cristobal Morales is acknowledged as the primary source of the flowering of polyphony in 16th-century Spain, and an indispensable foundation for the work of Francisco Guerrero and Tomas Luis de Victoria, he must be accorded an even higher honor, that of the first Iberian composer of truly international import. This legacy was already being recognized in 1555, when Juan Bermudo wrote in the Declaracion de Instrumenros " ... his music possesses the charm and pleasing sound of Spanish music, yet at the same time it does not lack the profundity, the technical skill and the artifice of foreign music."Such profundity, expressed by deceptively simple means is evident in a work such as 'Ecce sic, benedicitur,’" with its emphasis on understatement in lieu of heavy-handed word painting. With overlapping phrases and canonic fragments that hint at a potentially fertile polyphonic field, Morales lovingly builds to a serene tranquil conclusion.
Juan Gutierrez de Padilla is perhaps the most intriguing figure on today's program: after acquiring and achieving renown as maestro de capella at Cadiz Cathedral while still in his mid-twenties, he mysteriously left the post only to resurface as assistant maestro at Pueblo Cathedral on October 11, 1622. The musical forces there were not only considered the finest in Spanish America, but virtually the equal of Europe's best. Within twenty years, Padilla was not only enjoying a reputation as the finest composer of liturgical music in the New World, but had also produced a large number of secular works known as villancicos. As early as 1641, there is documentation that reveals Padilla managed a workshop selling instruments in Mexico and Guatemala. But it is in hearing a motet such as “Mirabilia testimonia tua” ... that we experience the most enduring qualities of this musical New World pioneer.
The name Thomas Luis de Victoria may be the most familiar to many in today’s audience, and his reputation was well earned. Of the many who studied with (as Victoria did) or were simply influenced by the great Palestrina, few could stand direct comparison with him. The great master may have had something of a paternal bent toward the young Spaniard: Victoria was around the age of Palestrina's two sons when he travelled to Rome in 1565 to prepare for the priesthood. He did not return to his native land until probably 1587, although his successes in Italy continued unabated for the rest of his life. The ''Regina caeli laetare" is one of the four Marian antiphons to which Victoria was drawn time and time again. As in the bulk of his music, this work is imbued with the great depth of the composer's religious fervor, expressed in this instance with the alteration of passages of close imitation and scalar sequences w1th animated interplay for the alleluia sections.