Cristóbal de Morales

born: c1500
died: 1553
country: Spain

‘For composing polyphony I would take as master the works of Adriano, of Christoval de Morales, and of Gomberth.’

Writing in 1555, the Spanish theorist Juan Bermudo thus picked out the three leading musicians of his generation, born at or just before the turn of the sixteenth century. All three were known throughout Europe: the two Flemings, Adrian Willaert and Nicolas Gombert, were active at the basilica of St Mark in Venice and the court of Emperor Charles V respectively; Morales had spent a decade as a tenor singer in the Sistine Chapel choir before returning to his native Spain in 1545. In the remaining eight years of his life he had been chapel master at Toledo Cathedral, attached to the court of the Duke of Arcos, and finally maestro at the cathedral of Málaga. He was the first Spanish composer to achieve true international fame, and was described by Bermudo as the ‘light of Spain in music’.

Partly as a result of the celebrity derived during his Roman sojourn, Morales has in modern times been the most widely acknowledged and performed composer of the mid-sixteenth century. His style would appear to have been influential on the youthful Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina; although Palestrina’s tenure as a singer in the Sistine Chapel began only after Morales’s death, the latter’s music was certainly in the repertoire of the Cappella Giulia (the choir of St Peter’s Basilica, which unlike the Sistine Chapel choir was largely staffed by native Italians and of which Palestrina was magister cantorum between 1551 and 1555). The dissemination of Morales’s music was extremely wide by the standards of his generation, his motets appearing in over thirty prints from 1535 to around 1570, as well as many manuscript collections.

Morales’s output runs to over 220 works, of which all but a handful are sacred. Like most of his contemporaries, the motet is the dominant genre; twenty-three Masses are securely attributed to him, as compared with approximately 150 motets. Although Morales is relatively well represented in recordings, a few pieces have attracted the attention of performers at the expense of the majority of his output.

from notes by Stephen Rice

Albums

Morales: Magnificat, Motets & Lamentations
CDA67694
Morales: Missa Queramus cum pastoribus & other sacred music
CDH55276Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Morales: Missa Si bona suscepimus
Studio Master: CDGIM033Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available