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Hyperion Records

CDH55313 - Guerrero: Missa Sancta et immaculata & other sacred music
Stained glass window depicting the Annunciation in Seville Cathedral (1534) by Arnao de Vergara (?-?)
(Originally issued on CDA66910)
Recording details: March 1997
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: August 2008
Total duration: 63 minutes 39 seconds


'Exhilarating, full of variety, and spiritually uplifting. Westminster Cathedral Choir are on their very best form, incisive and thrilling. Very highly recommended' (Gramophone)

'The music and performances on this disc defy superlatives—just go out and buy it!' (Early Music Today)

'Spellbinding: a really magnificent achievement' (Goldberg)

Missa Sancta et immaculata & other sacred music
Kyrie  [4'29] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [5'53] LatinEnglish
Credo  [9'16] LatinEnglish

Guerrero, Victoria and Morales together comprise the triumvirate at the pinnacle of the Spanish Renaissance, and of these Guerrero was without doubt the most highly respected in his time.

Missa Sancta et immaculata comes from his first published collection of Masses (1566) and takes its theme from Morales's motet Sancta et immaculata virginitas ('Holy and immaculate virginity'). Guerrero expands the original four-part texture to include a second soprano line, and the resultant shimmering texture marks this out to be a truly remarkable Mass. This is its first recording.

Two motets, a Magnificat setting, and three Vesper hymns complete this recording, the latter works beginning a long-overdue exploration of the wealth of Hispanic melody, a unique treasury in the chant repertoire. Lauda mater ecclesia is an extraordinary work setting a—somewhat smutty—text (now removed from the liturgy) in honour of Mary Magdalen.

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Introduction  EnglishFranšaisEspa˝ol
He was the most extraordinary of his time in the Art of Music’; so wrote Francisco Pacheco in his Book of True Portraits. Pacheco, Velásquez’s father-in-law, has left us a brief biographical sketch as well as a fine likeness of this gentle composer. Guerrero means ‘warrior’—was there ever a musician so misnamed? Pacheco had garnered much of his information from the composer’s own published travelogue of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1588—El viaje de Hierusalem—in which Guerrero gave some account of his early years.

The son of a painter and younger brother of Pedro, also a fine musician, Francisco Guerrero became the most influential and respected composer in Spain in the time of Philip II. Trained by his brother and taught his art as a chorister at Seville Cathedral, Guerrero was also tutored by Cristóbal de Morales: ‘… always desirous of improving myself, I received instruction from that great and excellent master’ (from the Prologue to El viaje de Hierusalem). From Pacheco we learn that Guerrero possessed a beautiful high tenor voice (‘escogida voz de contra alto’). Had he been a falsettist, as has sometimes been suggested, he would have been described as a ‘tiple’. Certainly he was versatile and gifted, playing the organ, vihuela, harp and cornett.

Guerrero published more than one hundred motets, two books of Masses, Psalms, hymns and canticles for Vespers, music for the Office of the Dead, two Passions, and a collection of religious villancicos in Castilian Spanish. More religious and secular music survives in numerous manuscripts in Spain and central America. The extant published collections span the years 1555 to 1597.

As a young man Guerrero served some three years as maestro at Jaén Cathedral, being appointed in his eighteenth year, but thereafter he spent his whole career at Seville in the service of that most splendid Spanish ecclesiastical establishment, rivalled only by Toledo. He took a few trips abroad, to Rome in 1581/2 where he met Victoria, and then to Venice in 1588 on his way to Jerusalem. He met Zarlino at St Mark’s; the great maestro and theorist agreed to proofread Guerrero’s two publications which subsequently appeared in 1589.

Guerrero is now considered to be one of the three greatest Spanish composers of the sixteenth century. Compared to the dour Morales, his manner is less rugged, less powerful; compared to Victoria, Guerrero seems less tightly organized, less concise. Yet, these negative viewpoints (which have been expressed in some modern histories) do little justice to a composer so gifted with expressive powers and endless melodic invention that he was undoubtedly the best known of these three ‘greats’. If one had asked any Spanish musician of, say, the 1580s to name the leading composer of the day, the answer would have been Guerrero. Robert Stevenson has written that the moods he captured include ecstasy, gaiety, melancholy, longing, submission and repose. One could add grandeur and solemnity, as in Hei mihi, Domine and Vexilla Regis, and even dance-like vivacity, as in the hymn to Mary Magdalen Lauda mater ecclesia. His stylistic and emotional spectrum is much wider than that of any Spaniard of the period.

Guerrero’s first published setting of the Ordinary of the Mass is a tribute to his admired predecessor and one-time teacher, Cristóbal de Morales. The Missa Sancta et immaculata heads the Liber primus missarum which was printed in Paris by Nicolas du Chemin in 1566. It is based on Morales’s four-voiced motet Sancta et immaculata virginitas, a notably successful work published twice (in 1541 and 1546) and surviving also in manuscripts still extant in Seville, Toledo and Valladolid. Guerrero makes use of all Morales’s main themes, the opening one in particular. He transforms his model into an elaborate set of variations, re-combining motifs, stretching them, spinning them out and accompanying them with a dazzling array of new counter-melodies and harmonic situations.

In one respect, Guerrero’s transformation is radical: he employs five voices (SSATB), the twin superius (soprano) parts producing a shimmering effect as they twist and turn around each other, often in imitation. All five voices are used throughout the Kyrie and Gloria. In the Credo, Guerrero reduces his texture at ‘Crucifixus’ to just the three upper voices (SSA), and when all five return at ‘Et iterum venturus est’ it is with full chordal declamation in strong contrast to the airy spun-out weaving of the trio. In the Gloria and Credo the intonations are taken from the Intonario general para todas las yglesias de España (1548), in which they are designated for Feasts of the Blessed Virgin.

At the Sanctus, Guerrero takes the head-motif and uses it as an ostinato (in the second soprano), repeating it five times, alternately at two pitches a fourth apart, simply to the word ‘Sanctus’; the other voices sing the full text. ‘Pleni sunt’ is for three voices, and the ‘Osanna’ follows with a tutti full of syncopations, off-beat entries and lots of play in accentuations, set in a triple time called tiempo de proporción. The Benedictus returns to the technique of cantus firmus obstinatus with even clearer statements of the initial theme: it is now sung (unusually, in the context of a setting of the Mass Ordinary) to the words ‘Sancta et immaculata’. The tenor voice sings this four times, alternately low and high, a fourth apart. The ‘Osanna’ is repeated.

There is only one Agnus Dei; it ends with ‘dona nobis pacem’. Here Guerrero expands his choir to six voices, adding an extra bass. It is a wonderfully organic piece of music. There is much imitative dovetailing of phrases, especially between the twin soprano and twin bass parts. The plea for peace echoes affectingly from voice to voice.

Hei mihi, Domine has a text taken from the Office of the Dead, but it is an extra-liturgical piece, a motet for optional use during the ceremonies or on other penitential occasions. It was first published by Guerrero in his second book of Masses (1582), where it is appended to the revised version of his Missa pro defunctis (Requiem). The piece was published again in 1589 and in 1597. Written for six voices (SSATTB), it has, in typical motet style, a new and distinctive phrase for each successive clause of the text, taken up by the voices in close imitation. Guerrero emphasizes their differences by using rising or falling contours, calm or agitated rhythms (the latter evident at ‘Ubi fugiam?’). Near the end of this dark and stately piece, the composer draws his lower voices in step together to pronounce ‘Miserere mei dum veneris …’, adding upward shifts of harmony for emphasis. A moment later, at ‘… in novissimo die’, he drops in a flattened note that casts a fleeting shadow across the music as it dies to its close. Guerrero’s deft strokes like these are all the more effective for their carefully reserved use; they became stock-in-trade and often over-used by some of his successors in Spain, Portugal and the New World.

Trahe me post te, Virgo Maria is one of Guerrero’s most celebrated works, perhaps only second to Ave Virgo sanctissima (recorded on Hyperion CDA66168). It has the two top voices in canon ad tertiam, one following the other at the third above. This graceful motet sets a text from the Song of Songs (originally ancient Hebrew love poems), converted to a Marian Vespers antiphon for the Roman liturgy by the addition of the words ‘Virgo Maria’.

Cunningly, Guerrero gets four voices together at ‘carissima’ in drawn-out chords so that the fifth, the first soprano, seems to echo all its companions in a passage of great beauty, often remarked upon. Ascending voices chase each other at ‘I will go up the palm tree’: but Guerrero is never slavish with ‘eye-music’ or madrigalian extravagance. Trahe me dates back to Guerrero’s first known publication (1555) and was republished twice (in 1589 and 1597).

In 1584, at the height of his fame, Guerrero published his Liber Vesperarum. It is one of his greatest legacies, yet its contents have been less noticed by performers and publishers than have his Masses and motets. Almost everything in it requires completion by appropriate chant verses. The 1584 book contains seven Psalm settings, an antiphon for one of them, twenty-three hymns, a Te Deum, ten Magnificats (on the eight tones, plus two extras), a Salve Regina and a Regina coeli (Marian antiphons); it is rounded off by a grand second Regina coeli for eight voices.

The present recording offers the Magnificat septimi toni, and we have supplied the necessary alternate verses in chant based on the versions published by the great theorist and practitioner Juan Bermudo in 1555 and by Luys de Villafranca in 1565. The latter was plainchant master of the Seville choristers during part of Guerrero’s long career there. Very much in the manner of Morales, Guerrero saturates his polyphonic verses with allusions to, and quotations from, the chant formula. He expands the texture to five voices in the final verse.

With the three Vespers hymns (‘more hispano’—‘in the Spanish manner’) which conclude this recording, we come to a woefully neglected beauty spot in the field of Renaissance polyphony. Until recently the unusual, even unique, tunes employed in Spanish cathedrals were little known or understood. The music based upon them has been neglected. The repertoire is extensive but its use is complicated by the fact that much of it was notated not as plainchant but mensurally, to be performed in various note values, even in strict metrical rhythms. Writers in Guerrero’s time (and for the next three hundred years) are consistent in placing many hymns outside the term ‘canto llano’ (‘plainchant’).

Vexilla Regis is one of Guerrero’s finest hymns. Designated for Passion Sunday, it could (and can) be sung in Holy Week and on Feasts of the Holy Cross. The chant used in this performance is based on several sources, in particular the Intonarium Toletanum and Psalterium … toletane, both published in 1515. This hymn was also sung in plain versions of the chant; the measured one chosen on this occasion marries very well with the polyphony. The verse ‘O Crux, ave …’ expands to five voices.

Much the same may be said of O lux beata Trinitas. This short, three-verse hymn for Trinity Sunday is, like Vexilla Regis, in duple time. The chant is paraphrased by the top voice.

The third hymn, which concludes this recording, is a startling contrast. Here we have a lively triple-time hymn that bounces along like a merry dance. The Feast of St Mary Magdalen (22 July) accumulated a number of hymns, some of which took more than a little pleasure (feigned shock?) at her supposed dissolute early life. Lauda mater ecclesia was not too shocking and survived the reforms of the Council of Trent until it was replaced in 1603 by Cardinal Bellarmine’s newly written Pater superni luminis. Lauda mater ecclesia was still in use by the Dominican Order until a few years ago. It was popular in Guerrero’s time and was set by him and by other Spaniards including Andrés de Torrentes, Juan Navarro and Juan Esquivel. This Spanish melody is almost never found in a plain version; the triple rhythm (called ‘sesquialtera’, or ‘tiempo de proporción’) is notated—in more or less elaborate versions—in a large number of Hispanic chant books.

Guerrero matches the chant in the rhythm and tempo of his stanzas two and six, but, cunningly, in stanza four he slows the tune down in what was called ‘tempus perfectum’, a stately three beats to the bar, letting two accompanying voices scurry around with cross-rhythms and scale passages that keep the momentum going, lively and syncopated. By sheer coincidence we found the best matching mensural chant version in a Mexican imprint of 1584 (the year of Guerrero’s Vespers book)—Pedro Ocharte’s Psalterium … cum Psalmis et Hymnis. This is appropriate; Seville was the Primatial See governing the ecclesiastical dioceses of the New World.

Guerrero was a prolific and versatile composer. He had a personality of gentleness and charm; it shines through his music which seems genuinely stamped with religious faith. His last words, according to Pacheco (writing a month or two after Guerrero’s death), were from Psalm 121: ‘In domum Domini ibimus’ (‘We shall go into the house of the Lord’).

Bruno Turner ę 1997

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