Villa-Lobos: Missa São Sebastião & other sacred music
CDH55470 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 1 'Sebastian! The Virtuous': Kyrie
Movement 2 'Sebastian! The Roman Soldier': Gloria
Movement 3 'Sebastian! Defender of the Church': Credo
Movement 4 'Sebastian! The Martyr': Sanctus
Movement 5 'Sebastian! The Saint': Benedictus
Movement 6 'Sebastian! Protector of Brazil': Agnus Dei
Amongst Villa-Lobos’s papers there exists a manuscript of several recitative fragments headed ‘Introits da missa São Sebastião’. It is not quite clear how these were intended to be used, and they are omitted in the present recording, but their texts provide important subtitles for each section of the Mass. Just as movements in the Bachianas brasileiras mostly take dual titles, one ‘Bachian’, the other ‘Brazilian’, so the Mass movements are given patriotic identities in addition to their liturgical ones: ‘Kyrie—Sebastian! The Virtuous’, ‘Gloria—Sebastian! The Roman Soldier’, ‘Credo—Sebastian! Defender of the Church’, ‘Sanctus—Sebastian! The Martyr’, ‘Benedictus—Sebastian! The Saint’, ‘Agnus Dei—Sebastian! Protector of Brazil’.
The Mass is composed for three voices a cappella, but Villa-Lobos gives a seasoned and practical musician’s variety of performing options: women’s voices, boys’ voices, or men’s voices, with each possibly doubled at the octave. The self-consciously archaic three-part polyphony (which emulates Palestrina and Victoria), the modal inflexions of the vocal lines, and the austere simplicity of the whole work stand in stark contrast to the opulent style usually thought typical of Villa-Lobos, as demonstrated in the huge orchestral and choral frescos of jungle and city life, the Choros, which he wrote during the 1920s. In the Mass, raw nationalism gives way to an idealized and serene view of the powerful Catholic heritage of his country. Subtle glances at the chants of macumba (as at ‘et sepultus est’ in the Credo) are, however, reminders that in Brazil even the rites of Roman Catholicism have been (and still are) tinged with elements from the magical beliefs transported to Brazil by the millions of black slaves brought over the Atlantic by the colonists so many centuries ago. With Portuguese respectability came also African magic, and as food offerings to the old African gods of macumba and other cults are left alongside statuettes of St Mary and St George in Brazilian roadside shrines or in rocky clefts on the beach, so St Cecilia and St Sebastian embrace the whole of Villa-Lobos’s vision of multi-cultural Brazil, in the form of oration and liturgy. The Missa São Sebastião stands unique and radiantly beautiful in Villa-Lobos’s huge output.
from notes by Simon Wright © 1993