Hyperion Records

Missa São Sebastião
1937; first performed on 13 November 1937 at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

'Villa-Lobos: Missa São Sebastião & other sacred music' (CDH55470)
Villa-Lobos: Missa São Sebastião & other sacred music
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55470  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1 'Sebastian! The Virtuous': Kyrie
Track 1 on CDH55470 [4'50] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2 'Sebastian! The Roman Soldier': Gloria
Track 2 on CDH55470 [8'11] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3 'Sebastian! Defender of the Church': Credo
Track 3 on CDH55470 [11'42] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 4 'Sebastian! The Martyr': Sanctus
Track 4 on CDH55470 [3'52] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 5 'Sebastian! The Saint': Benedictus
Track 5 on CDH55470 [2'17] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 6 'Sebastian! Protector of Brazil': Agnus Dei
Track 6 on CDH55470 [3'05] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Missa São Sebastião
Villa-Lobos spent the last months of 1936 researching Amerindian and early Hispanic music, in preparation for composing the incidental score for a feature film, The Discovery of Brazil. This was one of many motion pictures made by government institutions at the time, glorifying the cultural and historic heritage of Brazil. This particular film told in just one hour of the Portuguese expedition under Cabral in 1500, the discovery of a beautiful new land, and of the first contact with the natives. Villa-Lobos went to considerable trouble with musical authenticity (as far as the erratic state of Brazilian musicology at the time would allow him), constructing his own melodies in similar vein to the chants of Brazilian indians, and imitating ancient Portuguese and Spanish secular and ecclesiastical music. The film’s musical and visual climax was the ‘First Mass in Brazil’, an impressive tableau in which the Portuguese sailors and crew cleverly sing Mass against the frighteningly juxtaposed incantations of the newly found Amerindians: a true clash and coming together of cultures, emphasizing the multi-racial traits which characterize Brazil even today, and which the Vargas government took great pains to harness as a symbolic means of national unity. Villa-Lobos’s ‘discovery’ of Papae Marcelli, and the evocation of a sixteenth-century Mass in a new, Brazilian context in this film score prompted him almost simultaneously to write his own a cappella Mass between December 1936 and January 1937, specifically for the Orfeão de Professores. It was entitled Missa São Sebastião, St Sebastian being the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro. An augmented Orfeão de Professores gave the first performance at Rio’s Teatro Municipal on 13 November 1937, in a grand concert held to mark the close of the secondary school academic year.

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

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDA66638 track 2
Movement 2, 'Sebastian! The Roman Soldier': Gloria
Recording date
9 January 1993
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Villa-Lobos: Missa São Sebastião & other sacred music (CDA66638)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: April 1993
    Deletion date: April 2012
    Superseded by CDH55470
  2. Villa-Lobos: Missa São Sebastião & other sacred music (CDH55470)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: June 2014
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
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