Zorzal Music Ensemble,

Lynn Gumert, Artistic Director


Music in the Vice-Royalties of New Spain and Peru

The Spanish conquest of the New World began within a few years of its “discovery.” The Spanish enslaved local Indigenous populations through a system of forced labor. Many of the conquistadores were abusive; in 1543, laws were passed in an attempt to improve treatment of the Indigenous population. Free blacks came to the New World beginning in 1492. As early as 1513, the Spanish began to import African slaves to work in mines and on plantations.

The vast Spanish territory in the new world was divided into two viceroyalties: New Spain, which stretched from the northern limits of the California territory to Costa Rica and from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean; and the Viceroyalty of Peru, which originally included almost the entire continent of South America.  The Viceroys’ palaces in Mexico City and Lima were seats of civil authority as well as cultural centers, like European courts. Cathedrals and convents in these cities, as well as in Puebla, Cuzco, and Guatemala City, served as centers for musical instruction and performance in religious services. Although its actions were set against this backdrop of enslavement and abuse, the Catholic Church as an institution was dedicated to saving souls by converting as many non-Europeans as possible to Christianity; at the same time, many individual clergy made an effort to preserve native languages and artifacts. Indeed, one method the Spanish used to assimilate other ethnic groups was by incorporating their rituals into Christian festivals such as Corpus Christi and Christmas.

The most common musical form for both sacred and secular vocal music continued to be the villancico, which kept its lively rhythmic character into the seventeenth century, often expanding to include 5 or 6 voices and a new basso continuo line, a bass line with chord realization symbols beneath, used to guide performers in improvising harmonies. By late in the period many pieces used double or even triple choruses along with small orchestras. Spanish-New World composers integrated indigenous languages, Afro-Spanish dialects, and characteristic rhythmic elements into religious music, while also employing folk rhythms from various regions of Spain. These multicultural mixtures of European melodies and harmonic structure with New World rhythms and melodies are the roots of Latin American traditional music.

A majority of the New World villancicos from this time period are classified as ethnic villancicos; the term refers to the way in which they draw upon folkloric music traditions. The particular folkloric tradition is frequently referred to in the subtitle of the piece. Negritos and guineos draw on African musical traditions, particularly rhythmic syncopations, and are written in a "dialect" that is supposed to imitate how Spanish was spoken by the African origin slaves. Some of the common changes are: switching "l" and "r"; replacing "d" with "r"; replacing "ch" with "s"; dropping initial consonants and adding additional vowels. Inditos and mestizo e indio villancicos draw on Native American rhythms and include texts that are partly or entirely in Náhuatl or Quechua. Gitanos draw on rhythms of and references to the Roma culture in Spain. Gallegos draw on Galician musical traditions such as drones (from the gaita, or Galician bagpipe) and characteristic rhythms and also make verbal references to Galician culture.

Zorzal repertoire:

Villancicos Negritos and Guineos

 Eso rigor ‘e repente is a guineo, (a negrito written in Guinean, or West African style) composed by Portuguese-born composer Gaspar Fernandes (ca. 1565-1629), who arrived in the new world in 1599 to serve as organist and chapel master at the cathedral in Guatemala. From 1606 until his death in 1629, he was chapel master at Puebla de los Ángeles in New Spain (now Mexico).  He is particularly known for his many villancicos that draw on the rich musical traditions and dialects of the Indigenous and African populations in New Spain. This piece was written for singers and musicians in the Puebla cathedral choir who were former slaves. A church singer carried the manuscript containing this composition to the Oaxaca Cathedral, where it was preserved in the Cathedral archives. The reference to the “ugly Angolans” is disturbing; it may reflect pre-existing prejudices among distinct African groups, or it may be a prejudice encouraged by the Spanish. This is one of the few villancicos that addresses the issue of racial relations between Whites and Africans. Some translators suggest that the title refers to slavery; another interpretation suggests a demand that persons of African origin convert to Catholicism and adopt Spanish culture.

Dame albricia, 'mano Anton (Gaspar Fernandes)

Tarara was composed by Antonio de Salazar (ca. 1650-1715), possibly for African members of his choir. Salazar was born in Spain and later became chapel master in Mexico, first at Puebla Cathedral and then in Mexico City. His music shows a mastery of counterpoint. He does not use imitation, but instead relies on recurring motives to unify his pieces. Although he composed many negritos, his style is more conservative, which can be seen in his use of rhythm, which is much smoother and less syncopated than that of Gaspar Fernandes (see above). This piece also shows an Italian influence in its use of two treble singers with two treble instruments. “Tarara” represents the sound of a drum.

Toca la flauta was written by Alonso Torices (fl. 1671), who worked at the cathedral in Bogotá, Colombia. At first it sounds like a typical Baroque aria, but it quickly changes into a highly syncopated rhythmic play on repeated syllables. Samuel Claro Valdés—a Chilean musicologist and composer who did significant research on colonial era music from what is now South America and on traditional Chilean music—transcribed this piece from a manuscript in the Bogotá Cathedral. Claro Valdés realized (wrote out from a figured bass line that shows the chord progression) the harpsichord part for this piece. The zamba is a dance that originated in West Africa.

Los cofrades de la estleya is by Juan de Araujo (1646-1712), who was born in Spain. As a young man, he moved to Peru, where he studied composition with Tomas de Torrejón y Velasco. He became a priest in Panama, where some of his compositions survive. After returning to Peru in 1672, he served as chapelmaster first in Lima and then in Cuzco. From 1680 until his death he served at the Cathedral of La Plata (present-day Sucre, Bolivia). He is primarily known for his Spanish-language villancicos. He was the last great composer to use the Iberian style before it was replaced by the Italian style. This negrito describes a procession and dance performed by an African confraternity in 17th century Peru. The gurumba is a dance form.

Villancicos Inditos

 Tleycantimo choquiliya (Jesos de mi goraçon), which is subtitled mestizo e indio, was written by Gaspar Fernandes (see above) both for people of mixed Spanish-Indigenous descent and for Indigenous believers. The text is partly in Spanish and partly in Náhuatl. The Náhuatl sections are set to a traditional Tlaxcalan rhythm that contrasts with the more rhythmically lyrical Spanish sections. This is an example of the use of a partly-invented “dialect” to represent another culture.

 Sancta Mariae yn ilhuicac was published in Mexico City in 1599. Because it combines a Náhuatl text and characteristically Native American sophisticated rhythmic complexity with “incorrect” (by European standards) part writing, it is considered to be the work of a Native American composer who received choral training but not compositional training in the Mexico City cathedral. It is a Marian anthem.

Fuera, fuera, haganles lugar (Roque Jacinto de Chavarria, 1688-1719)

Villancicos Gitanos

Alto, mis gitanas (Anonymous) was composed in the Viceroyalty of Peru at the Cathedral of Bogotá. It copies Roma rhythms and imitates castanets and strumming guitars. While the reference to “thieving gypsies” displays Spanish prejudices, the fact that New World-Spanish composers copied Roma style reveals some appreciation of their culture.

Other Villancicos

Convidando esta la noche was composed by Mexican composer, singer, and viol player and teacher Juan García de Zéspedes (ca.1619-1678). In 1664 he became the chapel master of Puebla Cathedral. The slow verses of this piece are subtitled juguete, while the refrain is subtitled guaracha, both of which were popular Spanish dances during the colonial period. The distinctive rhythm of the guaracha, with its alternation between 6/8 and 3/4 is still common throughout Latin America.

Iesu, corona virginum (Domenico Zipoli, 1688–1726)

Las estrellas se rien is by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, c.1590 –1664, a Spanish composer who worked at the cathedral in Puebla, which at that time was more important than the cathedral in Mexico City. Many of his works are for double choir, and many include instrumental accompaniment. This villancico draws on the image of a juego de cañas—a kind of jousting game in which one participant throws a cane at his opponent, who tries to catch it on his shield. In this piece, the game is taking place in the heavens above Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Dios y Joseph apuestan (Antonio Durán de la Motta (d. ca. 1716, text by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz)

Other Music

Hanacpachap Cussicuinin, a hymn in the Incan language Quechua, was used for church processions on Lady Day (The Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated on March 25) at the church in San Pedro de Antahualla, Peru. It was the first piece of vocal polyphony published in the New World, and was included in a 1631 collection by Juan Pérez de Bocanegra in Cuzco. Although the composer is unknown, the piece has an unusual phrase structure (6-4-6-4), which has led some writers to conjecture that it was the work of a Quechuan student. It was common for Indigenous boys from noble families to receive special musical training, partly as a way to acculturate them into the Catholic Church, the foundation of Spanish culture at the time.

De la sagrada María is by Tomás Pascual (ca. 1595-1635), a Guatemalan-born Native American who converted to Catholicism. As with many other sacred works by native composers, the emphasis is on Mary, who was a syncretic representation of the mother-earth goddess, and the image of the sun, which represented the highest god.

Cachua Serranita

This is a Peruvian dance by anonymous composer, which was collected by Baltasar Martínez Compañón in Trujillo, Peru, c. 1790.




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