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CD Liner Notes

This album is about crossroads:  crossroads between cultures, between continents, and between eras. Its mix of Spanish Renaissance, New World baroque, Sephardic, 20th century nueva canción, and newly composed repertoire traces the encounter between North African and European music on the Iberian Peninsula and the meeting of Spanish, Native American, and African music in the Spanish colonies. It spotlights the intersection of folk music, early music, and contemporary music. Our music's social consciousness is most explicit in the nueva canción, but it is also present in the Latin American Baroque pieces that question Spanish hegemony and in the Sephardic pieces about war and loss. New World villancicos employ stereotypes but also address and incorporate difference in a way that European Renaissance music does not. There is a tension between enlightenment and nationalistic prejudice. We find this music compelling because it mirrors these same struggles we still face today.


Spanish Renaissance Music

We begin in Spain. As the geographic crossroads between North Africa, the Mediterranean and Europe, medieval Spain developed a unique musical style combining French and Italian musical forms, African and Arabic rhythms, and Sephardic and Arabic melodic gestures. During the Moorish era (8th-14th century) the music and rituals of Christianity and Judaism flourished alongside the dominant Arabic traditions, creating the "three cultures of Spain.” The reconquista—or “recapture” of Spain from the Moors—began in 722 and was completed in 1492 with the fall of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel. To promote cultural as well as religious unity, they expelled the country's Jews and remaining Moors. Ironically, 1492 also marks the beginning of the colonial period and the development of a new and rich multicultural musical practice in partnership with indigenous Native American and African peoples in the New World.

Despite the banishment of its practitioners, Arabic culture was strongly influential in the development of the Spanish “Golden Age” (1492-mid 1600's). Spanish vernacular poetry drew on Arabic poetic forms, while Spanish Renaissance music inherited asymmetrical rhythms and Arabic melodic gestures, as well the genre's affinity for plucked instruments. Music from this period is preserved in a series of cancioneros, collections of diverse compositions for use by a court or cathedral, or by an aristocratic house with its own chapel. Many of the pieces are villancicos—at this period defined as short works for up to four voices with vernacular texts (Spanish and various dialects) and folk-like melodies (villano means villager). We perform Juan de Anchieta’s Con amores, mi madre, which uses Arabic asymmetrical meter, from the Cancionero Musical del Palacio.

Spain in the New World

The Spanish conquest of the New World began within a few years of its “discovery” with the enslavement of local Indigenous populations through forced labor. Many of the conquistadores were abusive; in 1543, laws were passed in an attempt to improve treatment of the indígenos. Free blacks came to the new world beginning in 1492, and as early as 1513, the Spanish colonies began to import African slaves to work in mines and on plantations. Although its actions were set against this backdrop of enslavement and abuse, the Catholic Church was dedicated to saving souls by converting as many non-Europeans as possible to Christianity; at the same time, many of the monks 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. Spanish New World composers integrated indigenous languages, Afro-Spanish dialects, and characteristic rhythmic elements into their religious music, while continuing to employ folk rhythms from various regions of Spain. These multicultural mixtures of European melodies and harmonic structure with New World rhythms are the roots of Latin American traditional music.

The Baroque Villancico in the Viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru

The vast Spanish territory in the New World was divided into two viceroyalities: 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 Viceroy’s palaces in Mexico City and Lima were each 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. 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 17th century, often expanding to include 5 or 6 voices and a new basso continuo line, a bass line with chord symbols beneath, used to guide performers in improvising harmonies.

This recording presents three pieces by Portuguese-born composer Gaspar Fernandes (ca. 1565-1629), an organist and choir director at cathedrals in Guatemala City and Puebla de los Ángeles, who is particularly known for his energetic syncopations and compositions in many dialects. Eso Rigor ‘e repente is a guinea, composed in Guinean (West African) style. Written for singers who were former slaves, its references to the “ugly Angolans” may reflect pre-existing prejudices among distinct African groups or a prejudice encouraged by the Spanish. This composition is rare in that it addresses racial relations between whites and Africans, albeit in a joking manner. The negrito (African-style) Dame albricia, ‘mano Anton celebrates the birth of a black Christ in Guinea. The indito (Indian-style) Tleycantimo choquiliya, written for both indígenos and mestizos, is partly in Spanish and partly in Náhautl. The Náhuatl sections are set to a traditional Tlaxcalan rhythm that contrasts with the more lyrical Spanish sections.

Three pieces from the Viceroyalty of Peru complete the baroque portion of our recording. The negrito Toca la flauta was written by Alonso Torices (fl. 1671) of Bogotá (now part of Colombia). It begins like a typical Baroque aria, but highly syncopated rhythmic play is quickly introduced on words such as zambacate. The negrito Los coflades de la estleya by Juan de Araujo (1646-1712) describes a procession and dance performed by an African confraternity in 17th century Peru. The anonymous gitano (Gypsy-style) Alto mis gitanos, from the archives of the Cathedral of Bogotá, 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 copies Roma style reveals some appreciation of their culture.

Nueva Canción and Folk Music

Nueva Canción (“New Song”) is a movement that combines socially and politically conscious lyrics with traditional Latin American folk music. After originating in Chile and Argentina in the 1950s, the movement, which is rooted in Andean, African, and Spanish music, quickly spread throughout Latin America. Many of the artists in the movement faced persecution, exile, and even death because of the powerful political messages in their songs. This genre is represented on our recording by La bala, written by Nicaraguan singer-songwriter Ofilio Picón (b. 1957) on a text by Nicaraguan poet Salomón de la Selva (1893-1958). Although they lived in different eras both artists actively opposed the Somoza dictatorships.

Latin America and Spain share many folk songs and ballads, including A la nanita nana, an anonymous lullaby. The change from minor to major mode is common in Hispanic folk music. Although the song is dedicated to the baby Jesus, it looks ahead to his future sacrificial death by describing him as the Eucharist, the bread given for all.

Sephardic Music

The name Sephardic comes from a reference in the Bible (Obadiah 1:20) to the Sepharad region, also known as the Iberian Peninsula. Jews settled there as early as the first millennium B.C.E. Their culture flourished from 900-1050 during a period of Moorish rule in southern Spain, under which they were allowed equal rights as citizens. Their rights compromised by the Inquisition, many Jews fled during the closing years of the Moorish-Spanish conflict, first to Portugal and Mediterranean ports and then to more distant countries including Holland and England. They maintained their separateness from the local populations, both Christian and Jew, by maintaining their Spanish language and culture.

The seven Sephardic songs on this recording are in Ladino, an archaic form of Spanish that became the daily language of the exiled Sephardic Jews. Depending on their location, Ladino speakers incorporated words from their local vernacular such as Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, Turkish, Greek, and Slavic. Sephardic music is an oral tradition transmitted by ear, not through written music, and many songs reflect their Spanish past as well as the influences of their current home. Often, the scales and melodic contours are derived from Arabic music, as seen in Los bilbilicos. The Hispanic influence can be seen in the tango rhythm of Adiyo kerida.

Cuando el rey Nimrod refers to King Nimrod, an archetypal villain in an historic confrontation with Abraham the Prophet. Its original text, from the reign of Alfonso X of Castille (1221-1284), details the persecutions perpetrated by the cruel Nimrod and the miraculous birth and deeds of the savior Abraham. Our arrangement follows many modern folkloric versions, beginning with the original verse about King Nimrod and then incorporating a blessing for a circumcision ritual. The traditional lullaby Nani, nani is well-known in Sephardic circles. Durme, durme, which was composed by Flory Jagoda, is another well-known lullaby. The first is focused on family; the second celebrates the Shema Yisrael, the opening words of a Torah verse used as the centerpiece of all morning and evening Jewish prayer services whose twice-daily recitation is a mitzvah (religious commandment). Ken es esto and Una noche al lunar were composed by American-Bosnian singer-composer Flory Jagoda. Adiyo kerida is known in many countries; our version is based on that of Flory Jagoda.

Contemporary Music

Both contemporary pieces on this recording are by Zorzal’s Artistic Director, Lynn Gumert. They draw their inspiration from Spanish poetry as well as from Spanish and Latin American musical traditions. D’estas aves is a poem by the 15th century poet Florencia del Pinar, the first Spanish woman poet known by name. Little is known about her life, but some of her poems are published with the honorific “Dama,” (“Lady”), suggesting that she was from the upper class. The bird referred to in the poem is the partridge, a traditional symbol of female sexuality because female partridges were known to be easily impregnated. The poet’s identification with the captive bird can thus be seen on multiple levels, referring both to the restrictions on women’s lives in general and more specifically on their sexuality. The piece has two musical themes: a long-breathed, wide-ranging, and often melismatic melody suggesting flight; and a strongly rhythmic and highly dissonant second tune expressing sorrow. Much of its melodic material is drawn from a typical Sephardic scale with a minor second-augmented second pattern, and the rhythm of the second theme is reminiscent of Latin American syncopations.

La Niña Guerrerra draws its text from a popular 15th century Spanish-Sephardic romance glorifying the intelligence, courage, and resourcefulness of a woman warrior. The piece combines typical Sephardic melodic and rhythmic patterns with a modern harmonic palette to create a musical language that crosses both cultures and centuries.

Performers on this CD:

Members of Zorzal:

Lynn Gumert (Artistic Director, Soprano, Recorders)

Carlos Fernández (Tenor, Percussion, Guitar)

Patti Fetrow (Mezzo Soprano, Recorder)

Marta Robertson (Harpsichord, Recorders, Percussion)

Catharine Roth (Alto, Percussion)

Edythe Sarnoff (Viola da Gamba, Recorders, Percussion)


Guest Artists

Tina Chancey (treble viol) is Director of Hesperus, a multi-instrumentalist playing early and traditional bowed strings, a composer/arranger, and an independent recording producer.

Derek Boyce (Percussion) is the Director of Bands at Bermudian Springs High School in York Springs, PA.

Timothy Sestrick (Percussion) is Music Librarian and Director of Music and Media Resources at Gettysburg College’s Musselman Library and Adjunct Instructor of Percussion at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College.

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