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Portuguese Vocal Masterpieces of the 16th and 17th Centuries • 1


The repertoire presented on this recording covers a time span of about 150 years, from the early sixteenth century until the mid-seventeenth century. Throughout this period, Portugal reached the zenith of its power, resulting from the discovery of new territories, in particular the arrival in India of Vasco da Gama in 1498. This was followed by a gradual decline from about 1550—a dynastic crisis resulting from the death (1578) of Sebastian, who had left no heirs; the union of the two Iberian crowns under the Spanish Habsburgs (from 1581), and a relative resurgence resulting from the recovery of independence (1640) under a new dynasty, the Braganza, with John IV.

One of the problems taxing scholars of Portuguese music in the first part of this period (c.1500–1550) is the almost complete lack of documentary sources covering the practice of religious and secular polyphony. However, considering the prosperity of Portugal at the time—with Lisbon as an international trading hub, the opening of the country’s elites to new humanistic ideas, and the highly refined, culturally well-connected court of the Avis dynasty—we can assume that, out of these many international contacts and cultural exchanges, the practice of polyphony was, both in the religious and secular domain, common and customary.

The first half of the sixteenth century is represented by works of Fernão Gomes Correia and Damião de Góis, as well as parts of the Proper of the Mass in chant. About Fernão Gomes Correia very little is known, except that he was active in Coimbra as chaplain and cantor of Bishop Jorge de Almeida between 1505 and 1532. His Missa ‘Orbis Factor’ scored for 4 voices, takes its name from the plainchant used in the Ordinary of the Gregorian Mass, which it paraphrases, sometimes in one, sometimes in two voices. The absence of the Gloria (making this a Ferial Mass, leaving only a Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, of which there is also an example by an anonymous author in the Cancioneiro de la Colombina) implies that this polyphonic Mass was originally intended to be sung during Lent on Ash Wednesday or other non-solemn days of Holy Week. In the Agnus Dei, the presence of a third miserere instead of the usual dona nobis pacem indicates that this Mass was composed for Maundy Thursday. It is the oldest polyphonic version of the Ordinary of the Mass which is known to have been composed by a Portuguese author.

Damião de Góis (1502–1574), by contrast, was a leading figure of the sixteenth-century Portuguese Humanists. Cultured, cosmopolitan, a polymath and a friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Damião de Góis was also an accomplished composer. Of his entire oeuvre, only three of his polyphonic motets in imitative style have survived, showing a clear knowledge of the Franco-Flemish composers of his time. In diae tribulationis and Ne laeteris are both scored for three voices, while Surge, propera is for five voices. The three works were printed in Central Europe: Ne laeteris joined the treatise Dodecachordon (1547) by Heinrich Glarean; In diae was published in Venice in 1549, while Surge, propera was published in Augsburg in 1535.

The collection of chant comprising the Gradual of Braga brings together all the works that define the ‘Braga Rite’ so called because it is endogenous to the Cathedral and Diocese of Braga. Developed since the eleventh century, the Braga rite was, because of its longevity, preserved by the Council of Trent by the bill Quo Primum Tempore (1570). The Gradual was compiled in the first quarter of the sixteenth century and the four pieces we hear are taken from the Proper of the Mass of St. Gerald, archbishop (1096–1108) and patron saint of Braga, and as such, the subject of major religious festivity, celebrated in Braga on 5 December, the date of his death.

The following one hundred years, c.1550–60 and 1650–60, are usually referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of Portuguese music, due to the abundance during this period of great composers of polyphonic sacred music. The figures of Duarte Lobo, Frei Manuel Cardoso, Filipe de Magalhães and João Lourenço Rebelo are now widely known, but we could name more than a dozen others who left us works of undeniable artistic value. Foremost amongst these would be D. Pedro de Cristo (c. 1550–1618), Augustinian monk of the monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra (central Portugal). This institution was founded in 1131, becoming one of the most important musical and cultural centres in Portugal throughout this era. The four motets presented here are all for four voices. Of the three, Tristis est… (for Matins of Holy Thursday) employs a more homophonic texture, while Virgo… (antiphon of the Magnificat) a more fluid, polyphonic texture. Duarte Lobo (1565–1646), and Frei Manuel Cardoso (c. 1566–1650) are two of the exponents of the so-called School of Évora (a city in the Alentejo region of Portugal), which emerged during the 1570s through the teaching of Manuel Mendes, Chapel master of the Cathedral and tutor to both composers.

The Magnificat primi toni of Manuel Cardoso, written for four voices (except the section ‘Et misericordia’ , for three voices), appears in the collection of Magnificats called Cantica Beatae Mariae Virginis, published in Lisbon in 1613. From Duarte Lobo we hear the only two of his motets which have survived. Both are well known pieces, especially Audivi vocem scored for 6 voices (SSAATB) which has enjoyed wide circulation, particularly in England. Pater peccavi, for five voices (SSATB) interpolates the Miserere mei deus, a musical quotation which pays homage to Josquin Desprez. Both were contained in the Missarum primis Libris (Antwerp, 1621) and they both illustrate the expressive intensity characteristic of Lobo’ s polyphonic text-setting.

João Lourenço Rebelo (1610–1661) presents a more unique figure: though a childhood friend of the Duke of Braganza (the future King João IV), he was neither a student of the Colégio dos Santos Reis Magos in Vila Viçosa which belonged to the Dukes of Braganza, nor of the School of Évora. Lourenço Rebelo ‘graduated’ perhaps in the Music Library of Bragança which, though one of the largest of its time, was later transferred to Lisbon and unfortunately lost in the earthquake that devastated the city in 1755. Rebelo was something of ‘the composer of the Duke/King’, and the monarch, at the close of his life (1656), personally commissioned much of Rebelo’s work to be printed in Rome, this edition finally appearing in 1657. The Lamentations, for two choirs of four voices and organ, reveal a composer employing a variety of resources designed to illustrate the expressive potential of the text: chromaticism and chromatic lines, dissonances, declamatory style, madrigalisms, and close juxtaposition of strong contrasts are some of the resources employed. By contrast, Panis angelicus, for 7 voices (SSAATTB), shows Rebelo writing in ‘stile severo’ in the older manner of the generation of Duarte Lobo or Pedro de Cristo.

We return to Santa Cruz in Coimbra, the home of manuscripts containing both of the religious vilancicos based on a Christmas theme included on this recording: Pois sois mãe da flor do campo (1645), for 6 voices (divided into 2 choirs) and continuo, is written in the form of refrain-couplets which adapt the Ego flos campi from the Song of Songs. It is an invocation to the Senhora da Tocha, a venerated image in the town of that name, situated in the domains of the Monastery. Andai ao portal pastores is scored for two choirs of four voices and continuo. Homophonic textures and antiphonal treatment predominate in both vilancicos, while Andai features occasional solos.

Bernardo Mariano
English translation by Jonathan Ayerst

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