The Splendor of Mexican Matins:
Sonority & Structure in Jerusalem’s Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe
CRAIG H. RUSSELL
At a time when Bach, Handel, Purcell, and Alessandro Scarlatti were writing their choral masterpieces in Europe, another corpus of magnificent choral music was being composed in the Spanish viceroyalties of Peru and Mexico, in genres now largely misunderstood and ignored. Most notably, the Matins service was the most ambitious and prestigious category of composition in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Spanish New World. Any aspiring composer who wanted to establish himself as a worthy artist delved into this genre. In Naples or Venice the road to achieving superstardom would have been opera; in Mexico City, Puebla, and Oaxaca, however, it was Matins.
Structurally, a Matins service has a collection of prefatory items, analogous to a prologue, followed by three nocturns (roughly equivalent in scale to the three acts of a play or opera).1 The three nocturns are themselves divided into items that occur in threes: three antiphons (melodic snippets) that frame three monophonic Psalms, three lessons (a Scripture reading or homily divided into three sections), three blessings, andmost importantly in Baroque settingsthree responsories for voices and orchestra. In short, the whole service is a collage of “threes.” The one notable rupture occurs in the third nocturn where the last responsory (what would have been responsory 9) is replaced by a grand setting of the Te Deum or Hymn of Thanksgiving (see appendix 1)
Many composers composed Matins settings where vernacular-texted villancicos in a popular style were substituted for the more formal elevated style of the Latin responsories.2 Mexican cathedrals are chockfull of impressive Matins compositions that contain a complete set of the required responsories or villancicos. (See appendix 2 for a list of some of the more important settings.) Many of these works rival in scale and sophistication the operas and oratorios of their European contemporaries.
Although several Matins cycles are associated with Christmas and saints’ days, no figure garners more attention than does the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her image adorns nearly every Mexican church and cathedral, and music venerating her was composed by the great Mexican composers of the Baroque and Classic eras. (See appendix 3.3) A perusal of the list reveals such masters as Antonio de Salazar, Manuel de Sumaya, Ignacio de Jerusalem, Matheo Tollis de la Rocca, Antonio de Juanas, Francisco Delgado, Manuel Arenzana, and even Giacome Rustthe same Jacob Rust who later became the chapel master at Salzburg, where a young lad, Wolfgang Mozart, composed and performed under his supervision.
One recently discovered masterpiece dedicated to her is Ignacio de Jerusalem’s splendid Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe, performed in the Mexico City cathedral in 1764. This concerted work is well-crafted, sumptuous, and ambitious, containing the expected invitatory, hymn, and eight elegant responsories for vocal soloists or choir.4 See appendix 4 for a list of citations, concordances, and borrowings related to this work.
At first glance the manuscript appears to be missing pages and movements, since Legajo C.c.9 breaks off before the Matins’s completion, but if one perseveres and muddles past all of the music for Jerusalem’s Matins for the Conception in Legajo C.c.10 one will find most of the missing pieces; the “missing” parts are merely misfiled. Much of the appropriate chant material can be gleaned from Choirbooks 5-2-8 and 6-1-3. Choirbook 5-2-8 contains the requisite Psalm texts for the feasts of the Virgin; these vary slightly from those found in the Vulgate. Choirbook 6-1-3 contains the chant for Psalm 94, which would have been interpolated into the concerted “Invitatory for the Virgin of Guadalupe,” as well as the required antiphons. This chant book, titled Commun[e] Virginum ad Matut[inum] (Common of the Virgin at Matins), contains iconographic depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, suggesting that it was a source of music in her honor.
No specific Te Deum is attached to Jerusalem’s Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe. Given the enormous scale and grandeur of this Matins service, Jerusalem’s repetitive and almost miniscule Te Deum for small orchestra and four-voice choir found in Legajo C.c.2, No. 4., is unlikely to have been chosen to conclude one of his crowning works. A more appropriate conclusion would have been his Te Deum from Legajo C.c.1; it is polychoral, richly orchestrated, and evokes grandiose theatricality and splendoras does the rest of his Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe. This larger Te Deum is unquestionably the one commissioned by the chapel master Antonio de Juanas, which was described in the 1793 inventory of the Mexico City cathedral archive as having parts that were “badly worn”a testament to its frequent use in the cathedral. Apparently, this stunning Te Deum was one of the Billboard Top-Ten hits of Colonial Mexico.
Jerusalem’s orchestral versos intended as substitutions for Psalm verses constitute some of the earliest American orchestral music of substance.5 These small “symphonies” could be interpolated into the monophonic singing of the Psalms; when combined, then, one hears a gorgeous and novel interplay between plain chant and symphonic sonorities. Jerusalem’s versos are found in concordant sources in both the Puebla and Mexico City cathedrals.6 In the various manuscripts the movements are gathered together into sets (juegos) that are kept intactno movements are added, nor are any deletedbut the order in which the movements are presented seems to have been alterable. No two versions agree as to which verso is first or second or third. Apparently these juegos de versos were much like place-settings of silverware one can buy in a department store. Once a pattern is selected, it really doesn’t matter in what order one finds the fork, knife, and spoon when one opens the box. The order is irrelevant as long as the contents consist of the expected components.
Overall, Jerusalem’s style moves from the frenetic and inexorable activity of the Baroque into the stylistic traits of the Classical period. The texture is generally homophonic and top-dominated, with one graceful melody at a time (as opposed to the tangled web of chattering counterpoint we find in Baroque polyphony). “Sign” figures with appoggiaturas abound. Rhythms are often spunky, with “Scotch snaps” consisting of a sixteenth note followed by a dotted eighth. The harmonic rhythm is slow, often with the repeated bass notes associated with a “drumming bass.” The orchestra includes more treble instruments than bass. The surface rhythms are ever changing, moving from long to short values, from even eighth notes to dotted rhythms, from half notes to running sixteenths, and from duplets to tripletseven within the same phrase. Cadences are clearly defined, frequent, and hierarchical; recurring rests and pauses reinforce the underlying structure of the text and music. Jerusalem’s articulations are meticulous, graceful, and mercurialall reflecting the Classical aesthetic.
Jerusalem’s Matins for Our Lady of Guadalupe is a glorious gem in the choral literature; it is chockfull of varied styles, differing emotions, and multifarious moods. The main corpus of the composition features the full choir with orchestral accompaniment, and the styles run the gamut. The hymn “Quem terra pontus sidera” wafts along in a lilting 6/8 meter and conjures up images of pastoral tranquility. The first responsory, “Vidi speciosam sicut columbam,” is an energetic and intense choral number in G-minor, Jerusalem’s favorite key for intensely emotional and heartfelt feelings. The chord progressions march forward in inexorable activity, resembling Bach’s harmonic language and the irrepressible activity of the Baroque. Later Jerusalem explores the grace of an aristocratic minuet in “Signum magnum apparuit in coelo” with its interplay of contrasting rhythms that remind one more of Mozart and the Classic than of Bach and the Baroque.
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