Baroque Chrsimas carols frol Girona.
This CD consists of eight Christmas compositions from music scores belonging to the archives of Girona cathedral. They were composed between 1665 and 1750 approximately. The authors were chapel masters in charge of the cathedral music but could not sign certain works that were performed beyond the ambit of the cathedral, as their institution did not allow this. In either case, we assume that the same author most frequently wrote both the lyrics and the music. In those times and until the arrival of the Illustration in the second half of the eighteenth century, musical pieces in the vernacular were considered popular or of secondary importance. For this reason they only appeared briefly in the Matins service on Christmas eve to be sung shortly before the first of the Christmas masses. Usually they would be conducted by their authors, who, except Joan Barter,all lived in Girona.
The musical style of these works is the courtly Iberian baroque style of Madrid and takes the form of a short villancico with a chorus and couplets. An introduction and a solo of some kind could be added to this structure. There are also tonos which belong to a style previous to the courtly one and with a freer structure. Except for the Latin motet by Gònima, Laetentur caeli, the rest of the works are in Spanish due to the prestige of Castilian in European baroque culture, similar to the status of Italian in Mozart’s German speaking Vienna.
The works are vocal and although there is no instrumental group, they are accompanied by a basso continuo. They are also relatively short, typical of a time when the church of Girona did not need to draw attention to itself in order to obtain social status. The musical structure typically consists of two choir boys – whose high pitched voices are substituted by sopranos nowadays – a countertenor and a tenor, with the accompaniment of a basso continuo.
The subject matter of the poems ranges from the characteristic and tender devotion to the infant Jesus to bucolic poetry. The use in the titles of the words Navidad (Christmas) and Nacimiento (Birth) could indicate the author’s links to one or the other of the two schools of theology and rhetoric present in Girona at that time. The barefoot Carmelite order in the convent of Sant Josep (Saint Joseph), now the Provincial Historical Archives, emphasized devotion to Jesus as a child. This form of devotion emerged in Paris around 1620 and was spread by the aforementioned Carmelites. Here the focus is on the infant Jesus considered more as a child than as God. Josep Gaz is a good example of this theological focus. The bucolic theme is present in Ayrecillos suaves (Gentle breezes) and the
theological reflection on God become Child, a traditional scholastic subject, is also present in Gaz’s work Deja pensamiento (Stop, oh thought). However, the poem referring to bull running on Christmas Eve does not fit in this catalogue and is quite extraordinary.
The vocabulary used in the poems is characteristic of Castilian baroque style with daring imagery, surprising contrasts and other rhetorical effects. Was this intelligible to the congregation who attended Evensong on Christmas Eve in Girona? This leads us to pose another question, bearing in mind the cathedral’s large dimensions, from which part of it were the compositions sung? It would seem that the main recipients of these pieces were the canons and the beneficiaries whose presence was limited to the confines of the choir stalls from where the music chapel performed.
1 Airecillos suaves. (Gentle breezes) The text of this short villancico is related to a work of the same name by the poet Francisco de Bances Cándamo (1662-1704), from the court of Charles ll in Madrid. The said poem was composed to celebrate the king’s anniversary in 1697 and was set to music by Juan Gómez de Navas. The details of the relationship with the one of the court still need to be investigated despite the musical style being from that period. The text is characteristic of courtly baroque bucolic poetry: there are diminutive word endings, refined imagery of Nature using botanical metaphors such as laurel as a musical instrument and the streams with their murmur as chatterers. The topic of Jesus’s birth is secondary and ornamental.
2 A este Niño que llora. (To this Child who is crying) The text of this work is a clear example of the devotion to the child Jesus that was present in Girona in 1700. The text directly associates Jesus’s crying with a sinner’s guilt, which is the cause of the infant’s tears. The use of affectionate lexical terms with superlatives and the rhetorical imagery of the infant’s loving search of the sinner must surely have impressed the listeners. They also contributed to the diffusion of carmelite mysticism among our ancestors. Although there is no lack of moralising references, they are less important than the amorous imagery of mysticism. Here the popularisation of devotion to the child Jesus from Richelieu’s France is fused with the mysticism of the Carmelites who originated in Castille and were present among us from 1591 in their convent situated in the Plaça de Sant Josep. Today the Historical Archives occupy this building. The musical contrast with the previous work is obvious: the fugue style predominates here and provokes an auditory confusion that is both brilliant and difficult to follow. This style is typical of Gaz but it is absent in the previous composition.
3 Laetentur caeli. This is the only composition by Gònima for Christmas time, an extremely unusual phenomenon of unknown cause. With this work we enter a world that is completely different from the previous compositions: the house of Austria has been replaced by the Bourbons and the Girona nobility has begun to move to Madrid. All of this is
reflected in the musical style. The work is a short but very accomplished duo that shows the author’s musical talent. Gònima was originally from Lleida but he settled in Girona. Although we find remains of baroque fugue in the composition, it is much clearer and closer to the Illustration bourgeoisie’s tastes, that were gradually extending. A note written on the cover after the composing of the work, indicates that it would be sung during the New year Matins service, the feast of the Circumcision, widely celebrated at that time.
4 Deja pensamiento, deja el pensar. (Stop, oh thought, stop thinking) We know that this short villancico is a Christmas carol because of the title but not because of its subject matter. The text is in fact clearly theological and warns against investigating how God could become human. There is no mention of the Child’s tenderness, nor his crying, nor the stable with the ox and the mule, nor the shepherds, only the mystery of the divine Word. These verses are very similar to the ones that Gaz himself dedicated to the Eucharist: it is useless to try to understand why and how God became human. Not only is useless but dangerous too. Only the absence of moralising propositions differentiates this work from the villancicos dedicated to the Eucharist by the same author. Perhaps these verses by Gaz show us who the real recipients of these compositions were: the beneficiaries and the cathedral canons, the cultivated Girona people of that time. Only a few would be able to understand these texts sung by the voices of the music chapel in the centre of Girona cathedral choir stalls situated at that time in front of the present day organ. Even if the congregation were able to understand some of the
texts, it would be hard for them to assimilate the content. If we knew the date of their composition, perhaps we could find out in what circumstances they were written.
5 Sol que rayas tan benefico. (Sun that shines so benignly) A short villancico with a text that is typical of the most refined baroque style and which can be situated in the years of Gaz’s maturity. The work is for a vocal soloist, which would indicate that it was debuted in 1694 during one of the two critical stages in the author’s life in Girona. The city was then occupied by the French and had to pay a very high military tax to the conquering army. As a result, the cathedral would have no money to contract the usual number of performers for Christmas Eve. The music is comprehensible and easy to follow whereas the text is intensely baroque, abounding in contrasts and highly unusual poetical images, geographical places with mythical names, etc. This could be interpreted as evidence of the high level of literary competence in our city where there were several schools of rhetoric and theology.
6 Tengan silencio. (Be quiet) This is an extraordinary anonymous composition with a text that is characteristic of the barefooted Carmelite order. The initial verb takes the form of an exhortation in the plural to respect the young child’s sleep and also warns of the danger of waking him. The diminutive forms add emphasis to the domestic and devotional character of the work. The presence of astronomical terms together with others that refer to flora and fauna, quite common in Gaz, contrast with
the domestic and devotional style of the poem. The position of the chorus, situated between the couplets, is an exception in classic villancicos.
7 Mi hechizo, mi Rey. (My enchantment, my King) This is a short villancico from around 1700. It could well be attributed Josep Gaz and would thus constitute further evidence of his narrow relationship with the Carmelites, principally the convent of the barefooted Carmelites in Barcelona for whom he composed other works. It is a duo for two sopranos and a continuo, appropriate for a female convent with a vocation of poverty. The title already anticipates the imagery used in the poem: mystic love (enchantment) is contrasted with the theological background that it develops (my King). The poem contrasts various ways of hiding, from the children’s game to that of God hiding in the figure of a baby. The expressions of mystic love are underlined by the exclamations of !ay¡ which contrast with the popular onomatopoeic sound “tas”. The implicit reference to the flight to Egypt is yet another element of this baroque style so rich in nuances of meaning. These subtleties force us to reread the text more than once and we would imagine that it would have been hard for the listeners of those times to understand it during a single performance. This duo has a melodic fluidity that, despite eclipsing the richness of the textual contrasts, highlights their warmth.
8 Afuera, afuera mozos. (Come out, lads) This work is exceptional both as a Christmas composition and also because it is to be found in Girona cathedral and not in the cathedral of Lleida, where it was sung at Christmas of 1670. In 17th century Lleida it was customary to hold a bull fight at Christmas time. This used to take place in present day St John’s Square, very close to the city wall and to the bridge of entry to the city, where its “Born”, the place where centuries ago medieval knights in armour celebrated tournaments, was situated. The chronicles of the time inform us that the animals for this fiesta were brought from the northern Pallars countryside and were reputed to be fiercer than the Castilian ones of those times. Barter, the author, was the chapel master in Lleida cathedral, the one that is on top of the Seu (cathedral) hill. He uses very daring images of the bulls’ images as the subject matter of the text, written in the vernacular, that would be sung before the Christmas Eve Mass. With a mixture of present and past, the poem narrates details of the bull fight that was to be held the following day. The author describes ten bulls all of which have biblical names, ranging from Lucifer to the Three Kings and including Saint Joseph, each one has its corresponding verse with a more or less forced moral at the end. The work is very long with an also very lengthy introduction and is divided into three verses followed by ten couplets, one for each animal. This introduction is the best achieved part from a musical point of view. There the author tries to represent in music the movements of the animals running in the middle of the square. Barter was in Girona in 1688 in order to take part in a board of examiners on the occasion of the eliminatory exams for the post of chapel master. This could explain why this work is present in the chapter house archives of Girona cathedral.