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J. Lee Graham

Unknown Work by an Unknown Colonial Spanish Composer

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This falls squarely under the category of "what do y'all think of this?"

I here present for your consideration the charming villancico "Llegad, moradores de aqueste pensil" by Spanish-born Mexican composer Francisco Martinez de la Costa (1739-1769?).  The work was composed for the Solemnity of St. Peter at Oaxaca Cathedral, Mexico, sometime between 1765 and 1769, and is scored for vocal soloists, mixed chorus, trumpet, strings, and continuo (baroque guitar and portative organ, if I remember rightly).  The linked recording is of a performance of this work by the Austin Baroque Orchestra and Chorus (I am a member of both) in November, 2015 at historic Mission Concepcion (1731) in San Antonio, Texas.  This work has never been published, remaining in manuscript form in the archives of Oaxaca Cathedral, and this performance was probably one of the first anywhere in nearly 200 years, and almost certainly the first in the United States.  The performing edition was prepared by ABO's director, Billy Traylor.         

For those who may not know (most of us), a villancico is a vocal work based on a specific poetical form; it usually consists of a chorus (estribillo) followed by several verses (coplas) and a final repetition of the chorus.  Villancicos were extremely popular in Spain and Portugal and their Latin American colonies from the late 15th through 18th Centuries.  Some are religious, like this one, but there are many secular villancicos as well.  

Very little is know of the life of Martinez de la Costa.  He was born and trained in Spain, and by 1765 he had become maestro de capilla of Oaxaca Cathedral in the south of Mexico.  In 1769 he requested a leave of absence to return to Spain to take care of some of his father's business, and was never heard from again.  It is presumed he died while at sea on the voyage home.    

Now that you know more about villancicos and this unfortunate young Mexican composer than you ever thought you wanted, have a listen to this delightful, quirky little piece.  The writing is nothing if not unique and individual.  I'll be interested to know what you think.  Cheers!    

https://soundcloud.com/austinbaroqueorchestra/llegad-moradores

 

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Very interesting story. I like the story. I particularly like learning about the lesser knowns. I recognize the brilliance and mastery of the greats like Handel and Bach. However, there is so much more that was and is going on. There are little moments and pieces everywhere that don't get the recognition they should have had or deserve. I also like learning about the different, lesser known format of this piece. As for this piece, it sounds of the era. I don't know that I hear anything that is unique to this composer. It is nice, but ultimately like a less inventive and polished piece of music then what the great composers would have produced. However, something that is interesting to me is that I hear the seed of Beethoven's 9th in the choral writing. Now, what immediately plays after this piece on Soundcloud is part of Bach's St. John Passion and that is some brilliant writing! Thanks for sharing!

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I'm glad you enjoyed the story of this piece.  It's a pity you don't hear what I hear in it, but everybody is different, and that's fine.  I find little unpolished gems like this very exciting - more exciting these days than yet another performance of a Mozart or Beethoven symphony, even as unarguably great as they are.  I'm getting a little weary of the "greats" lately, and the fact that more and more of this unknown music is coming to light makes me happy.  Every one is a new adventure.        

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