Skip to content

Mexican Polyphony

11 May 2012

Seeing (or hearing, in this case) Mexican culture (or cultures) as a mixture of Spanish and indigenous has always been an over-simplification. While most of us can at least wrap our heads around the idea that the Aztecs were (and are) very different from the Mayans, and neither are much like the Zapotecs, who differ in significant ways from the Yaquí, etc. we tend to forget the people they influenced as much as were influenced by, were also not all that monolithic a group.   The Iberian peninsula is a pretty multi-ethnic chunk of Europe; besides the Castillians, there are the Andalusians, the Gypsies, the Basques, the Catalans, the Galacians , etc.  Not counting the Portuguese, who from the 157os until the 1640s,  were living under Spanish rule.

One of the greatest composers — if not the greatest — of the Mexican baroque was Portuguese.  We know little about the early life of Gaspar Fernandes other than he was born in 1566, and was a choirmaster in the Evora Cathedral before taking up a post as  organist for the Cathedral of Santiago (today’s Antigua, Guatemala) in 1599.  In 1606, he was recruited by the Cathedral of Puebla, where he worked as choir director until his death in 1629.

In Guatemala, besides arranging music by other composers for choirs, he had composed several liturgical pieces still sung today. In Puebla, he also wrote secular music, and Portuguese villancicos…  folk songs adapted for polyphonic choral singing.

Which, to take things back to those multi-ethnic Iberians and the Mexican influence on them, is nicely summed up with a Nahautl lullaby, composed in a Portuguese musical style, sung by a Catalan choir.

Capella Reial de Catalunya:   Xicochi Conetzintle Xochipitzahuac

Xicochi, xicochi, Xicochi, xicochi, Xicochi conentzintle, Xicochi conentzintle. Caumiz hui hui joco in angelos me, Caumiz hui hui joco in angelos me, Caumiz hui hui joco in angelos me, In angelos me, in angelos me. Alleluya, alleluya.

(Sleep, sleep my little child, go to sleep while the angels play their music, while the angels play for you, while the angels play.  Alleluja, allelajua).

One Comment leave one →


  1. URL

Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s