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A New-World Collection of Polyphony for Holy Week and the Salve Service: Guatemala City, Cathedral Archive, Music MS 4.

This is indeed a monument. It is an achievement fully worthy of Edward Lowinsky's vision when he founded the series and one in which Bonnie Blackburn, as current General Editor, may take pride. This handsome volume contains much more than its title may suggest: it is very much more than an edition of polyphonic music with a learned commentary.

There are 12 words, printed in a little box at the foot of the fourth introductory page, below the copyright and ISBN notices, which should gladden the hearts of performers and save the souls of those who make spurious `re-editions' for recording purposes: `The music transcriptions in this volume may be freely copied for performance.' For that reason alone, the high cost of this book would be justified for choir or group directors. This is not a monument solely for specialist scholars or university libraries.

Professor Snow's reputation must now be at its peak. From his base at Austin, Texas, his influence has been enormous, not only upon those who have passed directly under his tutelage, but upon the many who have benefited from his supervision and advice in all kinds of hispanic early music studies, and from his generosity with material for research. His collection of microfilms is legendary, not only for its wealth of musical sources from Spain, Portugal and the New World, but for its painstakingly collected treasure of liturgical books -- breviaries, missals, processionals, customaries and the like. One could eulogize for ever, but it is important to make the point that this book's great strength is in the sheer density of liturgical information that is relevant, indeed essential, to the understanding of the music that Snow presents.

What is this music from Guatemala? You may go straight to the detailed description in chapter 2 of the Introduction, where you will find a mine of information including inventories of the surviving choirbooks. Ms. 1 has a preponderance of Masses; MS. 2-A contains Office hymns, mainly for Vespers; MS. 2-B is largely devoted to Magnificat settings; Ms. 3 is rather miscellaneous, containing motets as early as Penalosa contrasting with 11 by Lassus (though unattributed). But the prize is Ms. 4, the subject of Snow's study and the collection which receives his wide-ranging attention.

The reader, the purchaser and user will, one hopes, try to absorb all the introductory material. That might be difficult, but it is there waiting, always to be referred to when required -- illuminating every aspect of the music itself, filling in biographical, liturgical and historical contexts. Every piece of music has its own commentary in which Snow presents the manuscript's page headings, titles and attribution(s), with clearly defined sub-headings giving concordances, sources of texts and assignments in the liturgy, pre-existent chant, collation and remarks (these sometimes being extensive). Furthermore, Snow gives the Latin texts in full, followed by unfussy modern English translations.

The music itself starts at p.114. We are presented with bold and clear transcriptions, well spaced. In the polyphony the original note values are halved. Modern G and F clefs are used exclusively; the alto parts are presented as high tenors in the lower octave G clef except when the source uses high clef combinations. This avoids the rather silly use of many ledger lines for altus parts that are virtually the same as tenors in terms of their lower range. In the chant sections modern clefs are used on the five-line stave, with black square notation.

The repertory of Ms. 4 is divided into two distinct groups, as the title of this modern edition makes clear. The first 25 pieces include minor works for the Holy Week Liturgy; they are not to be lightly dismissed, even the simplest and shortest having their worth, especially (as presented by Snow) in their chant context. The very first is a Missa de feria (without Gloria and Credo) by Pedro Bermudez, the main contributor to both the Holy Week and the Salve parts of this choirbook. Such a work may not have the excitement and contrapuntal elaboration of the settings of the Marian antiphon, but it has its own simple beauty.

The Holy Week section is dominated by Passion settings and Lamentations. The Gospel narrations of the Passion are composed in typical Spanish 16th-century style, in the Toledo tradition as passed on to the New World through Seville in particular. In Bermudez's version of the Matthew, Luke and John Passions, and in another of Matthew by Juan de Carabantes, the composers have set the main (usually crowd/turba) Synagoga texts, leaving the Chronista (Narrator/Evangelist) and Christus to the solo voices of the deacons. For the chant required for the Bermudez Passions, Snow has used the Toledo Passionary as printed in 1576. He could not do so for the Carabantes setting; this is the only work in the collection for which he has failed to find a matching chant. It is in the discussion of the practical use of these chants (for the Chronista, Christus and the minor characters) that the readers and singers of the music may become a little mystified. A similar uneasiness may be felt regarding the 1576 version of the Toledan chant for the Lamentations, though this is not needed for the performance of the polyphonic settings.

This review is not the place for a detailed recital of the inconsistencies, contradictions and numerous uncertainties which pervade the chant sources' notation. The problem is that Snow presents the Passion tone from the 1576 Toledo print without qualifying his implication that the distinct values of black longa/virga and black brevis/punctum -- given respectively, almost consistently, to accented and unaccented syllables -- are to be interpreted strictly as precise mensural values in the proportion 2:1. Several theorists do not support such rigidity. Indeed, we should think in terms of three broad classes of 16th-century hispanic liturgical chant: psalmodic-recitation chant, plainchant (canto liano) and mensural chant that is in duple or triple meter (primarily hymns).

Snow leaves some curiosities unexplained. The dot which appears in the Toledo Passion tone and which occurs often (but not always) on the antepenultimate (usually, but not always) unaccented syllable at phrase endings is not discussed; it is simply accepted as indicating an increase in the value of the longa/virga by half. Treated in such a strict way this interpretation seems virtually unsingable, and certainly stilted, by any standard. In the Lamentation tone, taken from the Toledo Passionary of 1576 (presented on p.58), the extraordinary inconsistencies of the sharps are not explained. One might think these to be aberrations of the 1576 edition but for the fact that they appear without change in the 1616 reedition. They do not appear in my two copies of the Toledo Passionary of 1516, nor in that of Burgo de Osma (1562), nor in the Aragonese variant of Zaragoza (1552); very inconsistently they do appear, scattered in different places, in Fernando de Yssasi's 1582 (Salamanca) version of the Holy Week chants in the Toledo tradition. Beware: more investigation is needed.

These small points are raised here because Snow's book is so eminently practical on almost every level that it is a real disappointment to have these doubtful niggles. There is a footnote on p.113 to the effect that much work still needs to be done on the manner in which chant was performed in Renaissance Spain, and that the author will try to justify some of his opinions in another context later. The disappointment is not that solutions are unavailable and may not be achievable but that Professor Snow is better qualified than almost anyone to have given us just a few more pages on the subject.

In every other respect Snow's editorial principles are clear, practical and well explained; the results then follow in nearly 360 pages of clearly printed music, two-thirds of which is for Holy Week services, the rest for the Salve service. Much of it is magnificent, well worth performing, a veritable gold mine for the increasing number of choirs and groups (some of which, thankfully, include appropriate musical instruments) who seek new and exciting hispanic repertory -- potential for several CD recordings.

Pedro Bermudez emerges as a fine composer with an ability to produce well-wrought polyphony from long, flowing melodic lines, well-balanced and characterful. Guerrero would have approved. Indeed, a welcome find here is a set of Lamentations by Guerrero not found elsewhere. Another set is attributed to Palestrina, its only other source being at Puebla Cathedral, Mexico. Many of Bermudez's works in this Guatemala choirbook are also to be found at Puebla as are a number by Hernando Franco. Snow is highly informative about these connections.

The splendid succession of Salve Regina settings is fully worth the attention of students and performers alike. The Introduction contains a rewarding comparison of five hispanic regional (diocesan) variants of the traditional melody of the great Marian antiphon and the Franciscan version widely disseminated throughout Europe. Snow has wisely chosen the Sevillian version published by the plainchant master Luys de Villafranca (1565) as the one to supply the alternate verses for the New-World polyphonic settings. I did exactly that for the edition (from Puebla 1) of the Hernando Franco Salve performed by Westminster Cathedral Choir, whose `Mexican' CD is the only recording to be mentioned by Snow.

The study of the evolution of the Salve service itself and of the subsequent flowering of great polyphonic settings is magisterially done, the scholarship impressive -- essential reading.

Inevitably there are a few tiny lapses: a misprinted time signature, an inconsistent syllabification, a `Lux aeternam' that should be `aeterna' (hardly serious blemishes). However, the important (and frequently mentioned) chant source Intonarium Toletanum is, in different places, given the dates 1515 and 1516, the latter appearing in the bibliography; it is definitely 1515. A companion `Cisneros' publication, the Toledo Passionarium, is from 1516. The list of sources and bibliography is very comprehensive and well up to date in the relevant literature and dissertations. It is sad, though, to note the omission of Mary Duncan's A sixteenth century chant book: Pedro Ocharte's Psalterium ... Mexico, 1584, dating from 1975 (PhD, University of Washington), which, for all its faults, quotes a substantial number of useful passages from 16th- and 17th-century theorists and chant tutors regarding notation, durational values and relative tempos. Pioneering work, it is still a useful starting-point for those interested in the varying degrees of plainness or mensurality of different types of liturgical chant in the 16th century.

Another omission needs repair. Snow quotes `Bohatta nos.', frequently, in brackets, when mentioning diocesan and monastic breviaries. No reference is given in the bibliography and this may be a mystification to some. `Bohatta' is Hans Bohatta, Bibliographie der Breviere, 1502-1850 (Leipzig, 1937).

Some of us (hispanists) have waited a long time for Robert Snow to issue something on this scale. It has been well worth it. The excellent introductory chapters dealing with the history of Guatemala City and its cathedral are fascinating and lead us into the choirbooks and their liturgical chant context with a sureness and ease that belie the mastery of detail. Try as one might to catch the author out, one is confounded in the next paragraph or in a footnote below; your query is covered, he is ahead of you.
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Author:Turner, Bruno
Publication:Early Music
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1997
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