Sunday, April 1, 2012

Old Roots and New Players: The Spanish Catholic Music Tradition in New Mexico

(Paper presented at the AMS-SW Regional Meeting, October 2010, TTU, Lubbock, TX )

After settling in Mexico in the sixteenth century, the Spanish began to expand northward, to what is now New Mexico. As part of the colonializing process, the Spaniards worked to convert the natives to Christianity. In this capacity they encountered a group of people who had their own sacred rites and traditions. Even so, by the early eighteenth century, after the Reconquest, the indigenous people had been convinced to lead Christian lives. Part of this new lifestyle included sacred music.
My goal is to demonstrate that some of the earlier traditions of the converted native New Mexicans and the descendants of Spanish colonists are still alive in the sacred music known today as the cánticos, himnos, and alabanzas and are found in religious folk plays and Nativity songs.  The musical tradition includes sacred songs and poetry, versos, pastorelas, and romanceros from the seventeenth century to the present day, including modern popular songs with religious texts.
Tracing the tradition of Spanish Catholic music from the seventeenth century to today is aided by the documented paper trail left the by Franciscans, and also by the way the Spanish-speaking New Mexicans have adhered to the original Spanish influence in creating music and poetry. The old Spanish musical forms and poems are still in use and the new music and poetry are based on the original models from the seventeenth century. Today we can hear traditional ballads from the Iberian Peninsula performed by both Spanish-speaking New Mexicans and Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande valley. The Spanish Catholic music tradition has experienced minimal change in over 400 years; subsequent generations reflect the prevailing performance practices (from acoustic to amplified instruments and voices), but it is still a culture dominated by seventeenth-century Spain

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Transient Hermit Crabs (or, "Who are those guys?")


Transient Hermit Crabs:
The inadequate fit of existing shells for chamber music of the Bach family.

Johann Sebastian, Wilhelm Friedemann, and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach may be seen as alien life forms in places where musical form, function, and taste were dictated by local authority and preexisting practices. These elements were often fused together into a formidable fortress that would send the merely competent musician-composer into obscurity after just one generation. It is difficult to categorize the music of any particular place and time in music history without encountering exceptions. The chamber music of the Bach family seems to fall into their own non-conforming category. Unless we want to try to make the theoretical elements fit the practical, as Johannes Tinctoris (c. 1435-1511) tried to systematize, categorize, and reconcile all the unusual elements of chant in his De natura et proprietate tonorum, we need to re-examine how we categorize music from the eighteenth to early-nineteenth centuries.

By examining specific, and seemingly non-conformist pieces by each member of the Bach family mentioned above, J. S. Bach’s Allemande from the Partita in a, BWV 1013, W. F. Bach’s Lamentabile from the Duetto a 2 Flauti in F, Fk 57/B4, and C. Ph. E. Bach’s Poco adagio from the Sonata in a, H. 562, and comparing them with specific pieces by their contemporaries, composers whose music was composed within the established models, this essay shows that by working within the established guidelines of their respective time and place, the chamber music of the Bach family thrived and survived, regardless of any criticisms about the non-conformist nature of their compositions. I will also suggest alternative means of categorizing music that exists adjacent to traditional labels.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Hexachord Mutants

Welcome to our blog. We are performing musicologists. That means we do more than read and write about music, music history, musicology, and other things associated with musicology, ethnomusicology, historical performance practices, music theory, and, yes, music education, including educational outreach about music. We can show you as well as tell you what we're doing. Seems like a lot, but it all falls under the rubric, "just another day in the life of a Hexachord Mutant."

You can read the performer's bio of one Hexachord Mutant here.

As scholar-performers the Hexachord Mutants specialize in different areas. But within the overarching aspects of these areas our interests intersect. Medieval music, traditional music, women and minorities in music, improvisation, transmission of material across time, cultural boundaries, and through different media, and educational outreach, to name a few. That seems like a lot of common ground between two people with such different interests, but a cursory look at the common ground reveals that it consists of timeless themes.

So, where else but at Hexachord Mutants can you find discussions on music set to the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, music of Arab Andalusia, the British Isles, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops?

And in case you were wondering, we really know how to mutate hexachords.

N.B.: There are more than two of us out there.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rhetoric, Analysis, and Performance (the original R.A.P.)

What would music be without rhetoric? Is rhetoric really necessary for understanding or performing music? If rhetoric is not part of my musical performance, research, or analysis, then on what is my complete musical experience based? To ask these questions in the context of music written between the years 1500-1850, and from the perspective of one who composed or performed the music, is to embrace the relationship between rhetoric and music that has been documented, for our purposes here, since the seventeenth century.

The study of historical performance practices attempts to view this relationship through the lens of the composer-performer, as a musico-ethnomusicological event. A mere cursory examination of primary sources that discuss the relationship between rhetoric and music, directly and indirectly, such as Johannes Lippius,  Giulio Caccini,  Joachim Burmeister, and Heinrich Christoph Koch, for example, and the translations and secondary sources that help us decipher and interpret them today, such as Patrick McCreless, H. Wiley Hitchcock, and Benito Rivera, and the modern writers who translate, collate, and summarize, such as Dietrich Bartel, Mark Evan Bonds, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Justin London, Judy Tarling, and Leonard Ratner, to mention a few of many, demonstrate just how important the musical-rhetorical connection was and why it still is for the study and realization of historical performance practices. How could one not try to interpret and perform music without a rhetorical connection? Rhetoric is such a significant component of my study of historical performance practices that I cannot imagine working without it, and to condense such a large topic into such a small space requires an invocation of the musical-poetical elders from the seventeenth century.

Classical rhetoric was part of the Western educational agenda since the rise of humanism in the Renaissance,  and, through a series of adaptations and conscriptions, held a significant relationship with music theory, composition, and analysis until the nineteenth century.  But this connection is not enough, for music to be thoroughly rhetorical. The radical break from tradition, the Seconda Prattica, the meetings of the Florentine Camerata, and that timeless element of humanity, peer pressure, were needed to truly create the metamorphosis of music and rhetoric into a musical-rhetorical entity. This entity, from a compositional perspective, defined and divided different parts of music, text, and musical performance,  providing more tools for composers and performers to work with.

After establishing a connection between words, that is, oration, and the text of vocal music, and music itself, all the building blocks were seemingly in place. A certain level of literacy, words and music, an understanding of poetry and poetical forms, and general education were required not only of those composing and performing the music but of the recipient or audience. For the modern performer of early music, however and whenever it is defined, we cannot assume, especially in North America, that our audiences will understand the meaning of the words, even if they are in English. Thus our modern presentation will need a visual aid to better understand the sonic presentation.

Our task, as a student of historical performance practices, in which rhetoric is embedded, is to assist our rhetorical presentation with translations or an oral summary, complete with background information of the composer, the poem or poet, the historical setting, and, in some cases, a description of the instruments used for the event. A "hive of bees" for Elizabeth I produced a type of honey that is not known for being particularly palatable, or for enhancing other foods, and subsequently is best discussed elsewhere by someone else. Failure to provide the information necessary for the modern audience to fully understand the performance will produce an unsatisfactory result. The music may be well performed and thoroughly enjoyed, but if the communication is vague or esoteric, the reaction of the audience will be less than optimal; the performer needs to reach the soul of the audience. Here the ars dicendi needs to be the ars exoravi; the listener needs to be persuaded.

How did we get to the point of needing to inform the audience of so many things in order to enjoy a concert? Johannes Lippius may have had the best idea, of not creating or naming any rhetorical figures found in the writings of later theorists. He only modeled his musical treatise on his earlier rhetorical treatise, and connected for the first time the five-part Classical rhetoric model as a musical tool. Subsequent writers cumulatively bogged down the student, reader, composer, or musicologist with so many musical-rhetorical figures that by the mid-eighteenth century Johann Mattheson and Johann David Heinichen took advantage of this and began to discuss musical rhetoric in terms of expression and not persuasion. With an abundance of rhetorical figures, some based on Classical terminology, others, such as Christoph Bernhard, who created music-specific terminology, how could any composer expect anyone, outside of the performers, but the most educated non-musician to comprehend the music being heard?

After the change in musical rhetoric to one of expression in the eighteenth century, it gradually changed again to the construction of melody, and to develop form based on the relationship between melody and harmony, as discussed by Heinrich Christoph Koch (1749-1816). He clearly felt that composers as well as audiences needed to be reminded of the connection between grammatical sentences, as building blocks, and rhetoric. During a time when compositions were filled with sturm und drang and emfindsamkeit, Koch revives the connection between music and rhetoric by imposing a formal structure to pieces by his contemporaries that seem filled with irregularities. But it is the irregularities that have their parallel in grammatical sentences.  This information provides the modern performer with another tool for our musico-ethnomusicological event. Instead of unraveling rhetorical figures and interpreting their respective meanings,  we can see the sections of the piece as parts of the musical oration.

Or we can ignore them and just play the notes. Do we need rhetoric in music? Does an audience need knowledge of rhetoric to appreciate music? Do they even know how to read music or play an instrument or sing? Does it matter? Particular Baroque festivals performed on modern instruments by players with no training in historical performance practices seem to be thriving with no musical-rhetoric in sight or sound. When historical performance is incorporated into these festivals any rhetorical interpretations are lost in the modern concert hall, a rhetorical vacuum for eighteenth-century instruments. Music is enjoyed by audiences with no knowledge of rhetoric performed by musicians with no knowledge of rhetoric or at least a feeling that no musical-rhetorical connection from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries need be engaged.

What constitutes rhetoric? Compiling a list of figures from the theorist-composers living and working at the time of the music I want to perform and then imposing these figures or concepts on specific sections of the music being used? With just a cursory glance at the translations of primary sources, or just a list or catalog of the primary sources, one sees that there are far too many different collections and compilations of musical-rhetorical figures from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to make any general distinctions, other than creating very broad categories for specific musical events, e.g., musical figures that go up, go down, represent a literal event, or that represent the irony of a particular event.

Music without rhetoric would be just notes on a printed page, or in an aural tradition, just notes with no direction or function. For historical performance, rhetoric is a necessary and essential part of presenting and understanding music. Pierre Baillot (1771-1842) was concerned about both the performer and the public being equally informed, and ten years after the death of Baillot, Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) felt it necessary to quote Baillot in Les soirées de l’orchestre, 1852.  This seems, unfortunately, an indication that composers, performers, and audiences in the early- to mid-nineteenth century were not as concerned about musical rhetoric as I am today. Taking advice from Quintillian’s Institutio Oratoria Book XI, my musical-rhetorical presentations include not only the five-part Classical format, but lessons on how to present myself to the public, to reign in excessive body movements, be prepared to extemporize, and that self-examination and physical exercise are elements of equal importance as the inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and pronunciatio. If the audience does not notice all of these musical-rhetorical elements during the performance, but subsequently feels moved, so much the better.


Bartel, Dietrich. Musica Poetica: Musical-Rhetorical Figures in German Baroque Music. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Beghin, Tom. Haydn and the Performance of Rhetoric. Edited by Sander M Goldberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Berlioz, Hector. Evenings with the orchestra. University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Bonds, Mark Evan. Wordless Rhetoric: Musical Form and the Metaphor of the Oration. Studies in the history of music 4. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991.

“Book 11 - Chapter 1: Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory”, n.d.

Burmeister, Joachim. Musical Poetics. Translated by Benito V Rivera. Music theory translation series. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Caccini, Giulio. Le nuove musiche. Edited by Hugh Wiley Hitchcock. A-R Editions, Inc., 2009.

Christensen, Thomas Street, ed. The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory. The Cambridge History of Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

“Christoph Bernhard’s Figures (= rules for dissonance usage) from his Tractatus compositionis augmentatus (1660) n.d.

Conley, Thomas M. Rhetoric in the European Tradition. New York: Longman, 1990.

Harnoncourt, Nikolaus. Baroque Music Today: Music as Speech: Ways to a New Understanding of Music. Portland, Or: Amadeus Press, 1988.

Hilse, Walter. “The Treatises of Christoph Bernhard.” Music Forum III (1973): 1-196.

Howard, John Brooks. “Form and Method in Johannes Lippius’s ‘Synopsis musicae novae’.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 38, no. 3 (Autumn 1985): 524-550.

Lester, Joel. Compositional Theory in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992.

London, Justin. “Riepel and Absatz: Poetic and Prosaic Aspects of Phrase Structure in 18th-Century Theory.” The Journal of Musicology 8, no. 4 (Autumn 1990): 505-519.

Mattheson, Johann. Johann Mattheson’s Der Vollkommene Capellmeister: A Revised Translation with Critical Commentary. Ann Arbor, Mich: UMI Research Press, 1981.

Strunk, W. Oliver. Source Readings in Music History. Edited by Leo Treitler. Rev. ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1998.

Tarling, Judy. The Weapons of Rhetoric a Guide for Musicians and Audiences. Corda Music (2004), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 2004.

Originally posted here. Used, of course, with permission.