Chatham Baroque showcases Christmas music of the 'New World'
While exploring music from the 17th and 18th centuries, the musicians of Chatham Baroque discovered composers in the New World wrote more Christmas music than their European contemporaries. But although George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” is widely performed every season, Christmas music from the New World has been largely unheard. It wasn’t published and had to be discovered in manuscripts and microfilms of manuscripts in large libraries.
Chatham Baroque will present “Alegria: Christmas Music from Spain and the New World” Dec. 14-16 at three locations in Pittsburgh. The ensemble’s core musicians – Andrew Fouts, baroque violin, Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba, and Scott Pauley, fretted instruments – will be joined by Nell Snaidas, soprano, Raquel Winnica Young, mezzo-soprano, Evan Few, violin, and Danny Mallon, percussion.
Mixed influences pervade the music that will be performed. Composers from Spain and those born in the Western hemisphere responded to local music by Native Americans and Africans. Local musicians proved adept at absorbing their new influences.
“Senerenisima una Noche” by Fray Geronimo will begin the final set on the first half of the concert celebrating El Nino, the child Jesus. “It is a duet which begins slowly, says Pauley. “Then it turns into a guaracha rhythm with a lot of festive feeling.”
After a gentle lullaby “Al dormir el sol” by Sebastian Duron, the first half will conclude with “Tarara, tarara qui yo so Antoniyo” by Antonio de Salazar. It is written in an African dialect of Spanish, says Pauley, with different spellings that resulted from words being written down from being heard.
Music played an important role for the Spanish in recruiting natives to Christianity. Pauley says the eclectic styles, a natural product of different cultures interacting, helped make the stories told in music as broadly appealing as possible.
So, too, the concert program features welcome variety. There are sets devoted to Baroque dances from Spain and African influences in the New World.
The second half will open with music from colonial Brazil. The music was found in a manuscript from the 1780s by the Bishop of Trujillo. It is in nine volumes, which include water colors documenting plant and animal life, people and their style of dress and other aspects of culture. The music was transcribed by Tom Zajac, with whom Chatham Baroque had a very fruitful relationship and who died in 2015. Another set will present non-Christmas music of the Sephardic tradition, Spanish Jews who left their homeland because of the Inquisition.
“They went to all parts of Europe and elsewhere, but maintained the Ladino language, which is very much like Spanish,” says Pauley. “The songs take on the character of their new locations. A couple we’ll do were written in Turkey, so you hear more polyrhythms. Spanish music has a lot of rhythmic variety, but these have a more Middle Eastern flavor.”
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.