Francisco López Capillas
Missa Re Sol. Missa Aufer a nobis. Motetes.
As long ago as 1969, Thomas Stanford and Lincoln Spiess published a book on Mexican archives containing music from the colonial period. Along with a useful overview of each archive, they included a list of the represented composers. Not having found authors of the so-called “Franco-Flemish school,” both scholars drew on a local composer, Francisco López Capillas (1614- 1674), who was given the nickname of “the Ockeghem of Mexico” because of the technical interest of his polyphony and the esoteric symbolism and learning in his masses. More than four decades later, this recording of two of his parody Masses, Re Sol and Aufer a nobis (both for four voices), and some of his motets is a homage to one of the most talented seventeenth-century compos- ers active in the New World on occasion of the quater- centenary of his birth.
Apart from the purely musical interest of the two masses, never previously recorded, this recording has an additional attraction: as in the concert of December 2013 that originated the CD in the framework of the XVII Festival de Música Antigua de Úbeda y Baeza, the performers sing from a facsimile reproduction of the original manuscript, reading directly from mensural notation; the distribution of voices and instruments of the same register together (and not physically separated into two groups, as usual) and the general layout of the musicians around a lectern re-create a historical practice –with important implications for the sound– that is lost today. Thus, we intend to present a new artistic proposal based on a different concept of the performance practice of sacred polyphony, closer to the sonic and aesthetic ideal of the seventeenth century. Its foundations are a deliberate linearity in tempi, so any tactus alteration could lead to strong mismatches while reading from an original score without barlines; (2) a sparing use of dynamics, since the idea of volume is implicit naturally in polyphony itself through the meaning and declamation of the text, the melodic drive, and the thickness or thinness of texture; the prominence given to the sound of the instrumentalists, which are not a mere accompaniment of the voices, but musical elements of equal importance; and a robust, compact, and timbre-integrated sound, corresponding to the sound ideal of a good voice in the seventeenth century, which was that “strong and with great sound” (Pedro Cerone, 1613) or with a full-bodied volume (Pablo Nasarre, 1723).
Although López Capillas has been simplistically labeled as conservative and retrograde just for the four to six voices of most of his preserved output, an unprejudiced analysis of his music, as well as the formats and functions of the manuscripts, allows us to reposition this composer in the light of the tradition of the stile antico. In the pieces recorded here, the Creole master was not interested in exploring polychoral techniques (which he practiced fluently), but instead aligned himself with the Renaissance tradition of single-choir works to be performed, as in the classic days and as with many of his contemporaries, de facistol, but taking on the challenge of incorporating elements of the Baroque style. In doing so, he updated the great sixteenth-century polyphony without betraying the spirit of his own time. Far from being an outdated composer, López Capillas was able to shape a fresh and renovated vision of a cosmopolitan style in different and distant New Spain.