Summer Festival Preview: Instruments and Voices in 16th-Century Spain with Douglas Kirk

Did they have their own responsibilities totally separate from the choirs, playing in spots in the liturgy instead of the organ or instead of the choir, but never actually with the choir? Or did they actually come down and play shoulder-to-shoulder with the singers during sections of the Ordinary of the Mass or during a psalm or the Magnificat at Vespers?

Catedral de Valladolid
Catedral de Valladolid

It is not clear that singers and instrumentalists played together at all in 16th-century France and England. This has made many suspicious of the idea that at the same time this very practice was expanding in Spain. Until recently no strictly liturgical music has been found that was clearly copied for the use of instrumentalists. That has now changed. Padre López-Calo found a Mass Ordinary by Cristóbal de Morales in the archive of the Cathedral of Valladolid with parts for instrumentalists. And I have come across a Magnificat of Juan Navarro (chapelmaster in Palencia-a cathedral that was an early adopter of an instrumental band), originally discovered by Santiago Kastner, with verses intended for instrumentalists. This intention is obvious by the lack of text in the sources and because of the fact that the notes were spaced too closely to have allowed text to have been added later. And yet, it is not likely that these works could have found use only by instrumentalists in some other context; and they surely would not have been only played and not sung in the liturgy. To me, the conclusion is inescapable: the Mass and the Magnificat were intended to be heard, at least at some point in time, with singers and instrumentalists performing together.

At the 2011 Amherst Early Music Festival we will present a concert that puts on stage a small choir of highly trained singers and a group of instrumentalists playing exactly the sort of instruments the professional ministriles would have expected to use in a Spanish cathedral at the time, and perform works that one would absolutely expect to have heard in the liturgy-a Mass Ordinary of Morales and a Magnificat by Navarro-and perform them in the manner inferred by the instrumental parts. This, I believe, will provide a fine musical demonstration of the richness of liturgical performance in Spanish cathedrals.

-Douglas Kirk

This exciting project is made possible by a grant from the Spanish Embassy of Culture!