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Joan Cererols was born in Martorell on 9 September 1618 and died in the monastery of Montserrat on 27 August 1680. These dates show that Cererols lived during a period that has been neglected by musicologists internationally whose knowledge of Spanish music begins with figures like Morales, Guerrero and Victoria in the sixteenth century, casts a glance at Soler in the eighteenth century and ends with another trilogy including Albeniz, Granados and de Falla.
Spain has suffered from a limited diffusion of its works, perhaps because only those musicians who travelled outside the country were known and more particularly because, in the seventeenth century there was no music printing in the Peninsula, so that everything depended on manuscript circulation. The Royal Press seem not to have issued many copies, since few if any of its publications are found in foreign libraries. For a while the Abbey of Montserrat had its own press but not for music. Not until 1930 did the first edition of Cererols' works appear, thanks to the efforts of David Pujol OSB, who also wrote a short biography of the composer.
A glance at the musical customs of seventeenth century Spain provides some explanation. A score gives only a minimum outline for the performer, who must complete the picture with other historical and musicological information. The Spanish custom was restricted to writing the harmonic parts with reference to vocal models and ranges. In Cererols' period we find however the appearance of an accompaniment line or continuo, usually unfig-ured, which in general doubles the vocal bass line: from this slender material the continuo should be constructed by the instruments available to the composer where he lived. His writing was dictated by the vocal and instrumental forces available. The absence of instrumental parts does not prove that they were non-existent, since we know which instruments were included in a musical chapel and that each chapel master could use them as he wished according to the importance of the ceremony, the local liturgy and the purpose of the piece. The archives of Montserrat were largely destroyed during the Napoleonic War, and not many documents on the importance of the choirschool survive. However evidence survives of some forty-four musicians contemporary with Cererols: these included organists, violinists, a harpist and wind instrumentalists. Some were able to play various instruments, Cererols foremost amongst them. A number were composers and all were trained in the choirschool for boys of the monastery. But these young people left the monastery to continue their study, particularly in music, at Madrid or Salamanca : this was the case with Cererols. Montserrat brought together Catalan and Castilian monks who came and went: the atmosphere at Montserrat was not confined but exposed to outside influences in the same way that it exported its own aesthetics. We must consider also that Cererols' works could have been played by groups other than those of the monastery, for example at Madrid, or by the Benedictines at Saint Martin, or even by the members of the Royal Chapel which around the middle of the century include some forty or so individuals, according to the years. In Madrid, as in other great cities in the kingdom, cathedrals and monasteries celebrated services with great pomp to attract congregations and alms. The great royal monastic foundations also had their accredited musicians often reinforced by a number of the nuns. Mass, Vespers, the forty hours of worship of the Holy Sacrament, the spiritual concert and processions of thanksgiving offered urban life many musical opportunities for which the composers' talents were required.
This passion for spiritual music did not proceed without any opposing view: the mystical music of the preceding century came up against the customs of Italian solemnities and tended to increase in flamboyance and triumphalism what it lost in simplicity and austerity: the audience comprised not monastic but lay people, less accustomed to the spiritual exercises of pure meditation. It needed support from the plastic arts and architecture - all ad major em gloriam Dei. And yet, although Spain succombed to the temptation of both Burgundian and Peruvian luxury it soon sank again into penitence and devoutness: most of its great composers were monks or priests. Accustomed since their childhood to serving God first and foremost, they left to lay musicians the job of writing music for the theatre, although they would express themselves in a more ingenuous way in tonos or in airs and villancicos.
Although we know little about the life of Cererols, we can piece together a picture of his background. Born in 1618 he entered the choirschool of Montserrat around 1626 when he was seven and a half or eight years old. Since October 1586 the monastery had owned its allegiance to Castille. However, the abbots belonged alternatively to the crowns of Castille and Aragon-Catalonia. Dissension broke out with the Catalan revolt against Philip IV between 1640 and 1648 : for a while at its own request Catalonia came under French suzerainty. During the period that Catalonia could be thought to have broken away from Castille, the Castilian community was expelled from Montserrat. It sought refuge with the King in Madrid and founded there a small-scale version of Montserrat (el Montserratico): the expelled group included some musicians who had been declared "Castillans". Some of these were reintegrated into the monastery after Catalonia submitted to its former (Spanish) suzerainty.
When revolt began, Cererols had been a monk for four years. He was twenty-two years old and continued to be the pupil of Father Juan March or Marques, a famous organist, born in 1582, who had studied at Madrid in the monastery of St. Martin and who may have succeeded Victoria. When he returned to Montserrat, at the death of Father Bernardo Barecha in 1625, he took charge of the Escalonia. It was he who presided over the monastery from 1641, during the troubled period. Cererols took his first steps in music under his direction : after ten years of escalonia he was admitted as a novice on 6 September 1636, when he was eighteen years old. March continued to keep an eye on the young composer and perhaps introduced him to that polychoral dialogue texture with a slight gap between the vocal entries within each choir which lightens his style and contrasts with that of composers of the earlier generation.
Because of his training as an organist, March lightens the circulation of musical phrases in the manner of the Italian madrigal rather than sticking to the austerity of the Hispano-Castilian baroque style. He may have handled the music of Victoria, as well as that of the Flemish composers in the Royal Chapel and that of Sebastian Lopez de Velesco whose "baroque" writing for two choirs was already known : he frequented the circle of Spaniards who had returned from Italy, including the organists of the family of Diego and Bernardo del Castillio, and his pupils naturally profited from this. It was also March who must have arranged Cererols' journey to the Montserratico in Madrid in 1648, so that he could meet the new generation of musicians. 1648 was the year of the peace settlement and also of the preparations for the second royal marriage. Castille was emerging from a period of mourning when the public had been brought back to religious music and meditation. This was the opportunity for the young Cererols, now confirmed as a member of the monastic community, to show his worth as an eventual successor to the choirmaster in his home monastery, a position he acquired in 1658 on the death of March. Cererols continued to direct the musical life of Montserrat until his death in 1680.
Missa Pro Defunctis
This mass belongs to a long Spanish tradition : in it Cererols alternates his polyphonic passages with other passages sung in plainchant, as in the sixteenth century, respecting the Roman rite and limiting his own inspiration. This produces a kind of mannerism in the spirit even though this aesthetic is surpassed in performance.
While he does not have Victoria's mystical austerity, Cererols remains closely linked with the humanist movement of allegorical representation, of connections between the significant and the signified which can bee seen in the search for rediscovering the ethos of the modes and in the figuralism used to underscore the meaning of the text. This figuralism is found throughout the work, but it is internalized and is less apparent in the melodic recitation of a particular word or expression than in the atmosphere of each piece in accordance with its sense within the liturgy and the fervent reading of it by the Benedictine monk, Cererols.
In the mystical spirit of the sixteenth century, the Requiem masss does not lend itself to obvious displays of emotion and follows rather the Introit verse - Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine. In this sense, Cererols' work is distinctive and marks the beginning of a Baroque reading in which tension and aspiration outweigh balance and repose, as well as the notion of "passage towards the light of glory". Thus the composer attaches more importance to the following verse et lux perpetua luceat eis. This verse recurs three times in the course of this office, in the Introit, in the Gradual (with Requiem) and in the Communion ; it is also relayed in the Offertory by the words fac eas Domine de morte transire ad vitam, in the Motet Hei mihi, Cererols' choice, by the words dum veneris in novis-simo die, and so it represents the main point of this Requiem. The fear of devine wrath is certainly expressed too, but prayer and the desire for divine light and fire dominate.
Cererols lays down the rules for a symbolic game that we see again in Missa de Batalla. Thus he wrote for two choirs - on one side three voices of middle range and on the other a four-part group, with a low bass part and three others of normal range. In all seven parts with possible instrumental doubling of various kinds, as well as a discreet continuo part consisting here of organ and violone. Jordi Savall sometimes doubles the smaller choir with viols, sometimes a cornett and two sackbuts, and the larger choir with a quartet of viols or bassoons or with a combination of cornett and three bassoons. Occasionally when Cererols cites a fragment of cantusfirmus (for example Credo) the chant is given to the voice which he then accompanies with instruments. In contrast the Gregorian plainchant verses are sung a capella, which stresses their sobriety.
A dialogue is established between the two choirs by means of the symbolism of the number of voices involved : the three voices of the first choir represent the Trinity, celestral perfection, and the four voices of the second choir are the equivalent of the Earth, thus the vision of the Requiem by the living and praying faithful on the one hand, and the reception of the soul, stripped of its worldly body, by the heavenly world which prays for it in the Communion of Saints united in the two choirs and the number seven, representing Wisdom and Totality, according to the earlier dramatic and mannerist vision of El Greco's paintings : a reminder of an essential catechism to which Cererols submits with this one vocal distribution.
The comtemplative atmosphere without austerity is underlined not only by the dialogue with the plainchant choir but also by the tonalities which follow those of the Gregorian melodies.
Although this Requiem was not intended for any particular event but for the annual service on the day of the Dead of the Monastic Community, the Sequence is well placed in this Office. Composed at the time of a plague which afflicted Barcelona in 1650-1651 and rapidly spread throughout the rest of Spain, it was easily understood at a time when an epidemic was considered as a sign of divine wrath.
Missa De Batalla
This is a kind of parody-mass, prized in Spain and still fashionable in the middle of the seventeenth century: Patino had two of them to his credit and it may perhaps have been in response to a challenge that Cererols attempted the form. The moment was propitious : in Februrary 1648, Juan Jose of Austria triumphed over the revolution in Naples which was then under the rule of Aragon. It is our belief that Cererols' mass dates from this time. Its style suggests it - three four-part choirs, SSAT, SATB and SATB, with a general continuo part usually doubling the bass of the second and third choir. Each choir can be doubled or even replaced in whole or part by instruments or can give way to introductory instrumental ritornelli.
A guide to the instrumentation may be provided by an allegorical interpretation of the three choirs which, ideally, would condition their arrangement on stage. The three choirs of "glory" may be seen as an allegory of the trinity, the first being the choir of celestial Father and of Heaven in general, hence its higher tessitura, the second being the choir in which human nature is combined with the divine, that of the Son, a traditional choir, to which responds in echo that of the Holy Spirit of consolation which replaces the Son after Pentecost and assumes the same role. The full three choirs are used only in the most glorious and solemn moments in which divine majesty bursts forth. Within the choirs themselves the distribution of the timbres resumes the Heaven-Earth-Hell allegory on occasions.
Jordi Savall doubles his first choir with viols underlining the spiritual side, the second with a cornett and three sackbuts, for the Son of Man returning in glory, while the third choir has its quartet of bajoncillos or wooden bassoons with a more veiled and meditative tone. As well as organ, the continuo includes theorbo, harp and violone, and for the most solemn moments the "battle drum", a reminder of military custom which required that the Elevation of the Host be punctuated by the intervention of trumpets, fifes and drums... Cererols did not indicate anything of the kind himself. But this Missa de Batalla authorizes it, since instrumental models inspire it, according to the practice of the time on certain solemn occasions.
The Battle Mass offers a challenge which allows the music to escape from the first and second modes to explore the major modes, which were new centres of interest in the baroque period. The chosen instrumentation and reduction of the vocal parts for soloists alleviates the Battle, providing the relief necessary for the spatio-temporal distribution of the choirs. Cererols retains from musical tradition a certain esotericism of writing, keeping a kind of constructive "leitmotiv" reflecting the mode and its traditional ethos. This Mass offers several valid readings : one, choral, monastic, more massive, introverted in its solemnity; another, presented here, more concertante and brilliant, like the baroque sky in Italian painting.
- Daniele Becker (tTranslated by Frank Dobbins)