This disc pays attention to one of the main religious feasts in
Spain, Corpus Christi, which commemorates the institution of the
Holy Eucharist by Jesus Christ. Elements of the celebrations were
considered vulgar or profane and over the centuries attempts were
made to eliminate them. But in Toledo in the 18th century the
feast still contained the elements which lent it its specific
profile. Part of the celebrations - which lasted several days
- was a procession, and it was in particular here that sacred
and popular elements were intermingled. The whole proceedings
are described in detail in the booklet, which allows the listener
to put the music in its context.
Here music is performed which was written for the feast of Corpus Christi
on Thursday, 29 May 1751. Jaime Casellas is not a household
name, although he was one of the most prolific composers of
his time. This is an indication of how little we still know
about Spanish music of the 18th century. In 1715 he was elected
maestro de capilla of San María del Mar in Barcelona
and in 1733 he was appointed to the same position in Toledo
Cathedral. Hardly anything of the music he composed while
working in Barcelona has survived, but a large corpus of music
written in Toledo has been preserved. It comprises Latin liturgical
music as well as villancicos, tonos and tonadillas to Spanish
texts. In his compositions he usually supports the vocal forces
with orchestra, as in the music which is performed on this
The main work is the Missa Pange lingua/Sacris solemnis. It
is based on two of the hymns for Corpus Christi, which are
also sung in plainchant during the Mass. Pange lingua is
sung before the Kyrie, Sacris solemnis after
the Gloria. It is mainly the musical material of the
hymn Pange lingua which is used in the Mass. Material
from this hymn is also used by Cabanilles whose Tiento
is played after the Credo of the Mass. The scoring
of the Mass, with eight voices in two choirs and an orchestra
of two violins, two oboes, two trumpets, bassoon and b.c.
reflects the importance of this feast and the exuberance of
the celebrations in Toledo. Casellas could count on a number
of excellent musicians. Around the time this Mass was composed
new singers were brought in, among them young castrati from
Spain and Italy. The orchestra was reinforced by experienced
musicians. Both this Mass and the villancico which closes
this recording must have taken profit from these circumstances.
Carlos Martínez Gil writes about the programme: "It would be fruitless
to search for traces of intimacy in this recording. Everything
here is advertisement for an institution [the Cathedral] that
insisted on being the determining factor of the destiny of
a city in undeniable decadence and which utilized, in this
case, the art of music to manifest its grandeur". This
and the information about the character of the celebrations
on Corpus Christi in Toledo are to be kept in mind while listening
to this music. It is mostly extraverted and often a bit loud.
Even in the traditionally most introverted part of the Mass,
the passage about Jesus' incarnation, the trumpets can be
heard. But I am sure you will be able to appreciate this disc
if you like Spanish music.
Jaime Casellas’s music is certainly worth listening to, not only the
Mass but also the villancico, a uniquely Spanish genre. Although
the content is sacred the style has much in common with the
secular music of the time, and shows how sacred and popular
elements are mixed. It is given a very energetic performance
here with an especially good contribution of the tenor, whose
name is not given. I assume it is the tenor from the first
choir, Miguel Bernal.
To what extent the performance practice of the Mass reflects what is
known about how the music was performed in Toledo in 1751
I do not know. There are several moments when bells are ringing
and that is certainly historically justified. Whether the
soft drumbeat which accompanies the singing of the hymn 'Sacris
solemnis' also reflects historical practice I can't tell.
I am also not sure whether the pomp and circumstance of the
Corpus Christi celebrations are fully explored in a performance
using only one voice per part as on this disc. Although the
Mass is nice to listen to, the singing isn't always top-notch.
In particular the sopranos use too much vibrato, which is
especially notable in the passages with more modest scoring.
The booklet contains ample information about the Corpus Christi celebrations
as well as about the music by Casellas. Unfortunately only
the original Spanish text of the villancico is given. If a
disc is released for the international market an English translation
of uncommon lyrics is indispensable.
All in all, I commend this disc mostly to those who have a special
interest in Spanish music and Spanish culture. Let us hope it
will also encourage other performers to explore the Spanish music
of the 18th century which is not given as much attention as earlier
repertoire from Spain.
Johan van Veen