This is the first world recording of the 1636 Mexican Zapotec Mass, part of a program that brings together music of the different populations of Baroque Mexico (Spanish, Indians, Creole, Mestizos, and Africans). All on period instruments!

Misa Zapoteca is a polyphonic Mass, a four-voice work; it comprises some of the stylistic traits of Native Mexican composers, and reflects the syncretism of New World influence on the Old World polyphonic tradition. Composed in 1636 by Andrés Martinez, a native of the Zapotec tribe that lives in the Southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the mass was uncovered and transcribed by musicologist Mark Brill. It is heard in the exotic context of Baroque Mexico,  its ethnical diversity expressed in captivating melodies and infectious dances, performed by PHOENIX on period instruments.

"Quite outstanding! I love your combinations of instruments. Your festive approach is exactly what this kind of music needs. The mass is stunning, Well done!" Dr. Mark Brill, editor of the Zapotec Mass



PHOENIX FotoAndresLacko light

MISA ZAPOTECA and the exotic music of Baroque Mexico

First world recording!

Ensemble PHOENIX 

Myrna Herzog - conductor, musical director

Einat Aronstein, Michal Okon - sopranos
Alon Harari, Avital Dery - altos
Yaacov Halperin - tenor

Zachariah Kariithi - baritone
Assaf Benraf - bass

Shira Ben Yehoshua - shawm, zambomba
Adi Silberberg - recorders, colascione

Raphael Isaac Landzbaum - alto dulcian, recorders
Liron Rinot - sackbut
Alexander Fine - bass dulcian, wind-band leader

Yizhar Karshon - harpsichord, organ
Dara Bloom - violone

Omer Schonberger - baroque jarana, baroque guitar
Myrna Herzog - rabel
Rony Iwryn - percussion

ZAPOTEC mosaico light
MYRNA HERZOG: notes on the program

Our program brings together music of the different populations that made up Baroque Mexico - Spanish, Indians, Creole, Mestizos and Africans - with their touching prayers, enchanting songs and infectious dances. At its heart shines the 17th century Misa Zapoteca, composed in 1636 by Andrés Martinez, a native from the Zapotec tribe of the Southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

We open with songs written by the natives in the Nahuatl Aztec language (In ilhuicac Cihuāpillé , Dios Itlazo nantziné – supplications to Mary), or written for them in a mixed Indian-Spanish dialect by Gaspar Fernandes (1565-1629), the Portuguese-born maestro de capilla of Puebla Cathedral (Jesós de mi goraçon, Xicochi conetzintle - lullabies to the newborn infant Jesus).

The Zapotec Latin Mass follows, in four parts: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Sit Nomen (instead of Benedictus, in the tradition of the New World Masses) and Agnus Dei. The manuscript which contains the Mass was discovered in the first decades of the 20th century and subsequently edited by Dr. Mark Brill. The Mass has never been published nor recorded.

After the Mass, it is time to sing and dance to the good life, with the Chacona by Spanish composer Juan Arañés (d. c1649). This sensual dance born in Mexico (then part of the viceroyalty of New Spain), quickly conquered Europe, in spite (or maybe because) of its overtly lascivious character.

The next songs brings us the Spaniards from Galicia (the land of the bagpipes, the sound of which is recalled in the composition) praising the Infant Jesus (the Sun) with an interesting imagery in which ”the fire shivers but the snow burns”. This song and most of next section comes from the pen of the great composer Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c. 1590-1664) - the Spanish maestro de capilla who succeeded Gaspar Fernandes at the Puebla Cathedral.

In A siolo Flasiquiyo – a well-humored piece typical of the genre Negrilla - Padilla emulates the dialect spoken by the black population. He describes a group of African slaves “dying to dance” (morriendo por bailar) and play (for Jesus) different kinds of instruments such as the rabel and the zambomba (a friction drum used in Spain and the New World in Christmas Eve celebrations). Christmas devotion is also expressed in the playing and dancing of the jacara (a dance associated with the lower classes), in Padilla’s A la xacara, xacarilla.

Two polyphonic pieces bring about the most poignant moment of the program: a Tiento by Spain’s foremost organist and composer Juan Bautista Josep Cabanilles (1644-1712) and Padilla’s Stabat Mater, in which the use of suspensions and dissonances convey Mary’s suffering by the cross in a most extraordinary way.

The time travel to Baroque Mexico closes with two dances introduced by Africans in the Americas: Cumbés and Guaracha. The Cumbé was a favorite couple dance originated in the Gulf of Guinea that spread over to Mexico, Central and South America. The one performed here derives from Spanish composer Santiago de Murcia’s (1673 – 1739) guitar manuscript known as Códice Saldívar nº 4, which was found in Mexico. Some claim that the composer himself was in Mexico during the 1720s. The Guaracha – also a dance of African origin, still popular in Cuba – is heard here in an exuberant setting by Mexican composer Juan García de Zéspedes (1619 -1678), the successor of Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla as maestro de capilla at Puebla Cathedral: "The night is inviting; to the newborn infant let’s sing tender songs of adoration. Let’s celebrate him in the guaracha!"

MARK BRILL: Notes on the Zapotec Mass

The compositions on this CD reflect the strong polyphonic tradition present in colonial Mexico. These sophisticated works, by both criollo and native composers, reveal stylistic traits inherent to the native populations of Meso-America, traits which had a powerful influence on the musical development of the New World, in the same way that native features strongly influenced and altered the development of architecture, sculpture and painting. Their importance is not merely artistic, but also historical and anthropological. Their origins lie in the often-brutal encounters between Europeans and natives in the 16th and of 17th centuies. Their authors represent the clash between powerful conquerors and proud but dominated people. The works themselves reflect a syncretic mix of influence from both European and Native influence, a gradual infiltration of a Mexican language into the transplanted European musical culture.

Almost from the start of the colonial period, native Mexicans quickly learned the European tradition, and soon the culture was sufficiently diffused to allow capable native choirs to develop throughout the countryside. Inevitably, exceptional musicians emerged from the ranks of the natives. Their compositions often reflect an increasingly ornamented character, in contrast to similar European compositions. One finds in their texts the liberal and constant use of native and African languages and dialects, for example in the indigenous popular accents in the hymns in the Náhuatl language, composed by Hernando Franco and dedicated to the virgin. The villancico Mestizo e Indio by Gaspar Fernández combines polyphonic imitation with the rhythmic configuration characteristic of many indigenous motives found in the Náhuatl language. Other polyphonic and even polychoral compositions from this period, including those by the Puebla chapelmaster Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, reflect an ‘ultra baroque’ or extreme character, comparable to that found in Neo-Hispanic painting and architecture. In instrumental works, composers favored a hybrid sound which combined Spanish and Indigenous elements, a tendency reflect in the brilliant color of combinations of instruments such as sackbuts, chirimías, bassoons, and harps, preferred by Neo-Hispanic composers.

The Zapotec Mass comprises some of the stylistic traits of Native Mexican composers, and reflects the syncretism of New World influence on the Old World polyphonic tradition. Its origins lie in the southern state of Oaxaca, where indigenous influence on Colonial culture was very pronounced. The Mass survives in a manuscript which is presently located in the Rare Book Collection of the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, at Tulane University, in New Orleans, where it has been since 1924. On the cover of the manuscript there appears a handwritten inscription in a mix of Spanish and Zapotec, which reads: A work of the story of Christ, in the year 1636, This mass is a work of mine, by name Andrés Martinez

It is a complete Latin mass, written for four voices in choirbook format, with variations in grammar and vocabulary that reflect the local vernacular pronunciation of 17th-century southern Mexico. The movements are linked together by similar stylistic and compositional traits. The usual Benedictus movement has been replaced by a Sit Nomen, reflecting the common practice of 16th-Century Spanish masses.

The duality of this mass is reflected in the text and in the music. On the one hand, the composer has managed to preserve the stylistic and technical rules followed by his counterparts across the ocean: conservative harmonies, dissonances prepared with suspensions or passing notes, infrequent modulations and constant reliance on modality and syncopated rhythms. The motivic material which open several of the movements is based on the Spanish Kyrie chant sung in Spain at Masses for the Dead, a chant previously used in the Encina and Morales Requiems.

On the other hand, the reliance on binary meters, the peculiar rhythmic balance between voices, and the use of high registers points to an aesthetic somewhat removed from standard Renaissance polyphony. The diverse musical figures superimposed on strong and constant patterns reflect the vigorous and sober language of native music. The relatively ornamented passages, for instance in the Agnus Dei, are contrasted to the simplicity evident in other movements, particularly the Credo, which often sacrifices contrapuntal complexity for pleasing sonorities. The composer represents a crossroads between two musical traditions, and this mass is the quiet and solemn result of a violent clash between two extremely different cultures.


Project conception, musical production: Myrna Herzog
Album production: Myrna Herzog, Carol Ferman
Booklet coordination, artwork and graphic design: Carol Ferman & EGDesign
Cover illustration:  Angel playing a viola da gamba, painting from the ceiling of the Templo de San Bartolomé in Cocucho, Michoacán, Mexico, photo  Thomas F. Aleto
Photos © Andres Lacko; Myrna Herzog’s photo playing the rabel © Eliahu Feldman
Texts and English translation’s available at www.phoenixearlymusic.com
Recording (24 bit digital): Eliahu Feldman and David Feldman
Editing: Myrna Herzog
Mastering: David Feldman & Ben Bernfeld

To Carlos Rico, in memoriam

Our hearty thanks to Mark Brill, Hanna Tsur, Gershon Cohen, The Abu Gosh Festival;
Yossi Talgan & the Israel Festival, Amos Lanir & the Haifa Liturgical Festival, the Raanana Music Center and its director, Yafit Reis; the Church of Notre Dame in Jerusalem; Ilan Rechtman & The Tel Aviv Museum of Art; The Mexican Embassy in Israel; David Shemer, Sara Piro & The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra; to Thomas F. Aleto, Jacob Feiwel, Pamela Hickman, Shlomo Israeli, Michael Jaffee, Andres Lacko, Nathan Lifshitz, Doron Salomon, Gio Sthel.

Recorded live in 2011 during concerts on November 22 at the Raanana Conservatory of Music; on November 28 at the Chapel of Our Lady of Peace at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem (by Eliahu Feldman and David Feldman); on December 2 at the Asia Hall of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and on December 3 at the The Catholic Church of Mar Elias in Haifa (by Eliahu Feldman).

All rights reserved P & © Myrna Herzog
Specie Dolce ("sweet spices") is a label the PHOENIX Ensemble, Israel.

With the support of:
Readymix Industries (Israel) Ltd. - ARAVA Mines Ltd - The Felicja Blumental Music Center
Israel’s Ministry of Science, Culture & Sport, Culture Directorate

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Misa Zapoteca icon"For the Mexicans, unlike the Europeans, the mass was not a solemn affair but a sacred merrymaking. Catchy tunes in unfamiliar tonalities, captivating syncopated dance rhythms, dominating percussion and other period instruments came paradoxically close to the Jewish idea of worshipping with joy. There was a lot of musical fun and good humor… and a polished, professional rendition". Ury Eppstein, The Jerusalem Post.

"I was blown away by their performance…. showing a part of the Mexican heritage that I am tremendously proud of, but not only that, presenting a piece that I, a lover of Early Music, had never heard ! A world premiere of a Mexican piece written in the 17h century, almost four hundred years ago, and here, in Israel , I think that this is truly remarkable. I hope we will be able to bring the ensemble and the piece and all it represents to Mexico. I want to make a public commitment for the [Mexican] Embassy support. You are doing something which puts Israel in a very special place in the world of early music". The Mexican ambassador, Mr. Carlos Rico, at the world premiere of the Zapotec Mass, the Israel Festival, Jerusalem, June 11th, 2006.

"Quite outstanding! I love your combinations of instruments. Your festive approach is exactly what this kind of music needs. The mass is stunning, Well done!" Dr. Mark Brill, editor of the Zapotec Mass