Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Drew Edward Davies (University of Chicago, USA)

Italianate music for the Virgin of Sorrows from eighteenth-century New Spain

Few images in Roman Catholic sacred art invoke a more immediate sense of interiority as the Mater dolorosa. Paintings and statues of Mary grieving the execution of her son induce emotions of empathetic suffering among viewers who see the iconography of her pierced heart as symbolic of pain. With roots in a thirteenth-century ritual of the Servite order and famously associated with the Stabat mater sequence attributed to Iacopone da Todi, devotion to the Virgin of Sorrows achieved a particularly intense level in the first half of the eighteenth century, marked by Pope Benedict XIIIís extension of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary to the universal church in 1727.  In this period, Italian composers responded to the devotion with strikingly modernist works, including Alessandro Scarlattiís Il Dolore di Maria Vergine (1717), and Pergolesiís Stabat mater (1736). This paper examines the tradition as transferred to the New World, where Italian-born composers working in the cathedrals of Durango and Mexico City in the 1740s wrote liturgical and devotional pieces notable for techniques of chromaticism and tonal experimentation rarely employed in the colonial repertoire. At the time celebrated on the third Sunday of September as well as on the Friday preceding Palm Sunday, this feast initiated the heightened period of solemnity that lasted throughout Holy Week to Easter. In concert with Novohispanic liturgical sources and images of the Virgin of Sorrows in elevated and popular styles, this paper considers how devotional developments in Europe affected New World musical practice.

Last updated on 10 May 2004