9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Libretti of devotional music in the Iberian World

Alvaro Torrente

Between around 1600 and 1850 and particularly in the period 1650-1750 it became customary to print the texts of devotional compositions in the vernacular performed during certain sacred festivals in cathedrals, convents and major churches in Spain, Portugal and Mexico. More than 4,000 of these imprints are extant, and about 1,000 are preserved in libraries located in the UK and the USA. Most of the pieces contained in these imprints are villancicos for this reason they are known as pliegos de villancicos but also include cantatas, oratorios and other types of devotional compositions.

These libretti’ are a major source of information concerning the cultivation of devotional music. In the same way as opera libretti, they provide details about each performance otherwise unknown, including the name of the composer, place, date and time of performance as well the texts of all the pieces performed in the celebration. Long series from specific cities and institutions are extant such as the Madrid Chapel Royal or Seville Cathedral which allow the study of changes in stylistic conventions, literary contents and relationships with contemporary social and political events.

This paper will present a comprehensive overview of the production of these pliegos throughout more than two centuries, with special attention to the earliest known sources from Seville Cathedral around the 1610s.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita