Regina Caeli by Francisco Guerrero

Here is New York Polyphony’s performance of this polyphonic “Regina Caeli.” While most everyone knows the simple chant version, we forget that the Marian antiphons were perfect for polyphonic arrangement in the eyes of Renaissance composers.

Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) was born and spent most of his career in Sevilla, Spain. There were intervals where he traveled to Rome (very common for Spanish composers looking to learn the latest Italian stylings) and a couple of brief tenures in other Spanish cathedrals. But somehow he always came back to Sevilla. Robert Merrell Stevenson’s Spanish Cathedral Music in the Golden Age gives a detailed picture of Guerrero’s ups and downs with the Cathedral Dean and Chapter. Our composer was chronically in debt and once was bailed out by the Chapter. He was always borrowing from his employers, who towards the end of Guerrero’s life acknowledged that these “loans” were gifts. Guerrero was also somewhat of a failure with the supervision of the choir boys. There was extra money in boarding and educating these boys, but discipline was not Guerrero’s strong suit and he repeatedly lost that extra position (and the cash).

One interesting liturgical point - on January 7, 1575, the Cathedral Chapter decreed that henceforth all masses would follow the Roman rite as reformed by the Council of Trent. Troped and polytextual masses that Guerrero had written in the 1560s were now obsolete.

The high point of his life was a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1588-1589. He traveled through Rome, Venice, Damascus, and most importantly, Jerusalem. While he was interested in the music of the Greek church, he didn’t provide a great deal of information about it. The excitement came on his return trip that involved capture by “ruffians,” ransoming, and another kidnapping of him and his fellow passengers by pirates off the coast of France. Guerrero’s autobiographical account of his pilgrimage, “Journey to the Holy Land,” was extremely popular and remained in print in Spain until the early 19th century. He reflected that the only place he met with danger was France! A Spanish prejudice against the French confirmed by experience, no?

At the time of his death from plague, he was planning another trip. While that was not meant to be, his music spread throughout the Spanish Empire, turning up in the libraries of the cathedrals of New Spain.

Enjoy this splendid music of the Easter Season!


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