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Francisco   Guerrero


The present popularity of celebrating musical anniversaries is served well for enthusiasts of the Spanish 16th century and its influences. 1998 saw the 400th anniversary of the death of Philip II of Spain and in the millennium year we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Between these two musical patrons falls the anniversary of the death of Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599).

Guerrero occupies a towering position in the development of 16th century sacred Spanish music. He was a pupil of the great Cristobal Morales (c.1500-1553) who dominated Spanish music in first part of the century. Morales invested much of his resources in publishing his own music, an example Guerrero was later to follow, and Guerrero wrote three parody mass settings on motets of Morales’.

Morales influence on Guerrero is clear, and in turn Guerrero was to influence the younger Tomas Luis de la Victoria (1548-1611). Despite his position in the middle of this almost apostolic succession, Guerrero’s music is much less known to twentieth century musicians and the reason is clear to see. For the last one hundred years both Morales and Victoria have enjoyed publication of their music in modern complete editions, but even now Guerrero’s canon is no fully published. Guerrero’s fame in his own time was a different matter though and although he spent less time away from Spain he never the less travelled to supervise publication of his works. The dissemination of his music in this way ensured that his name was famous throughout the Spanish Empire and his works were still being copied two hundred years later.

Francisco Guerrero was born in 1528 and his early training came from his elder brother Pedro. At the remarkably tender age of seventeen he was appointed maestro at Jaén but he returned to Seville in 1549 and all his remaining professional life was spent in the service of the cathedral. Possessed of a fine alto (or high tenor) voice, the young Francisco started life as a singer but not long after returning to Seville he was appointed assistant to the ageing Chapelmaster, Pedro Fernandez, finally being appointed Chapelmaster in 1574. Among Guerrero’s colleagues at the cathedral were the fine composer Mudarra and Luis Villafranca whose plainchant instructor (1565) was one of the best of its type published in Spain.

There is no doubt that the Cathedral Chapter appreciated Guerrero's powers as a composer, granting him leave of absence to disseminate his music not only in Spain, but farther afield; he spent a year in Rome arranging the publication of two large collections of his music which appeared in 1582 and 1584. While visiting Venice in 1588 to publish his Canciones y villanescas espirituales, the printer needing more than five months for the task, Guerrero decided to make his longed-for visit to the Holy Land. His account of his travels which included his capture by pirates requiring payment of a ransom are given in his book Viage de Hierusalem (1590).

Although Guerrero had the security of his position at Seville Cathedral, with much support from the Chapter and his colleagues, he was frequently in financial difficulties. In 1591 he was imprisoned for debts incurred in the production of his Liber Vesperarum of 1584.

In 1599 the Chapter made a last gift to Guerrero, and granted him a year's leave of absence to visit Rome; however, he fell victim to the plague which struck Seville in late summer, and died in November of that year.

Guerrero published 18 masses and over 150 motets and liturgical compositions, including many very fine alternatim settings of the Magnificat and psalms. Two of the mass settings are pro defunctis and there are two passion settings based on the distinctive and austere chant of the Toledo Use. His output was not limited to sacred music but includes 61 devotional songs with Spanish texts and a further 11 secular songs.

Guerrero combines great technical skill in his compositional style, particularly favouring the use of canon, with an ability to write gorgeous melodic lines supported by rich and sensuous harmonies; his influence on Victoria is clear to see. Whereas Victoria is perhaps more consistent in his output, Guerrero explores a greater range of style; from the simple four part texture of the requiem settings to the more expansive five and six part masses; from the functional alternatim settings of ritual music to the emotional outpourings of his votive antiphons and motets.

All this music is relevant to us today, audiences and performers alike. The dignity of the music and the inspiration behind it speak directly to the participants. At one level it certainly is “religious art music” but it is also music for a purpose. Much of Guerrero’s output is for the ritual of the liturgy but the inspiration and the emotion is always there-Guerrero must surely have seen his music and the worship of God as integral.

Although publication of Guerrero’s complete works is underway, academic editions are often difficult to use for modern performance. Performing editions (often with upward transposition for SATB choirs) are required. Mapa Mundi has been publishing Guerrero’s music for twenty five years and recently The Cantiones Press has entered the market with some music from Guerrero’s collection of 1584, the Liber Vesperarum. This collection makes an interesting starting point to the exploration of Guerrero’s canon since it is repertoire that has yet to be covered in the complete edition and also comes with some interesting variations to the alternatim plainchant required to complete the music.

The Liber Vesperarum contains seven psalm setting, 24 different hymns and 10 Magnificats. Guerrero’s intention was clearly that on a high day or holy day, one or more of the polyphonic settings of could be used instead of the normal plainchant. For Vespers on a given day or feast, the Antiphonale specifies the five psalms to be sung along with their antiphons, the proper hymn and the antiphon to the Magnificat. The mode of the antiphon dictates the tone that the following psalm or Magnificat should be sung to. By providing a sufficient variety of modes in his polyphonic settings, Guerrero ensures that for a given feast it is likely that two or three of his settings will be found to match the requirements of the day.

In all the settings; psalm, hymn and magnificat, Guerrero uses the alternatim system, setting only alternate verses to polyphony, leaving the remaining verses in the original plainchant. Guerrero’s musical colleague, Luis Villafranca, who was the plainchant master at Seville Cathedral published “A short instruction in plainchant” (1565) which clearly indicates rhythm or word stress in the plainchant by the use of differing note symbols; diamond, square and notes with tails. In fact Guerrero prints the first line of chant for each setting and the illustration shows the opening verse of Confitebor tibi Domine in the tenor part with the realisation of the Cantiones Press edition. Verse one is set to the rhythmic plainchant and below that can be seen the opening of the polyphonic second verse.

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Experimentation with these rhythmic notes values makes for a fascinating comparison with traditional plainchant performance practice. Equally interesting are the accidentals that Villafranca shows for the tone four Magnificat (see illustration). In his setting of the Magnificat quarti toni Guerrero makes extensive use of the inflections in his harmony and so the argument that they should also be used in the chant has some support. magnificat.gif (14592 bytes)

The plainsong appears in all sorts of ways throughout the texture of the music, a demonstration not only of Guerrero's facility and inventiveness, but a method which creates a satisfying unity. This piece provides a perfect example of Guerrero creating music which combines both beauty and functionality. In the dedication address of the Liber, he states that it is not his intention to charm his listeners, but to “assist them to a deeper understanding of their devotions”.

It seems invidious to pick out just two motets from the 150 that survive, but Ave virgo Sanctissima is known to be one of Guerrero’s most famous compositions of the time. It was first published in 1566 was so popular that Guerrero came to be regarded as the quintessential composer of the perfect Marian motet. It is in five parts with the two Superius parts in a perfect unison canon.

O Domine Jesu is superscribed Dominica Palmarum and presumably was intended to be sung at mass where it would come following the Passion readings. Guerrero engages with the text completely; in a few short bars every emotion is brought to the fore and every feeling is touched.

O Domine Jesu Christe adoro te in cruce vulneratum in cruce vulneratum felle et aceto potatum deprecor te ut vulnera tua sint remedium animae meae. O Lord Jesus Christ I worship thee wounded on the cross, having drunk of gall and vinegar. I pray thee that the wounds will be the remedy of my soul.

For a more substantial taste of Guerrero there are 18 masses to choose from. Particularly beautiful is the parody mass Sancta immaculata in five parts but don’t ignore the stunning four part motet by Morales on which the mass is based


Missa Sancta immaculata, Ave virgo sanctissima and O Domine Jesu are available from Mapa Mundi at 15 Marvig, Lochs, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, HS2 9QO.

Magnificat Quarti toni and the Vesper psalms are available from The Cantiones Press at 10 Kensington Hall Gardens, Beaumont Avenue, London, W14 9LS.

A recording of music from Guerrero’s Liber Vespararum, with the Requiem of 1566 and a selection of motets by Chapelle du Roi, director Alistair Dixon, on the Signum label.


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