Discovering the New World’s Old Music

Oct 17, 2014 | blog, Newberry Consort | 0 comments

Co-Director Ellen Hargis interviews Professor Drew Edward Davies


drew-edward-daviesA specialist in earlier music of the Spanish world, Drew Edward Davies (PhD, UChicago) is Associate Professor of Musicology and Director of Graduate Music Studies at Northwestern University, Academic Coordinator of the Seminario de Música en la Nueva España y el México Independiente in Mexico City and author Santiago Billoni: Complete Works (A-R Editions, 2011); “Villancicos from Mexico City for the Virgin of Guadalupe” Early Music (2011); and Catálogo de la Colección de Música del Archivo Histórico de la Arquidiócesis de Durango (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2013).


EH: How did you get interested in Mexican music?


DED: I started as a scholar of German 17th c. music, Schütz, Schein, etc. But when I decided to pursue my doctorate, I wanted a road less traveled. I spoke some Spanish and had been to Northern Mexico many times as a youngster with my family. I remembered liking Mexico a lot, and decided to have a look. I wrote a grant to fund my first trip, and went for a few weeks to Mexico City. There discovered an informal publication referring to music in Durango by composers I didn’t know, so I thought I’d go check it out.


EH: What did you find in Durango?


Cabinet in the sala capitular

Cabinet in the sala capitular

DED: The music was purported to be in the Cathedral. It was there – but not where I expected! The Cathedral authorities brought me to where it was, piles of sheet music locked away in a cabinet in the “sala capitular” or chapter house. As far as I know, almost no one had been in the cabinet in decades. I was helped out by a Señora, a church volunteer who held a cast iron key almost as big as she was!


EH: Was the music bound in volumes as scores or partbooks?


DED: No! Pages were randomly shuffled, out of order, and in various states of disrepair. It was as if a rehearsal had ended and everyone threw their music in a great pile. The best pieces were in the worst shape, with tattered edges and marginalia, and they were all over the place, maybe because they were played the most. A piece you’ll be performing, Billoni’s Hombre, mira el dolor, immediately caught my eye, because of its virtuoso violin writing and passionate vocal phrasing. I decided that I’d found my project. I had to go back and unearth this amazing stuff.


EH: As a foreigner, were you welcomed into the archive?


Catedral Basílica de Durango

Catedral Basílica de Durango

DED: Eventually. At first they must have wondered what I found so interesting. I don’t think there was functioning electricity in the sala capitular at the time, so I could only work a few hours a day. But eventually I was allowed to make a catalog of all the music in the archive. Next I began editing the music. Now I could work in the archive itself, only the four hours a day that it was open. My edition of the complete works of Billoni and my published catalogue of the archive are the most recent phases of that work


EH: What is the repertoire like?


DED: The music is everything from old Renaissance Spanish polyphony to modern responsorials for mass. But the most remarkable music is that from the Italian Galant Period (1720-1780), for one to four voices, strings, organ, and sometimes horns. Most likely it was performed one-on-a-part, as the NC will play it in this concert. Billoni played violin, and the pieces like Hombre, mira el dolor were played by Billoni on first violin, and one or two second violins plus continuo.


EH: What do you hope your work will show the musical establishment?


DED:One of the most important things about bringing this music to the public is the chance to re-frame what we think of as “Mexican”. It isn’t all tacos and beaches, and it isn’t all villancicos and mariachi, but rather there is beautiful, diverse, and complex European style baroque music added to that mix, just like the architecture that you see if you go to a central Mexican city today.


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