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Antonio Rodríguez DE HITA (1722 - 1787): Misa O gloriosa Virginum

La Grande Chapelle; Schola Antiqua (Juan Carlos Asensio Palacios)
Dir: Albert Recasens

rec: Sept 23 - 24, 2007, Zamora, Iglesia de San Cipriano
Lauda - LAU009 (© 2009) (60'37")

Sources: [plainchant] Cantus gregoriani: ad regii sacelli usum continens missas omnium festivitatum Beatae Mariae Virginis per totum annum, 1755-56; [canciones] Escala Diatonico-Chromatico-Enarmónica Musica Sinfonica, 1751

[LGC] Katharine Fuge, Olivia Robinson, soprano; David Allsopp, Timothy Travers-Brown, Matthew Venner, alto; Thomas Hobb, Simon Wall, tenor; Jonathan Brown, bass; Frances Norbury, Rachel Baldock, oboe; Erwin Wieringa, Gijs Laceulle, horn; Lorenzo Colitto, Bojan Cicic, violin; Richte van der Meer, cello; Margreet Bongers, bassoon; Robert Franenberg, violone; Jonathan Rubin, theorbo; Herman Stinders, organ

It is only since fairly recently that Spanish music of the 18th century is seriously explored. The growing number of recordings bear witness to that. In his liner-notes Albert Recasens states that the neglect and often negative judgement of this repertoire is due to the prejudices of 19th-century musicology. It glorified the music of the renaissance, by composers like Morales and Victoria. The music of the 18th century was overshadowed by what was considered the standard. It is also due to the newer musicological research since the last decades of the 20th century that these judgements are reversed.

The musicologists of the 19th century believed that Spain in the 18th century was trying to save the 'pure' Spanish music against foreign influences, in particular from Italy, and that as a result Spanish music was 'exotic' and remained outside the mainstream of European music. More recent research shows that in fact Spanish composers of the 18th century absorbed foreign influences and that the music scene in Spain was just as much influenced by Enlightenment as that in other countries in Europe. Antonio Rodríguez de Hita is a good example of a composer who can be considered a representative of the musical Enlightenment.

He was born in Madrid and received his musical education in the Iglesia Magistral in Alcalá de Henares, where he was appointed maestro de capilla in 1738 at the age of just 16. In 1744 he was appointed in the same position in the cathedral of Pelencia, where he worked until 1765. He then applied for the job of magisterio de capilla in the Monasterio de la Encarnación in Madrid. He was successful and held this position for 22 years, until his death. Most of his religious music dates from this period.

He didn't only compose religious music, he also wrote music for the theatre. In his zarzuelas he adopted some features of the Italian opera buffa, and in doing so he considerably contributed to the renewal of the genre. He was also active as a theorist, and in his main treatise on music, Diapasón instructivo (1757) he showed himself as a modernist. Recasens even calls him "the most advanced theorist of his time".

The Misa O gloriosa Virginum dates from 1771 and was written for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is known from historical documents which instruments De Hita had at his disposal: two violins, pairs of wind instruments (transverse flutes, oboes, horns and trumpets), with bassoon, cello, double bass, harp and organ for the basso continuo. In this particular mass De Hita only uses two violins and two horns with basso continuo. The vocal scoring is for eight voices, divided into two different choirs: the one consists of two sopranos, alto and tenor, the other of the usual combination of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Stylistically this mass is an amalgam of styles as De Hita links up with tradition in his use of both polyphony and homophony and modern features which derive from contemporary opera, in particular in the episodes for solo voices and in his use of the instruments. But there are no long operatic arias as one finds them in mass settings by Italian composers of that time.

In this recording the Ordinary of the Mass is extended to a complete Missa in Conceptione Beatae Mariae Virginis. Plainchant is added from a collection of liturgical music of 1755/56. Some chants are replaced by instrumental music, and here Recasens has chosen pieces from a volume of 76 instrumental works which were published under the title Escala Diatonico-Chromatico-Enarmónica Musica Sinfonica in 1751. Preceding and following the mass is music performed during the procession. Before the mass this includes the plainchant version of the hymn which De Hita used as cantus firmus in his mass, O gloriosa virginum, and after the mass we get the (abridged) Letanías de la Virgen María. The words "miserere nobis" and "ora pro nobis" are sung in falsobordone. The disc closes with a setting of the Salva Regina. It includes the most operatic part of this disc, 'Ad te clamamus, exsules filiae Evae', in which the two upper voices play the main role. But the setting of the next verses shows an almost baroque expression of the text. De Hita effectively uses the second choir as an echo of the first.

The Salve Regina is a beautiful piece, and so is the mass. In recent years I have heard a number of compositions by Spanish composers of the 18th century, and De Hita is one of those who has made the strongest impression. He successfully mixes the various styles; one doesn't get the impression of this mass being a kind of patchwork. He absorbs operatic elements but avoids the features which can make late 18th-century religious music sometimes hard to swallow. The instrumental pieces are also very good, and this whole recording has raised my curiosity about the rest of De Hita's oeuvre. I definitely would like to hear more.

The interpretation leaves nothing to be desired. I have greatly enjoyed the performances of La Grande Chapelle whose members have all fine voices which blend excellently. The ensemble is immaculate, and the playing of the instrumentalists is brilliant. The oboists don't participate in the mass, but come to the fore in the instrumental works. They give very fine accounts of these nice pieces.

In addition we get a booklet which is exemplary: Albert Recasens has written a long and very informative essay about De Hita and his time - in Spanish, French, English and German - to which a bibliography is added. The sources of every single piece is given. The lyrics are also included with translations. All in all, this is a monument for an unjustly forgotten composer who deserves much more attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

La Grande Chapelle

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