Misa Criolla

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Misa Criolla and popular devotion in Early Music, 2014

(Label: Cobra)

 

Latin-American folk songs were regularly performed in the peñas and clubs of the mid-20th century, especially in the Andean region. From that background, they subsequently spread to the larger cities as part of the need for self-recognition of Indian and Mestizo roots. This process helped in the formation of a national identity that could transcend frontiers and social barriers, while also shaping the outline of a great continental homeland.

This new version of the Misa Criolla was produced to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its cre­ation in 1964. Ariel Ramírez (Argentina, 1921-2010) was inspired to compose the work by the story of two German nuns who put their own lives at risk to save people suffering at the hands of the Nazis. But the heroism of these nuns is not the principal reason for the worldwide fame of this work. The popularity it has achieved beyond the frontiers of Argentina is largely based on political developments following the Second World War.

 

Lamentations over the genocide against the Indian and the gaucho population, together with the extreme poverty and hardship of life in the countryside and mountains, inspired social movements of the time, where the “criolla” music was sometimes wielded as a battle hymn. Political resistance and the ideological upsurge of emerging leftist movements in a continent full of social strife, were about to be obliterated by political and economic forces that left close to half a million people dead, tortured and disappeared under military dictatorships in Latin America.

This led to an enormous wave of political refugees moving to Europe in the 1970s. Latin American music became the symbolical banner of the situation and rapidly became fashionable. The Misa Criolla was initially performed by local choirs, accompanied by specialist musicians who, as political exiles, made their livelihoods with their music. This piece was seen as one of the most moving examples of the Latin American repertoire, representative of the sound of resistance against these dictatorships. It was closely linked with the Liberation Theology, a movement that envisages no heavenly paradise without social justice on earth.

Ramírez initially aimed to offer a simple act of worship for the nuns, and he therefore asked the priests Antonio Catena, Alejandro Mayol and Jesús Gabriel Segade to translate and adapt the words from the Catholic mass.

The first recorded version, including performances from the leading Argentine group Los Fronterizos, the ‘charanguista’ Jaime Torres and the Choristers of the Basílica del Socorro (under the direction of Father Segade), dates from 1965. The style of this mass is set within the broad framework of the Latin American folk genre. In this case, the transmutation of the dramatic elements of these popular genres has been added to choral singing. It is perhaps the echoes of these roots that have contributed most to arousing emotion in the audience.

Ariel Ramírez has insisted that this work should not be viewed as a strictly ‘catholic’ message, but rather as an expression of a universal sentiment, linked to the desire for peace that exists in every culture of the world.

 

Música Temprana added to the Misa Criolla a number of recordings of 18th and 19 th century villancicos, to show how the music of the Misa goes back to the roots of ancient musical and cultural traditions. These pieces (mostly of unknown composers) are also expressions of spontaneous popular devotion in the Latin American past.