Monday, November 28, 2022

Mass of Saint Sebastian from Berkeley

The Mass of Saint Sebastian is one of Villa-Lobos's greatest choral works. It was written in December of 1936 and January 1937. In the 1930s the composer was in the middle of his Bachianas Brasileiras series, so it is no surprise to hear his typical combination of erudite European music (in this case Renaissance choral music, especially Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli) and folkloric Brazilian themes (here, Amerindian chants). Saint Sebastian is, of course, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro, but I couldn't hear anything here of Villa's own personal patron saint, Johann Sebastian Bach. Villa-Lobos's work was closer to Bach's time than Palestrina's work (written in 1562) was to Bach's. This is, like so much of Villa's music, Eclectic with a capital E.

I haven't been able to track down the date of this Columbia Masterworks album recorded by the Chorus of the University of California Berkeley, conducted by Werner Janssen. It was played on The Voice of America in May of 1952, and reviewed by Henry Cowell in the April 1953 issue of The Musical Quarterly, so I think we can safely date it in the early 1950s.

I was thrilled to see this album in the Boston Public Library's archive of their vinyl LP collection, newly digitized and available at The Internet Archive. This has never been reissued on CD, and I've never seen it at eBay. It's a noisy copy, but Janssen's personal connection with Villa-Lobos provides some real authenticity; the two were friends from Villa's first visit to Los Angeles in 1944. I'll be posting more Villa-Lobos albums from this valuable resource in the future.

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