Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Correa’s Music on “New World” Organs

About half a month ago, Loft Recordings released a five-CD box set entitled Correa in the New World. This is the result of organist Robert Bates project to record the complete works of Francisco Correa de Arauxo. From a point of view of available documents, this was not a major problem. Only one volume survives that collects Correa’s music. Its full title is Libro de tientos y discursos de música practica, y theorica de organo intitulado Facultad organica; and it was published in 1626, when Correa was about 40 years old. (He would live about another 30 years.)

The “core” of that title is the phrase “Facultad organica,” which, in many ways, captures the same spirit behind Johann Sebastian Bach’s publication of his four Clavier-Übung volumes. Bach’s title is usually translated as “keyboard practice,” while Correa’s can be taken as meaning competence at the organ. The hypothesis that Correa published this collection with pedagogical intentions is warranted by the fact that the bulk of the volume consists of 62 tientos, a Spanish term for a genre similar to that of the fantasia or ricercar. There are only three discursos, and they tend to involve the same sort of imitative counterpoint that one encounters in the tientos. However, for the most part, Correa has ordered his contents by difficulty; and the discursos are found near the end of that ordering. Drawing upon English, one might assume that discourse was seen to require more effort than exposition. Finally, there are a few instances of variations on popular songs, such as “Guárdame las Vacas.”

The box comes with a booklet of 85 pages of English text. Sadly, this text says very little about the music itself or how the ordering of the selections might be related to the cultivation of increasingly difficult skills. Indeed, the selections are not played in the order in which they appear. (Fortunately, there is an index that translates the order in the publication to the tracks on the five CDs.) The “main attraction” of the collection is that the 67 organ compositions in the publication (leaving out the two vocal works) have been imaginatively distributed across space and time in North America.

Five organs were involved in making these three recordings. Three are instruments in the Oaxaca state of Mexico, which were made during the eighteenth century. (Correa died the previous century in 1654.) The organ in Oaxaca Cathedral was made in 1712, while the other two were made in 1729 (San Jerónimo church in Tlacochahuaya) and 1792 (Santa María de la Asunción church in Tlacolula), respectively. The other two organs were made in California in 1989, both based on the Renaissance Spanish style of organ-making. One is at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley and the other at Mission San José in Fremont.

These organs are the focus of the entire package. Each is given an extensive description with complete stop specifications (as well as some excellent photography). If that were not enough, the registrations (stop combinations) are given for each composition on a track-by-track basis. In other words, this is a collection that was produced for the edification of other organists. (What would you expect from a label that calls itself “Loft?”)

This is not to discourage those who are not organists. Correa was clearly a prodigious inventor (to use that noun that was so significant to Bach-the-pedagogue). Furthermore, while five CDs amount to a lot of music, that does not mean that this collection cannot be enjoyed piecemeal. However, those interested primarily in what Correa did and how he did it should not expect the sort of composition-by-composition detail that Scott Ross wrote for the booklet accompanying his box set of the complete keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Those inclined towards seriously attentive listening should take pleasure in what they have, rather than regret what is missing.

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