O beata Maria: the forgotten polyphony of Francisco de Santa Maria
Referred to in contemporary sources variously as Francisco Mouro or Francisco de Santa Cruz, Francisco de Santa Maria was born in Ciudad Rodrigo where he was a pupil of Buxel. His musical career was concentrated in Portugal, first as mestre de capela to the Bishop of Coimbra then as mestre de capela at the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, during the ‘golden age’ of the musical activity at this august institution. His compositions – masses, psalms, magnificats, motets and many other works for a whole host of liturgical feasts – survive in manuscripts compiled at the Monastery of Santa Cruz and which are currently held in the main library at the University of Coimbra (BGUC).
Despite the historical importance of the composer himself and the quality of his works, his music is virtually unknown today and is only rarely found in concert performance or recordings. There are two possible explanations for this curious anomaly. First, there is the scant attention paid to the Portuguese musical heritage in our own country. Given the invisible and untouchable nature of this music, the works of the past are often ignored despite their significance as monuments of our culture. Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of musicologists throughout the last sixty years, a vast amount of the music composed in Portugal during the 16th century remains unknown to audiences and musicians alike. Second, the degraded state of many of the Santa Cruz manuscripts containing music by Francisco de Santa Maria makes reading them extremely difficult, at times almost impossible.
In Search of Music Lost
Arte Minima’s work with the music of Francisco de Santa Maria forms part of the research project Lost & Found, developed by CESEM and financed by FCT. A team of researchers, under the leadership of João Pedro d’Alvarenga and including Pedro Sousa Silva, is currently undertaking an in-depth study of musical manuscripts containing works attributed to Francisco de Santa Maria, with the ultimate aim of bringing their contents to life in performance. In the first phase of this project, the team will turn its attention to works that are complete or almost complete in order to glean information regarding the lexical character of these works that will permit them, in the second phase of the project, to attempt the reconstruction of more fragmentary works, mostly motets which survive in choir books where one or more voices is missing.
The sonic restoration work carried out by Arte Minima is the result of a process of research within the context of a ‘practical laboratory’, always based on historical sources, and an ongoing discussion about all aspects of musical interpretation – from questions of tuning and transposition to the underlay of the text, a consideration of the interaction between theory and practice in the musical grammar of the Renaissance, and the improvisation of counterpoint.
This work culminated in Arte Minima’s recording of the album Missa O beata Maria, released in october 2023 by Pan Classics Records. The project was funded by GDA Foundation.