Post written by Dr. Kevin Eberle
Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca
Mansfield, Joseph. "Baroque Organs of Oaxaca." Sacred Music. Vol. 133, No. 3, p. 14-19.
Phil Tugga: Music Through the Curriculum (Aztec Instruments)
The long pipes for the organs were made in Mexico City and spread across the territory. The rest of the components of the organs--keyboards, boxes, bellows, etc--were generally made in the local provence. As colonial influence wained, particularly in areas like Oaxaca, organs fell in to disrepair. Thanks to conservation efforts, 40% of Mexico's total Baroque organs exist in Oaxaca.
Unlike modern organs or organs which have been restored in modern cathedrals, many of the organs of Mexico remain with the mechanisms with which they were built in the Baroque era. The sound is less biting than a modern, European organ and it is lighter overall, mainly on account of the size of the organs. Those clergy and composers who wrote sacred music (cantatas, motets, etc) utilized the organ in a different way then their European counterparts, though the style is still reminiscent of the European Baroque. Take a listen to Motete Quicumque Voluerit by Francisco López Capillas (1614-1674) to hear the delicacy of Baroque Mexican organs.
If you compare the recording of Bach's Fugue in G Minor and the recording of Aztec music, how do you think the native people reacted to organs?
By all accounts, European music took hold in Mexico after the Spanish conquest, most likely by force as the Hispanic colonies expanded their reach. Church organs were in great demand and soon organ workshops began to spring up around "New Spain" led by the Spanish using indigenous labor.
When all of these instruments were put together, a pre-Hispanic performance might have sounded something like this...
When you think about the Baroque period of music, what comes to mind? Probably these guys...
These men--Händel, Bach, and Vivaldi--are three prominent examples of the Baroque tradition in Europe. Since the Baroque period encompasses the point of time prior to the invention of the piano, the keyboard music these men published was for either organ or harpsichord. You may be familiar with this sound...
How did this sound cross the Atlantic Ocean and make its way to Mexico? Why did the Spanish import the organ of all instruments to Mexico? The history of Mexican organ music is quite fascinating, as is the preservation of that tradition.
Prior to the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish in 1521, pre-Hispanic music was performed mostly on wind instruments made of clay and hardened percussion instruments such as clay flutes, ocarinas, drums, and conch-shell trumpets used in religious rituals.