About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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“Indeed, we may not hope for real Latin poetry any more, because Latin is now a dead language to all of us. However well a man may read, write, or even speak Latin now, it is always a foreign language to him, acquired artificially. It is no one's mother tongue. Does a man ever write real poetry in an acquired language?”
— Rev’d Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

PDF Download • Spanish Cathedral Music (1961)
published 12 March 2016 by Jeff Ostrowski

REAT NEWS! The online website “archive.org” has made available a fabulous book about CRISTÓBAL DE MORALES, FRANCISCO GUERRERO, and TOMÁS LUIS DE VICTORIA. It contains tons of details about their lives and compositions. However, please be aware that it’s a large file (390MB):

    * *  PDF Download • “Spanish Cathedral Music In The Golden Age” (1961)

I could relate firsthand stories about the “scholarship” of some musicologists that would give you goosebumps. This author, however, is the “real deal.” His name was Robert Murrell Stevenson (1916-2012), and boy did he know his stuff! I could not agree more with Dr. Walter A. Clark, 1 who wrote this about Stevenson’s scholarship:

Robert Stevenson’s legacy stands like the fabled lighthouse of ancient Alexandria, and for a long time yet to come, every researcher who makes Spanish music a port of call will rely on the guiding light shed by his work.

The following excerpt describes life as a singer in the papal chapel circa 1545AD:

A singer need not be in holy orders but must be a man of honor and of good repute. When a new member is proposed, his character shall first be examined, and then he shall be brought to a musical examination conducted by the choir members themselves. The first requisite is his voice quality; the second, his ability to keep his part in homophony; the third, his sufficiency as a singer of contrapuntal music; the fourth, his ability to sing plainsong; and the fifth his sightreading ability. A secret vote shall be taken after his musical examination, and no singer may be admitted unless two-thirds of the singers plus one, vote for his admission. After being admitted and having attended to all the financial formalities, he must give himself solely to the daily routine in the pope’s chapel and may not sing elsewhere nor carry on other business.

His duties as a new singer include moving the heavy choir books into place; as soon as a newer singer enters he no longer moves them into place for everyday singing, but he still carries them with his junior novice in the choir during processions. Only when two singers are junior to him can he consider his chores as porter ended. Absolute silence during divine office is required. All business such as requests for leaves of absence must be directed to the most senior member of the choir present. Special requests must be approved in a secret vote by two-thirds plus one. Heavy fines are to be assessed for malingering or other false reports. Every five years an extended leave is granted-five months for Italians; ten for French and Spanish. The feast box from the pope’s kitchen is to be awarded in rotation to choristers, who should divide it among their colleagues. Ceremonies for creation of new cardinals, for the exequies of a pope, and for the creation and coronation of a new pope are to follow a prescribed routine.

All unusual choir business not covered by clauses in the constitutions shall be entrusted to a committee of three, six, or nine members, composed of Italians, French, and Spaniards in equal numbers. The reason for this division by nations is that “experience has shown the singers divide always into their own national groups, and speak their own language with each other.”

I would love to hear how all those singers—who speak different languages—pronounced Latin!

Not everything was peaceful in the papal choir:

The cause of their specific complaint against Escobedo in 1536 is not known. However, he, like the other Spaniards in the choir—with the single exception of Morales—left a record of being a hot-tempered man. On one occasion, just before Mass was to begin, he called a fellow singer “a fat pig” in a loud tone of voice, and once at vespers he called a singer who had missed his place “you ass” in a raised voice.

On Holy Saturday in 1545, while the pope and several cardinals were present, two of the oldest choir members flew at each other during the blessing of the new oils, shouting in a loud voice and scandalizing the pope, along with everyone else present.

During the year 1540, Sánchez continued to behave badly—often pretending to be sick when he wanted a day off, and quarreling with other choir members. Ordoñez was another singer fined heavily for his quarrelsomeness, and for pretending to be sick when he wanted a holiday.


1   Walter Aaron Clark taught at the University of Kansas when I was a student there. All the students loved him, and he was particularly close to my professor, Alice Downs. It turns out Dr. Clark wrote his dissertation under the guidance of the late Robert M. Stevenson.