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Missionary Zeal, Baroque Style

May 03, 2013

Jesuit missionaries founded settlements in eastern Bolivia using European music as a means of rendering Roman Catholicism more palatable to the indigenous people. Choir directors, musical instrument makers and composers, including the Italian Baroque composer Domenico Zipoli, moved to South America and taught the locals.

Works by Zipoli were performed during an enjoyable concert at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University on Tuesday evening. The event, organized by the Americas Society and Gotham Early Music Scene, featured Meridionalis, the choir of the Americas Society, and the Clarion Music Society.

The program was the culmination of the sixth annual Clarion Collegium Week, a series of lectures and master classes that this year highlighted the Baroque music of Latin America. Tuesday’s concert included works performed during the 18th century, discovered in the archives of Concepción de Chiquitos and San Ignacio de Moxos, two missions in Bolivia.

In addition to employing music as a way of converting the native populations, the Jesuits also used it as a publicity tool, showcasing locally trained ensembles to highlight what they perceived as a successful endeavor to bring Western culture to South America.

Most of the European priests who worked at the missions were educated in the Germanic and Italian traditions, typically scoring their works for three-part chorus, solo voices, two violins and continuo. An ensemble of two violins, cello, bass, organ and guitar performed the selections featured here.

Steven Fox, Clarion’s artistic director, and Sebastián Zubieta, music director of the Americas Society, conducted the beautifully rendered program....

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