Vicente Lusitano


The Marian Consort

Rory McCleery, director

Linn Records


Congratulations to Sequenza 21 contributor Garrett Schumann for his first article in the New York Times, about sixteenth century composer Vicente Lusitano. Along with colleagues, Schumann has researched the background of Lusitano, who was active in  Portugal until sometime after 1561. A document, albeit one with some chronological distance from his death, labels Lusitano as a “pardo,” a person of African descent. This alone might seem circumstantial, but Schumann cites other, more contemporaneous, evidence about liturgical and cultural practices that support this theory. Our conception of Renaissance composers strictly as white males has been shifted with the greater awareness of talented female composers of the era. Although scholars have been aware of Lusitano as a pardo for some time, the Times article and recent work by period ensembles, the Marian Consort prominent among them, further expands public consciousness to encompass people of color in the repertoire of the Renaissance.


The Marian Consort’s recording for Linn Records of Lusitano contains ten of his motets, including the substantial Inviolata, integra et casta es. Based in England, the Marian Consort sings one-to-a-part and is directed by Rory McCleery. The resonant recording venue, All Hallows’ Gospel Oak in London, along with Linn’s characteristically excellent sound, provides reinforcement that belies this small complement of voices. At the same time, the group sings with fulsome clarity, delineating each line and contrapuntal combination.


Lusitano’s music is of the same chronology as the mid century “forgotten generation” on the continent, composers such as Gombert, Willaert, and Clemens non Papa. But on the Iberian peninsula, styles tended to lag behind; Palestrina’s style was still being practiced well into the seventeenth century. Well-traveled and a respected music theorist who studied chromaticism, Lusitano’s work was more adventurous than his Portuguese contemporaries. A piece found in one of his treatises  featuring abundant chromaticism, Heu me, Domine, is included on the Marian recording. If one were to only hear this work, they would think that Lusitano was rubbing elbows with Gesualdo and company in Naples, instead of a generation their senior. The Marian Consort performs Heu me, Domine with exquisite, period-informed tuning. 


The rest of the motets come from Lusitano’s single printed collection, Liber primus epigramatum, published in 1551. They are less chromatic than Heu me, Domine, but display some examples of interest in this regard. Emendus in melius features several harmonic twists and turns.


All was not forward looking for Lusitano. Josquin, a composer of the previous generation, was a favorite touchstone. He frequently used texts set by the elder composer and parodied his motets. The Salve Regina, in particular, includes fragments in homage to Josquin. Praeter rerum serium, another parody work, is in eight voices, expanding Josquin’s six. Like the earlier version, it retains a slow moving chant line in the upper voice. One can also hear Josquin’s musical influence in imitative duos, such as those in Regina caeli laetare.


The most elaborate of parodies by Lusitano of Josquin is the eight-voice Inviolata, integra et casta es, adding three voices to Josquin’s five. It preserves the earlier motet’s division into three sections and a canon at the fifth. This is transplanted into the rich vocabulary of Lusitano’s generation. At twelve minutes, it is a monument to the achievements of Lusitano. One eagerly awaits more music by the composer, including a forthcoming recording by Chineke!

-Christian Carey