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Christmas songs - Josep Antoni Marti

He was a Benedictine monk and cantor of the abbey Montserrat (near Barcelona), is especially important in the history of the Catalan abbey. As a composer and illustrious performer, he not only put his stamp on his era with the extraordinary musical efflo- rescence he set in motion, but he charted the passage from the ancient to the new concertante style, that of Italianism that blossomed in Viennese classicism.

Josep Antoni Marti (1719-1763), born in Tortosa, he first worked at the Real Soledad in Madrid where he had the opportunity of studying the works of Domenico Scarlatti and his students. At the age of 30 he became a Benedictine monk in Montserrat; on 9 August 1753 he became the director of the Escolania. There he trained prominent musicians who succeeded him at this position, such as A. Julia and N. Casanovas.

Only part of Marti’s works has been handed down to us: it reveals the figure of a powerful, original master. He made the new style bend to the purpose and expression of all that is sacred; as far as the 18th-century mentality would allow, music was to remain the “dignified servant of (monastic) liturgy” for him.

In Silencio the traditional Villancico form (see AMS 10) is expanded to the dimensions of a true cantata. Three soloists (young Escolania singers), a 7-voice double choir (SSA-SATB) and an orchestra comprising 2 oboes, 2 French horns, two violin scores and continuous bass form a harmonious blend. The work, with beautiful Spanish lyrics probably written by a monk at the abbey and referring to Montserrat scenery, evokes the silence of the God-child being recognised as the Lord despite his poverty and weakness. This cantata was performed at First-Hour prayers according to the calendar announcement.

In the Vigils Reponsory, Marti uses an 8-voice double choir. Between the two parts for the choir, solidly built and very expressive, there is an important aria for soprano and oboe obbligato set to the verse lyrics.

Gregori Estrada. OSB

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