If we think of a mass for choir, we often imagine something polyphonic, ancient and solemn as those composed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, or something more contemporary, from the pen of great composers such as Francis Poulenc, Frank Martin, Benjamin Britten or Arvo Pärt. But perhaps none of them captures the authenticity of the Earth itself, the folklore and at the same time the spirituality of sacred texts as the Misa Criolla, a musical work for soloists, chorus and orchestra, which fits the texts of the Catholic mass on the melodies and instruments of Argentinian ethnic tradition.
The Musicanova Choir, directed by Fabrizio Barchi, on December 12th, has had the great opportunity to interpret the famous Mass signed in 1964 by the Argentinian author Ariel Ramirez: with the presence (for the first time) of the Argentinian Pope Francis, the choir has performed in St. Peter’s Basilica. The choir was accompanied by the famous singer Patricia Sosa and Facundo Ramirez at the piano, son of the composer and his Argentinian music group.
The text was written by the priests Antonio Osvaldo Catena, Alejandro Mayol and Jesús Gabriel Segade, and follows the structure of the traditional Catholic composition: the Kirie in a Vidala-Baguala version, the traditional rhythms of the Andean region of Argentina; Gloria, a carnavalito-yaraví, executed with typical Andean instruments as the quena, the charango or the sikus; the Credo, a “chacarera Trunca”, originally from Santiago del Estero; the Sanctus, a “carnaval cochabambino”, inspired by Bolivian music styles and finally the Agnus Dei, which contains sounds of southern Pampa.
The Misa Criolla made its appearance on a CD, for the first time in 1965 with Philips and the group Los Fronterizos. The composition immediately became a worldwide hit, played by all the major singers of Argentine folklore. Pope Bergoglio, not surprisingly, wanted on the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Latin America, precisely the Misa Criolla, popular across the continent with its liturgical music of the “suburbs”, close to the farest people, suggestive for its words in Spanish and its Andean sounds.
The composition hides a high end that the author had in his heart the time of its composition: the Misa was in fact dedicated to Elizabeth and Queen Brückne, two German sisters who had braved death to assist prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp, bringing them food. The sacrifice of one’s life for others is the message of the Misa written by Ramirez, an author who took a ship to Europe in 1950 to be known by the foreign audience and to learn a new way of playing the piano. Staying in hotels, homes of friends, convents, hospitals, in poverty but in full confidence that his music would come to affect more and more people. During that time he traveled not only in Italy but also in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, England, France and Spain. By that time his fame spread and hr entered into contracts with the BBC in London, with the University of Cambridge, Utrecht, of Delf, Santander. In 1954 he took the “Highland Chefstein” in Liverpool, heading to Buenos Aires to return to his family and on that ship
retraced all the years in Europe, the solidarity discovered in people, the love received for his music, and he knew that only a religious work could have been a gift, a gift for that wonderful period just experienced. And thus was born the Misa Criolla. “Upon arrival in Argentina everything changed in my life: my career was going great and my songs become very popular; with time Europe got farer, though my thoughts continued to be focused on that idea born in the Atlantic.” writes in a short story in 1964, Ariel Ramirez. “I met Father Mayol and later Father Antonio Osvaldo Catena that really helped to transform my initial purpose, a religious song, in an idea that was incredible: the construction of a mass with rhythms and musical forms of our land. Father Catena, in 1963, was President of the Comisión Episcopal Para Sudamérica, mandated to implement in the Spanish translation of the Latin text of the Mass, according to the directives of the Vatican Council of 1963 presided by Pope Paul VI. When I finished the designs and shapes of the score of the Mass, Catena introduced me to someone who, with extraordinary erudition, would have made the choral arrangements of the work: Father Jesu Gabriel Segade. This year, together, we celebrated 30 years of Misa Crolla: three decades of friendship.”
Singing the Misa Criolla was like reaching the the most remote and distant “ears” on the planet, including even the most difficult audience, due to its simplicity and its dynamic rythm. This Mass was created to “get” everywhere: his birth has been intended to honor the life beyond human race, religion, or color. Ramirez felt the need to write something profound and religious to celebrate humanity’s greatest intent, which, from the German nuns in the death camps to the composer’s trip to Europe, supported and helped by strangers, is radicated in every human’s life. That charity, the solidarity received during his journey led him to write an unforgettable Mass and dedicate it just to two women who had put the lives of others above everything else. The most universal and high message of the Christian faith transmitted to all possible listeners, the more educated and the poorest, thanks to popular music, which has managed to get “to the end of the world”, citing the words of Pope Francis to indicate those poor, distant but always lively suburbs of his beloved Latin America.