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  • Transcription of Anonymous, "Si el hado cruel y fiero"
  • Cesar D. Favila (bio)

This transcription reproduces a part from a mid-eighteenth-century da capo aria duet for the Feast of the Virgin of Sorrows. It was originally sung by Puebla's Santísima Trinidad Convent nuns.1 Through the silences notated by rests, where the missing ritornello and first tiple (soprano) voice dialogued with the transcribed extant middle voice, we can reflect on the liminal state of women musicians who took the veil in colonial Mexico. Who were the women who were allowed to sing? Catholic legislation established racial exclusions within nuns' orders that marginalized Black, Indigenous, and mixed-race women, prohibiting them from professing and silencing them from singing for salvation, which was the main duty of the Spanish-descended professed nuns. After the 1724 founding of the Franciscan Corpus Christi Convent in Mexico City, three convents for noble Indigenous women were established in colonial Mexico; these cloisters modelled Spanish exclusivity on the grounds of race and class.2 The nuns were subject to a set of rules about who could sing, where, when, and why, following a hierarchy of devotion in which the nuns' own salvation and that of the secular world resounded in their musical intercessions.

The text of this piece is a deeply personal Passion devotion aria; the B section (mm. 46–79) locates the convent singer weeping at the foot of the cross. These [End Page 1] words signal devotion to the Virgin of Sorrows, a Marian title that idealized the Virgin Mary's grief at the crucifixion, musicalized in the Stabat mater dolorosa sequence, which the aria glosses.3 The cruel and fierce fate expressed in the poetics of the A section (mm. 1–45) suggest Christ's imminent death for the love and salvation of the world. When he died, the veil of the temple was torn (Matthew 27:51). For nuns, this biblical veil would symbolize that the death of Christ would be as painful as the tearing off of their own black veil, worn atop their heads as a sign of their mystical marriage to Christ and removed as a form of severe penance.4 The increasing pain is expressed musically through vocal leaps and long melismas on dolor (pain) in measures 29–30 and 39–41. Along with devotional literature, this type of music taught nuns to imitate Christ's Passion through expressions of humility, penance, and mortification, enjoining them to repent for their sins and those of secular society that required Christ to die for redemption. In its extant form, this aria is a product of the loss and destruction of many Mexican convent music sources resulting from the Leyes de Reforma (Laws of the Reform), which nationalized church properties between 1855 and 1863. Convents were unable to protect their archives and real property. There are of course complete works extant from convents, even within the Sánchez Garza Collection, in which this piece is archived, but in choosing this small fragment, I wish to emphasize how fragmented our narratives about women's contributions to music remain.

Text and Translation

Si el hado cruel y fiero,rompe de amor el velo,será mas mi dolor.

If cruel and fierce faterips the veil of love,greater will be my pain.

Si el hado cruel y fiero,rompe de amor el velo, ay Dios,será mas mi dolor, pesar y pena.

If cruel and fierce faterips the veil of love, O God,greater will be my pain, sorrow, and pity.

Que al pie de la cruz constante,que me anego en mi llanto,con tanto padecer.

At the foot of the cross constantlyI drown myself in tears,with so much suffering. [End Page 2]

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Fig 1.

Anonymous, "Si el hado cruel y fiero," facsimile. Colección Sánchez Garza (CSG.110). Used with permission from CENIDIM/INBA.

[End Page 3]

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[End Page 4]

Cesar D. Favila

cesar d. favila is assistant professor of musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles Herb Alpert School of Music. His research and teaching focus on Mexican...


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