Pedro de Cristo (1618-2018)

Fr. Pedro de Cristo (his secular name being Domingos) was a friar at the Augustinian monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra. He was probably born around 1550 and died on December 12th, 1618.

In 1571 he professed in the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra, an order founded in the 12th century that followed the Rule of St Augustine, and lived most of his life in the monastery of Santa Cruz, although he spent some time in the monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon. He was chapel master in Santa Cruz since 1597, and also teacher, singer and a versatile instrumentalist (he played keyboard, harp and flute). Apart from the so-called “Évora Cathedral Music School”, Pedro de Cristo is one of the most widely-known Portuguese polyphonic masters mostly thanks to the research work of English musicologist Owen Rees. There are several music manuscripts of his music available at the Portuguese Early Music Database.

This is probably him depicted in the “D” initial of choirbook P-Cug MM 33. The caption reads “D. PETRVS” following “ANT” because the work is the Asperges me antiphon. He is reading from an open choirbook in what seems to be a very interesting lectern holding a stick (?) probably to measure the beats.

During this year we have seen several concerts featuring music by D. Pedro de Cristo as monograph concerts or including a couple of works by him. I would really hope that some group recorded some music by him, adding some new works to the ones already recorded mostly by Owen Rees and his Oxford-based vocal groups. Unfortunately, in the case of Portuguese polyphony, not much has been done in this recent “composers anniversary commemorations” and the recent case was Fr. Manuel Cardoso’s birth (1566-2016), in which the country’s most distinguished cultural institutions done almost nothing.

On my part, I had the chance of recording in 2013 with Ensemble da Sé de Angra two of Pedro de Cristo’s works. The first one which is probably is best-know work is the fourth responsory for Christmas Matins – the beautiful O magnum mysterium – widely sung by Portuguese choirs. It is for four voices with the verse for SAB, very dynamic in terms of the rhythm of text especially in the “ut animalia” part with emphatic statements such as “viderunt Dominus natum”.

The other work is actually quite unknown to the public. It is the Benedictus section of the Missa Salve Regina. This mass seems to be a cantus firmus one based on the plainchant of the Salve Regina antiphon (it is clearly audible at the beginning of the Benedictus), although the Gloria and Credo point towards a parody mass. I haven’t dedicated much study to this and to the motivic analysis of the work. The mass is for SAAT and with a texture reduction in the Benedictus for SAT. It is very interesting to see how Pedro de Cristo works the various points of imitation in this section. There is almost no space for breathing, very intense in terms of the overlapping of imitation.

In both videos the Ensemble da Sé de Angra is made by Carolina Barbosa (superius), Sara Vieira (altus), Luís Henriques (tenor) and Nelson Pereira (bassus).