Cristóbal de Morales

c.1500 1553

Cristóbal de Morales



Early 16th-century composer and “the light of Spain in music”, Cristóbal de Morales, was one of the most important Spanish composers of his time, resting between Josquin and Palestrina, and the first composer of prominence from the Iberian peninsula. After his death, Morales’ music continued to be performed for decades throughout Western Europe and even in the Americas. He is unique in that his music represents all the liturgical genres in the repertory of the Cappella Sistina manuscripts. Furthermore, Morales’ motets were parodied in masses by distinguished composers such as Guerrero, Ceballo, Victoria and Roger.

Cristóbal de Morales was born in Seville, as indicated by the use of the word “hyspalensis” after his name, around the year 1500. He was proud of his Sevillian heritage and signed his name as “Christophorus Morales Hyspalensis” in the 1544 publication of 16 of his masses. Details concerning his family and childhood are scarce, though it is certain that he had a sister and that their father was dead by 1530. Other possible relatives include a singer, also Cristóbal de Morales, in the service of the Duke of Sidonia in 1504, both the treasurer and notary of the cathedral Alonso de Morales (active in 1503) and Diego de Morales (active in 1525), respectively, and the canon Francisco de Morales (d. 1505).

While there is no documentation to provide information about de Morales’ early training, it is possible that he sang as a chorister in Seville. If this was indeed where he was trained, then he was surely influenced by Francisco de Peñalosa and the maestros de capilla (master of the choirboys) Pedro de Escobar (1507 to 1514) and Pedro Fernández (1514 to 1549).

A strong case can be made for his training in Seville as a chorister, as much of his compositional technique seems to be influenced by Peñalosa and Escobar, particularly in his inspiration of Escobar’s Sevillian motetClamabat autem Mulier, which he cited in his own setting of the text. In addition to his education at the cathedral, Morales also studied liberal arts and was presumably fluent in Ciceronian Latin.

Documentation survives attesting to Morales’ role as organist in Seville in 1522. After this reference, he does not appear again until 8 August 1526, at which time his appointment as maestro de capilla at Avila Cathedral was listed. It is quite likely that Morales then met the composer Gombert at the wedding of Charles V to Isabella of Portugal on 10 March 1926. The two composers possessed similar compositional styles and shared a number of publications.

Morales suffered from a series of health-related problems beginning in 1535, which were only exacerbated by his frequent travels. In 1545, he left the choir again for 10 months with the likely intention of returning. However, he instead was appointed the highest paid maestro de capilla at the cathedral of Toledo, though this was still less than what he earned previously.

Morales eventually suffered a large debt and began collecting on the income from his sales and selling off any remaining copies. By August of 1547 he was too ill to fulfil his duties and resigned, returning to Andalusia to serve as maestro de capilla of the Duke of Arcos at Marchena from 1548 to 1551. In November 1551, Morales transferred to the cathedral of Málaga, where his perfectionistic ways were met with much resistance from the singers. Unsatisfied, he applied for the again-vacant post at Toledo in 1553. As many were opposed to the idea of his return, primarily due to his poor management skills, he was forced to compete openly for the position. Before a decision could be made, Morales died.

Morales’ restlessness can be attributed to his arrogance and demand for perfectionism. He found himself to be the best composer of his time, a claim which has since been verified but did not make him easy to work with.

His music combines the charming Spanish styles with the sophisticated and academic techniques of other European music. He tended to avoid the stereotypically Spanish sounding Cancioneros, but also proved that he was able to write them with success with his setting of Boscán'sSi no's uviera mirado.

Nearly all of Morales’ works are sacred, beginning with his early six-part motetJubilate Deo omnis terra (1538), which is based on a plainchant ostinato and can be compared with Josquin’sMissa Guadeamus.

Morales had 16 masses published in two volumes in 1544, dedicated to Cosimo I de’ Medici and Pope Paul III, respectively. He composed at least seven other masses, which survive in manuscript from, including theMisa cortilla and the four-voiceMissa pro defunctis, which were both composed in Spain after 1545. Of his published masses, only theMissa Mille regretz was based on a secular model. Comparisons with Josquin arise again with theMissa de Beata Virgine and the five-voiceMissa L’homme arme.

While the masses are quite impressive, it was Morales’ Magnificat settings that were most popular. They all seem to have been written for the papal chapel and were published in the early 1540s.

Morales’ composed at least 88 motets, of which 54 are for four voices. His style within this genre is more old-fashioned that that of Gombert or Clemens, though he did avoid the Josquin-style duet structure. His most modern motets include theEmendemus in melius, the five-voice Andreas Christi famulus and the six-voiceVeni domine. These works are notable as they are polytextual and built on an ostinato firmus with its own text.

Morale wrote only about six secular works, of which two exist only in intabulation. He wrote two Italian madrigals,Ditimi o si o no and Quando lieta sperai, which both display his talent for the style. In addition, his Quando lieta speraiwas also very highly regarded and used by Lassus as a model for a Magnificat setting.

It can be concluded that Morales was as talented as he believed himself to be, and has been confirmed as the most important composer of sacred music of his time.

Morales only stayed a few years in Avila, moving on to Plasencia in February 1529, where he received a much larger salary. This was a very short-lived collaboration, as Morales, who was granted a month leave to attend his sister’s wedding in Seville, did not return on time. His salary was suspended at the end of March and he had resigned by December.

The next time Morales turns up is in Rome in both May and December 1534. Documents from this time identify him as a chaplain of Fernando de Silva, Count of Cifuentes and imperial ambassador to the Holy See. Count Silva was an avid poet and likely the influence behind Morales’ small number of secular works.

Before finding himself in Rome, it is plausible that Morales spent some time in Naples, where he met the dedicatee of his first book of masses, Cosimo I de’ Medici, who married the daughter, Eleanor, of Pedro de Toledo, the viceroy in Naples.

Supporting this theory is the entry in the chapel diaries in 1535, after joining the papal chapel, that implies that Morales had just recently arrived from Naples. He dedicated his second book of masses to Pope Paul III, who helped increase the membership of the chapel from 24 to 33 singers and raised salaries during his service from 1534 to 1549. During the pope’s many travels, Morales received the chance to accompany him to Piacenza and Nice in 1538 and Loreto in 1539. He was also granted the opportunity to sing for prestigious visitors, including Charles V. Morales received pension on a number of his benefices in 1536 and 1537, and was granted two new benefices in Seville and Orense in 1539 by the pope.

After having served five years in the choir, Morales went on leave for 10 months to Spain, returning in May of 1541 for his second term at the chapel. During this term, Morales travelled extensively to Bologna, Perugia, Castro and Busseto. In addition, he had much of his music published during this period. In 1543, Morales travelled for a month to Genoa, perhaps as part of his service to the Count of Cifuentes or perhaps in hopes of being appointed imperial maestro de cappella.