Francisco Guerrero

1528 1599

Francisco Guerrero

Composer

Biography

Francisco Guerrero was the greatest Spanish composer of church music in the second half of the 16th century after Victoria. He was also the brother of composer Pedro Guerrero and a student of the great composer Cristobal de Morales. His output consists of more than 150 liturgical pieces and motets, of which he composed more than Morales and Victoria, and 18 masses. Guerrero’s music was widely published during his lifetime and popular not only in Spain, but also abroad. His music remained popular in Spain and Latin America for more than two centuries after his death.

Francisco Guerrero was born in Seville around the 4th of October 1528 and studied music from an early age with his elder brother Pedro. In 1545, likely in Toledo, he also received lessons from Morales. In addition to his music lessons, Guerrero taught himself a number of instruments including the vihuela, harp, cornett and organ. He was also a contralto singer at the Seville Cathedral from the spring of 1542 until 1546. He then became maestro de capilla of Jaén Cathedral, at just 18 years old, on the recommendation of Morales. His duties included the boarding, lodging and instruction of six choirboys, however he neglected his duties and was dismissed on 30 August 1548 for a brief period and reinstated on 3 November of the same year.

The cathedral often granted Guerrero periods of leave, including in August 1549, when he visited Seville. There, he accepted a position as a singer at the cathedral, failing to return to Jaén. The Seville Cathedral, determined to retain the talented composer, appointed Guerrero associate to Pedro Fernández, the aging maestro de capilla (65 years old) at the time. In addition to this appointment on 11 September 1551, the cathedral granted Guerrero tenure and the right to succeed Fernández in a papal brief obtained on 1 June 1554. It would take another 20 years before Guerrero would finally become maestro de capilla of the Seville Cathedral, following the death of Fernández in 1574.

In the meantime, Guerrero continued to compose and publish his collections throughout Europe in cities including Seville, Venice, Paris and Leuven. He also presented Charles V an anthology of his motets in either 1557 or 1558 at Yuste, where the friars sang one of his masses for the emperor. During a trip to Toledo in the summer of 1561, Guerrero took two manuscripts as gifts, including a book of Magnificat settings. Several years later, he was granted a leave of nearly two months to present his publishedLiber primus missarum to King Sebastián of Portugal. His significance as a composer in Spain is also evidenced by his inclusion in a jury that served to select the new maestro de capilla of the Córdoba Cathedral in April 1567. For about nine months in 1570 to 1571, Guerrero was invited to tour Spain with a royal cortege.

Guerrero became the official maestro de capilla of the Seville Cathedral on 9 March 1574, though this did not stop him from his travels and extensive composing. He was granted leave of one year, which he took beginning in October 1581, after preparing two new collections of music which were published there in 1582 and 1584.

Guerrero received an associate at the cathedral in the form of Sebastián de Vivanco, the maestro de capilla at Segovia Cathedral, but he left after just a month.

In the late 1580s, Guerrero continued to travel, this time to Venice with the cardinal of Seville, Archbishop Rodrigo de Castra. He then left the royal party to continue on to the Holy Land—the island of Zante, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Damascus. After his return to Venice on 9 January 1589, he remained for six weeks to prepare for the publication of his second book of motets and theCanciones y villanescas espirituales. In 1590 he published a book about his journey, writing that he longed to return to the Holy Land every year when composing the Christmas chanzonetas and villancicos.

After completing this task, Guerrero left for Marseilles by boat, though he had the infortune of encountering pirates on two occasions. The pirates, who boarded his ship, demanded a ransom payment in exchange for his life. This, combined with the costs of publishing his works, resulted in major financial problems for the composer, who had returned to his duties at the cathedral in August 1589. He also took on the care of the choirboys, but was unable to fulfill these duties successfully due to his age. Guerrero was eventually sent to a debtor’s prison on 21 August 1591, where he remained until 2 September, when the cathedral agreed to pay his creditors. At this time, Alonso Lobo was hired to care for the choirboys.

In January 1599, Guerrero was again granted leave to travel back to the Holy Land, though he was delayed and died on 8 November 1599, after the city of Seville was hit by the plague. In honour of the composer, Pacheco published a portrait and biography.

While Guerrero’s career took place primarily in Spain, his travels and publications abroad ensured that he was internationally popular. In addition to his secular works, Guerrero composed many secular songs, setting him apart from Morales and Victoria. He used the texts from a variety of poets including Lope de Vega and the Andalusians Gutierre de Cetina and Baltasar del Alcázar. He often set sacred texts to songs that were originally composed with secular texts, though this was quite common in Spain among his contemporaries at the time.

The singability of his songs, which were composed primarily of diatonic melodies and melodies, aided in their popularity. Many of his songs were endlessly copied, much more so than the seemingly more complex music of Morales and Victoria. Adding to their attractiveness was Guerrero’s harmonic language, which anticipated that of the early 18th century, leading his Magnificat secondi tonito be mistaken for an 18th-century work when it was published in 1974. Other works of significance include his five-voice motetAve virgo sanctissima, which was published in 1566. This work became the example of the “perfect Marian motet” due to its popularity.

The timeless works of Guerrero can still regularly be found in concert programmes and recordings.

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