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Tunkul and the Coro Cervantes at the British Museum

Music at the Royal Courts of Mexico and Spain

Moctezuma exhibition curator Dr. Colin McEwan warmly introduced a groundbreaking concert at the British Museum on 16th October 2009 of early 16th century music from Spain and Mexico. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Added atmosphere was provided by powerful graphic imagery of Aztec instruments and motifs
Added atmosphere was provided by powerful graphic imagery of Aztec instruments and motifs (Click on image to enlarge)

Partly the result of intense lobbying from those of us who were disappointed by the omission of Aztec/Mexica music from the (otherwise superb) events programme at the Royal Academy at the time of the ‘Aztecs’ exhibition in 2002-3, the meeting of two cultures was acted out in musical terms to great effect. A year or more before, Ian Mursell of Mexicolore and Tunkul brokered an exploratory meeting with Carlos Fernández Aransay, Director of the Coro Cervantes and Professor Arnd Adje Both, a world expert on pre-Hispanic Mexican instruments.

Coro Cervantes accompanied by lutist Stephen Carpenter
Coro Cervantes accompanied by lutist Stephen Carpenter (Click on image to enlarge)

Despite the unplanned last-minute absence of Tunkul’s founder Victor Llamas, the result was an evening that combined serious professional performance with educational - and indeed light-hearted - explanations of the range of unusual musical instruments on display, the aim being to set the programme into a wider cultural context.

Both groups joined forces to perform Dindirindín and Xicochi, xicochi
Both groups joined forces to perform Dindirindín and Xicochi, xicochi (Click on image to enlarge)

Carlos Fernández opted for a finely balanced repertoire, ranging from music in Spain during the reign of Charles I, Mexican chapel music, a Maya song, music reflecting the fusion of the two cultures, and an excerpt from Henry Purcell’s The Indian Queen: While Thus We Bow, inspired by 17th century European ideas of Aztec civilisation.

Trying faithfully to re-create ‘Aztec’ music is an almost impossible task!
Trying faithfully to re-create ‘Aztec’ music is an almost impossible task! (Click on image to enlarge)

Interspersed with two pieces by Tunkul of interpretations of Aztec ceremonial music, the full programme by Coro Cervantes ran as follows:-

Ecce si benedecetur Emperor Charles V
De la virgen que parió Antonio de Cabezón
The Emperor’s Song (Mille regretz) Josquin des Pres
Ay, linda amiga Anonymous
Dindirindín Anonymous
Xicochi, xicochi Tleycantimo choquiliya Gaspar Fernandes
Sancta Maria in il huicac cihuapile ¡Oh, Señora! Dios itlazo nantzine Hernando Franco
Stabat Mater - Versa est in luctum Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla
Alleluia, dic nobis, Maria Antonio López Capillas
Los Xtoles Anonymous
The Indian Queen: While Thus We Bow Henry Purcell

Ian from Tunkul/Mexicolore demonstrates the gentle sound of a pre-Hispanic whistling jug
Ian from Tunkul/Mexicolore demonstrates the gentle sound of a pre-Hispanic whistling jug (Click on image to enlarge)

Musical instruments played by Tunkul included the following:-

panhuehuetl and huehuetl vertical drums
teponaztli tongue drums
ayotl tortoise-shell drum with deer’s antlers
conch shell trumpets
clay whistling jugs
assorted whistles, flutes, double-flutes, ocarinas
rattles, bells, shakers, ringing stones, rainsticks...

Adje Both engages some of the audience after the formal part has ended...
Adje Both engages some of the audience after the formal part has ended... (Click on image to enlarge)

After the performance, Tunkul invited the audience to come forward and inspect/try first-hand some of the percussion and wind instruments used in the recital.

Ringing stones and deer’s antlers...
Ringing stones and deer’s antlers... (Click on image to enlarge)

We very much hope that this is the first of many future collaborative ventures between the Coro Cervantes, Tunkul, Mexicolore and Professor Both...

More on Aztec music...

Coro Cervantes website
Arnd Adje Both’s website
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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Cheers, Katia - that was us too!