In Mexico City, 1583, Pedro Ocharte published the first book of vernacular sacred song in the Americas—the Psalmodia Christiana (Christian Psalmody) by Bernardino de Sahagún, a Spanish missionary of the Franciscan Order. Sahagún composed his book of 333 songs in the Nahuatl language during the second half of the sixteenth century to promote the formation of Catholic Mexica (better known as “Aztec”) communities in the central valley of Mexico. Well-received in its day as a primer on tenets of the Catholic faith, the life of Christ, and the virtues of the saints, it was denounced before the Inquisition in the eighteenth century and has otherwise existed in the shadow of Sahagún's monumental Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, a pioneering anthropological study of the Mexica that did not become widely available until the nineteenth century. This article repositions the undervalued Psalmodia Christiana as a polished outcome of the anthropological research for which Sahagún is most remembered, setting in relief the understudied legacy of Western plainchant in the Christian evangelization of the New World and, more broadly, the extent to which the Mexica's native traditions were folded into the apostolic work of Catholic missionaries in post-Tridentine New Spain.
Bernardino de Sahagún's Psalmodia Christiana:A Catholic Songbook from Sixteenth-Century New Spain
Lorenzo Candelaria is Professor of Music at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research focuses on Catholic music in sixteenth-century Spain and its subsequent impact on devotional cultures in Latin America and in the southwestern United States. His book The Rosary Cantoral (University of Rochester Press, 2008) received the Stevenson Award. Recent publications include American Music: A Panorama, 5th ed. (Cengage, forthcoming). His current book project is titled Music in Early Mexican Catholicism.
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Lorenzo Candelaria; Bernardino de Sahagún's Psalmodia Christiana:A Catholic Songbook from Sixteenth-Century New Spain. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 December 2014; 67 (3): 619–684. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2014.67.3.619
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