Zapotec cover

Ensemble PHOENIX and Myrna Herzog have performed the modern world premiere and the first world recording of the 1636 Mexican Zapotec Mass, as part of a program that brings together music of the different populations of Baroque Mexico (Spanish, Indians, Creole, Mestizos, and Africans). All on period instruments!

Misa Zapoteca is a polyphonic Mass, a four-voice work; it comprises some of the stylistic traits of Native Mexican composers, and reflects the syncretism of New World influence on the Old World polyphonic tradition. Composed in 1636 by Andrés Martinez, a native of the Zapotec tribe that lives in the Southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the mass was uncovered and transcribed by musicologist Mark Brill. It is heard in the exotic context of Baroque Mexico,  its ethnical diversity expressed in captivating melodies and infectious dances, performed by PHOENIX on period instruments.

"Quite outstanding! I love your combinations of instruments. Your festive approach is exactly what this kind of music needs. The mass is stunning, Well done!" Dr. Mark Brill, editor of the Zapotec Mass

Listen to Misa Zapoteca on Spotify and Deezer or get it as a CD.


Mosaico Zapotec 1Mosaico-Zapotec-2

Mosaico Zapotec 3

Conductor, musical director: Myrna Herzog

Einat Aronstein, Michal Okon, sopranos
Alon Harari, Avital Dery, altos
Yaacov Halperin, tenor
Zachariah Kariithi, baritone
Assaf Benraf , bass

Ensemble PHOENIX on period instruments:
Adi Silberberg – recorders, colascione; Shira Ben Yehosua - shawm
Raphael Isaac Landzbaum – alto dulcian, recorders
Alexander Fine – wind band leader, bass dulciana
Myrna Herzog - rabel; Omer Schonberger – baroque jarana, baroque guitar
Yizhar Karshon – harpsichord and organ
Dara Bloom – violone; Rony Iwryn - percussion.

On the Program

 aztec4figure12Our program brings together the fascinating music of the different populations that made up Baroque Mexico - Spanish, Indians, Creole, Mestizos and Africans - with their touching prayers, enchanting songs and infectious dances. At its heart shines the 17th century Misa Zapoteca, composed in 1636 by Andrés Martinez, a native from the Zapotec tribe of the Southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

The opening songs are written in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs by the natives themselves (In ilhuicac Cihuāpillé , Dios Itlazo nantziné - pleads to Mary), or written for them in a mixed Indian-Spanish dialect by Gaspar Fernandes (1565-1629), the Portuguese-born maestro de capilla of Puebla Cathedral (Jesós de mi goraçon, Xicochi conetzintle - lullabies to the newborn infant Jesus).

The Zapotec Latin Mass follows, in four parts: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Sit Nomen (instead of Benedictus, in the tradition of the New World Masses) and Agnus Dei. The manuscript which contains the Mass was discovered in the first decades of the 20th century and subsequently edited by Dr. Mark Brill. The Mass has never been published nor recorded.

After the Mass, it is time to sing and dance to the good life, with the Chacona by Spanish composer Juan Arañés (d. c1649), symbolizing the relationship between Mexico and Spain. This sensual dance born in Mexico (then part of the viceroyalty of New Spain), quickly conquered Europe, in spite (or maybe because) of its overtly lascivious character.

The next songs represents the Spaniards from Galicia (the land of the bagpipes, the sound of which is recalled in the composition) praising the Infant Jesus (the Sun) with an interesting imagery in which ”the fire shivers but the snow burns”. This song and most of next section comes from the pen of the great composer Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c. 1590-1664) - the Spanish maestro de capilla who succeeded Gaspar Fernandes in Puebla Cathedral.

Mexican heart OaxacaIn A siolo Flasiquiyo – a well-humored piece typical of the genre Negrilla - Padilla emulates the dialect spoken by the black population. He describes a group of African slaves “dying to dance” (morriendo por bailar) and play (for Jesus) different kinds of instruments such as the rabel and the zambomba (which you will hear). They say: "let's play softly, quietly, let’s not frighten the infant Jesus. But don't you pass behind a mule that strikes out, of a bull that will say moo."  Christmas devotion is also expressed through the playing and dancing of the jacara (a dance associated with the lower classes), in Padilla’s A la xacara, xacarilla, "the little xacara of novelty, of novelties, which gladdens Christmas for more than a thousand Christmases".

Two polyphonic pieces bring us to the most poignant moment in the program: the Tiento by Spain’s foremost organist and composer Juan Bautista Josep Cabanilles (1644-1712) and Padilla’s Stabat Mater, where the use of suspensions and dissonances convey Mary’s suffering by the cross in a most extraordinary way.

The time travel to Baroque Mexico closes with two dances introduced by Africans in the Americas: Cumbés and Guaracha. The Cumbé was a favorite couple dance originated in the Gulf of Guinea that spread over to Mexico, Central and South America. The one performed here derives from Spanish composer Santiago de Murcia (1673 – 1739)’s guitar manuscript known as Códice Saldívar nº 4, which has been found in Mexico. Some claim that the composer himself was in Mexico during the 1720s. The Guaracha is also a dance of African origin, still popular in Cuba, heard here in an exuberant setting by Mexican composer Juan García de Zéspedes (1619 – 1678), the successor of Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla as maestro de capilla in Puebla Cathedral: "The night is inviting; to the newborn infant let’s sing tender songs of adoration. Let’s celebrate him in the guaracha!"

Dr. Myrna Herzo



Misa Zapoteca icon"For the Mexicans, unlike the Europeans, the mass was not a solemn affair but a sacred merrymaking. Catchy tunes in unfamiliar tonalities, captivating syncopated dance rhythms, dominating percussion and other period instruments came paradoxically close to the Jewish idea of worshipping with joy. There was a lot of musical fun and good humor… and a polished, professional rendition". Ury Eppstein, The Jerusalem Post.

"I was blown away by their performance…. showing a part of the Mexican heritage that I am tremendously proud of, but not only that, presenting a piece that I, a lover of Early Music, had never heard ! A world premiere of a Mexican piece written in the 17h century, almost four hundred years ago, and here, in Israel , I think that this is truly remarkable. I hope we will be able to bring the ensemble and the piece and all it represents to Mexico. I want to make a public commitment for the [Mexican] Embassy support. You are doing something which puts Israel in a very special place in the world of early music". The Mexican ambassador, Mr. Carlos Rico, at the world premiere of the Zapotec Mass, the Israel Festival, Jerusalem, June 11th, 2006.

"Quite outstanding! I love your combinations of instruments. Your festive approach is exactly what this kind of music needs. The mass is stunning, Well done!" Dr. Mark Brill, editor of the Zapotec Mass



This program has been launched as a CD, and is available on many streaming platforms like Spotify and Deezer.  
For a bird's eye view of the music, click on the image