Manuel de Zumaya


Born: 1678   Died: March 5, 1756   Country: Mexico  
Perhaps the most outstanding composer of Mexican Baroque music aside from Ignacio de Jerusalem, Manuel de Zumaya (also called "Sumaya" in some instances) was likely born in or around Mexico City in the late 1670s. The earliest record of him turns up in a Mexico City Cathedral register in 1694, suggesting he had served as a choirboy for some time and granted the right to study organ and composition in addition to a small stipend owing to the Read more premature death of his father. Although the next mention of Zumaya in the historical record, in connection with the staging of his play Rodrigo" does not occur until 1707, it has been theorized that Zumaya was taken to Italy to study sometime around 1700. The high skill level of Zumaya's writing, his direct understanding of certain stylistic traits in the Italian Baroque, and his ability to translate Italian opera libretti into Spanish all suggest this as a possibility. In 1711, Zumaya composed an opera, Il Partenope, to a commission from Viceroy Fernando de Alencastre Norońa y Silva; this was the first opera written by an American-born composer.

Zumaya worked for many years as an assistant to maestro di cappella Antonio de Salazar at Mexico City Cathedral, and in doing so ran into stiff competition with Francisco de Atienza, an older musician who had entered Salazar's service somewhat earlier. This was exacerbated to some degree in 1714 when Zumaya was named to the post of principal organist. In 1715, Salazar retired, and Atienza and Zumaya were forced to compete for the post of maestro di cappella, a contest Zumaya won on the strength of his compositional ability. Zumaya held the post for 24 years, during which time he oversaw the copying of an entire library's worth of music manuscripts for the Cathedral and expanded the resources of its orchestra.

In 1738, Zumaya simply picked up and left Mexico City for Oaxaca on the request of its archbishop; despite repeated entreaties from Mexico City for him to return, Zumaya remained in Oaxaca for the rest of his life. There was already someone in the job of maestro di capella at Oaxaca Cathedral, and Zumaya worked as a chaplain until the job was vacated in 1745; as in Mexico City, the established musician in the position was simply shunted aside to make room for Zumaya. He lived in Oaxaca for the decade left to him, and at his death, his manuscripts were purchased and preserved there. The earlier library Zumaya had compiled in Mexico City is likewise intact and is now at the Museo Virreinal.

Although his early opera and play have not survived, the rest of Zumaya's enormous output has come down to us and it is genuinely astounding. In terms of sacred settings, Zumaya could hold his own with nearly any Italian composer of the Baroque, and his extreme harmonic boldness likewise sets Zumaya apart from his contemporaries. Although only one setting of the mass ordinary survives from Zumaya's pen, he composed several settings of mass propers, a lamentation, and numerous motets. Zumaya was especially productive in the form of the villancicos, in which he displays an uncanny knack for capturing the rhythms of Indian-inflected Spanish speech; some villancicos-like passages likewise wind their way through Zumaya's motets. Zumaya was never published during his lifetime, and his works remained unknown outside of Mexico; the first mention of his name in an English-language publication did not occur until 1952. Read less

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