Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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2. Missions.

The Jesuit order maintained a highly centralized administrative structure, assuring efficient communication throughout the provinces and extending to the colleges. One of the more interesting by-products of this structure as regards the Jesuit musical tradition was the use and development of music in the foreign missions. Even though Jesuits in mission territories shared the same vision as their European brothers, the missionary context often dictated a more flexible, less cautious approach to the use of music in support of the order’s apostolic enterprise. The musical tradition that developed in a large number of mission countries was, in fact, so successful that it is now possible to identifiy ‘mission music’ as a genre distinct from the cathedral music that existed in those countries.

In the ‘Jesuit republic’ of Paraguay, for example, where the order was present from 1607 to the time of its expulsion from Spanish lands in 1767, the Society established separate townships for the Guaraní Indians and several other indigenous peoples. Virtually every town of about 2000 members boasted its own orchestra, and several of the larger towns were set up as conservatories or as factory towns for making musical instruments. Jesuits would constantly ask their European colleagues to send the most recently composed music to the townships, and a musical trade route developed between Europe and the La Plata basin of Argentina whereby Jesuit musicians and artists as well as music scores could be channelled to the South American jungles. The order sent several musicians to Paraguay, among them Antonius Sepp (1655–1733), once a member of the boys’ choir at the Stephansdom in Vienna, who set up one of the Guaraní towns as a conservatory so that Indians from all the other towns could be trained in the art of music and instrument building.

As the Jesuits brought Western art music to far-flung lands, they were also the agents for a reverse kind of cultural borrowing. Perhaps the most borrowed of Chinese tunes, wannian huan, was first brought to the knowledge of Western readers in a geographical work by the French Jesuit Jean-Baptiste Du Halde (1674–1743) in 1733. The tune was quoted in Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de musique of 1768. Although a mistake in copying ruined the original pentatonic, the tune nevertheless served as the main motif of Weber’s Overtura chinesa of 1806 (lost), which the composer later used as prelude to his incidental music to Schiller’s Turandot (1809). The second-hand borrowing continued in Puccini’s Turandot (1926) and in the scherzo of Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (1943). It was not only in the more famous missions like Paraguay or China, however, that music played an important role in the Society’s missionary activity; it now appears that India, the Philippines, and indeed all of East Asia were subject to such influence.


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