The Goan motet: A unique Lenten experience to cherish

The soul-stirring tunes and traditional repetitive nature of Konkani motets enhance the congregation’s participation in Holy Week services
GOAN MOTET: A motet performance.
GOAN MOTET: A motet performance. Gomantak Times

FRAZER ANDRADE

“Motetes (motets) are a form of Goan ‘classical’ Lenten music,” described late Mestre Maurelio Cotta of Loutolim and added that they began appearing somewhere in the middle of the 19th century.

Motets are sacred hymns sung on the occasion of the Santos Passos (Holy Steps of Christ) and also during the Sacred Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Post Vatican II in 1962-65, many Lenten hymns – liturgical songs to be sung in church – have been composed in Konkani.

GOAN MOTET: A motet performance.
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Parish schools were opened in Goa way back in the 16th century originally at the Seminario de Santa Fé and later the Colégio de São Paulo (1541). From 1545, there were schools which taught reading notations and singing. No Konkani music or hymns were taught there. It was only Latin.

The students of the parish schools learnt even choral songs. They could sing in polyphony and they sang serious classical music, like Palestrina. Mestres of Churches, who were also music teachers in parish schools, would compose a lot of music in Latin, especially Masses.

TRADITIONAL PRACTICES: Motet performance at Old Goa.
TRADITIONAL PRACTICES: Motet performance at Old Goa.

Goa received the harmonic musical tradition from Portugal. Portuguese vocal music in the 16th century was based on the motet, a form that had been created in France in the 13th century and refashioned by Flemish composers in the 15th century.

In this later mode it was a church composition, polyphonic and unaccompanied, based on Biblical or liturgical texts in Latin and usually sung in four to six voices.

GOAN MOTET: A motet performance.
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‘The word ‘motet’ has its origin in the French word ‘mot’, meaning word.  The motet has gone through many changes from medieval motets to Baroque motets,’ said late Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas, an enthusiast of classical liturgical music.

Palestrina’s Vinea Mea and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus are some well-known compositions. In the hands of Goan Mestres, the motet took a unique twist. These were sung by male singers with an introduction in a four-part harmony followed by an interlude with two violins. In many parishes, a clarinet and a double bass were also used.

The motet has gone through many changes from medieval motets to Baroque motets,’ said late Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas, an enthusiast of classical liturgical music.

Prior to the Vatican Council II, no musical instruments were permitted to be used during the Sacred Triduum, until the Gloria was sung during the Easter Vigil.  However, given the uniqueness of Goan motets, special permission was taken from the Vatican to allow the use of violins, a clarinet and a double bass for singing them during this period.

Earlier, hours used to be spent singing motets, especially during the Tenebrae services (Liturgy of darkness) in church held on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In the 18th century in Portugal the motet was overshadowed by the opera, a 16th century Italian creation of an orchestral and dramatic nature.

GOAN MOTET: A motet performance.
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Motet and the mando came up in the second half of the 19th century. It was perhaps the fruit of what could be called a “compositional spurt” among Goan composers. At least for around 100 years in Goa, motets were composed in Latin.

Some examples are Filiae maestae Jerusalem and Nolite Flere. It was only perhaps in the 1950s or a little earlier that they began composing motets like “Vell Mhozo Paulo” in Konkani.

Motet and the mando came up in the second half of the 19th century. It was perhaps the fruit of what could be called a “compositional spurt” among Goan composers.

Sadly, most of the composers of these breathtaking pieces are not known probably because most likely the composers were few in number and widely known and thus there was no interest in knowing who had composed them.

Mestre Maurelio mentions that these motets when sung made the listeners literally cry even though they may have not understood the words. ‘The tune is such!’, he exclaimed.

GOAN MOTET: A motet performance.
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With Konkani motets being composed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their soul stirring tunes and their traditional repetitive nature enhanced the congregation’s participation in services with a mind of repentance.

Unfortunately, not all parishes in Goa continue with this rich legacy of sacred music. Many even discourage the singing of motets due to what is considered by them as ‘added expenditure’. In the mid-1960s, many of the original motets were translated from Latin to Konkani. But nothing can ever be compared with the original Latin versions.

GOAN MOTET: A motet performance.
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This year the motet enthusiasts of Saligao shall be organising a gathering of motet singing enthusiasts at the Saligao spring in Salmona (Zhorir), on March 20th from 4 pm to 5 pm, presented in its very natural ambiance of a flowing stream of water and quiet woods.

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