Estêvão de Brito – Heu Domine

Estêvão de Brito’s (c.1575-1641) motet pro defunctis Heu, heu Domine is to me one of his best-achieved works. The motet is attached to his Officium defunctorum, a manuscript housed at Málaga Cathedral music archive, where the composer was maestro di capilla. The work is scored for six voices (SSAATB), the second altus being in a very low tessitura, as many of Brito’s motets.

The motet begins with a sort of repeated scream, at “Heu, heu Domine”, that goes in imitation through all the voices. It’s full of rhythmic diversity, with the use of syncopated rhythms, for instance, at “cecidit corona”, and again, in the striking passage “nihil enim sunt”. At “quia peccavimus” we reach a rhetorical expressiveness, when a lively section ends abruptly and gives way to sort of prayer of repentance.

This is one of those works that you sing and never forget. I’ve sung it at Évora cathedral, the final concert of the XII International Workshop Évora Cathedral Music School 2009, directed by Owen Rees. This version is performed by the Studio Chorale, directed by Eric Hermans, which also comprises Filipe de Magalhães’s Missa pro defunctis and several other motets. I edited this motet for mpmp, it is now available in the “Polyphonia” series, n.º 33.

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