“Hanacpachap Cussicuinin” or Cultural Syncretism

We’ve covered an endless number of topics related to music and graphic design on this blog; from logo proposals to rankings of songs. On this occasion, we are going to dip into history to talk about a polyphony that represents the cultural syncretism that occurred during the time of the Hispanic Monarchy: “Hanacpachap Cussicuinin”.

Hanacpachap Cussicuinin is known as the first polyphony in the New World. To be more precise, it’s a baroque-style processional hymn dedicated to Virgin Mary, and entirely written in the Quechua language. Composed by the Franciscan Juan Pérez Bocanegra in 1622, it was published in 1631 in the Viceroyalty or Kingdom of Peru.

The piece is a perfect reflection of how Franciscans evangelised in Peru, that is, by adapting as much as possible to the native language and Andean tradition. Moreover, it’s a perfect example of the integration between the Hispanic and native cultures of the region. And this integration can be clearly appreciated in the lyrics.

The lyrics in Hanacpachap Cussicuinin convey the Catholic theology utilizing the Quechua cosmovision. This can be seen in the many references to Virgin Mary through the use of metaphors about nature. That’s why this piece can be interpreted both ways, either from a Catholic perspective or from Andean symbolism.

The polyphony is conceived for four voices (tiple, alto, tenor and baxo) in syllabic style (that is, one note per syllable), homorhythmic (the same rhythm over the work), and with a harmonic structure. On the other hand, it uses a versification that combines the Sapphic verse and the Quechua binary mode. According to Bonanegra:

The prayer that follows I did write in Sapphic verse, in the Quechua language, in honour of the Immaculate Virgin: the music is composed for four voices such that cantors may sing it for processions, upon entering into the church, and on days dedicated to Our Lady and on her feast days.

There’s a certain skepticism about the authorship of the work. Some specialists affirm that a local native was the real author due to basic mistakes in the composition. However, many suggest it’s unlikely that it wasn’t Bocanegra, as the entire book where he wrote the hymn contains his name. Another possible explanation is that it was simply a transcription error.

We encourage you to listen to this version made by Schola Cantorum Cantate Domino in 2017. You can also click here if you want to see the score of the piece.