The only extant biographical reference to Frei Jerónimo da Madre de Deus is the Catalogo dos compozitores na Sciencia da Muzica, / e dos instrumentos de Orgão e Cravo da Ordem de S. / Paulo (Catalogue of the composers in the science of music, organ and harpsichord from the Order of Saint), compiled in 1737. It can be inferred from the information contained in this document that he was born between 1714 and 1715, having joined the religious order of Saint Paul around the age of seventeen. The last known documental evidence is the autograph of his Antyphona a 4 for SATB choir and basso continuo, which bears the date 1768.
His only known organ work survived in a single copy: manuscript CLI/1-4 nr. 7 from the Public Library and District Archive of Évora, whose front page bears the title «Verssos / Sobre o Canto Chão / Para Orgão / de Fr. Jeronimo da M.dre de Ds.». This collection of twenty verses is the largest Portuguese solo organ work from the first half of the eighteenth century known to date.
The keyboard idiom of Frei Jerónimo da Madre de Deus, with many features of Italian harpsichord technique, seems clearly distant from the Portuguese tradition of the previous century. The Versos de 5º tom display a variety of compositional devices such as imitative counterpoint, accompanied melody, cromaticism or even the use of a cantus firmus with the fifth psalm tone.
The manuscript of the Versos does not appear to be the work of a professional copyist and poses many editorial problems. It was nevertheless decided to keep this edition as close as possible to the source. Note values, time signatures, stems and beaming were kept as in the original. All accidentals, even those considered redundant by modern standards, were also kept. Corrections to the musical text are clearly indicated: notes appear in smaller print, slurs are dotted and accidentals are indicated between brackets. All other editorial corrections are listed in the editorial remarks.
None of the Versos bear any registration marks and the music doesn’t suggest the use of divided stops. Idiomatic writing for en chamade reeds (or for any particular stop) is also not to be found. Therefore it seems that the instrument in mind would not be a large organ with a typical Iberian sound palette, but a smaller-scaled instrument with complete stops, more in the style of some Italian instruments of the time. These instruments, either imported from Italy or built by Portuguese makers, were common in Portugal throughout the eighteenth century. Some of them survived and, together with the music of Jerónimo da Madre de Deus, remain as a testimony to a period of Portuguese history when organ music and organ building were directly influenced by Italian models.
CITAR (UCP–Escola das Artes) / Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa