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Juan García de Zéspedes

1619 - August 5, 1678
born in Puebla, Mexico, composed during the Baroque period
Mexican composer Juan García de Zéspedes, whose surname files under "G," not "Z," worked for his entire life at Puebla Cathedral, where he joined on as a choirboy at the age of 11. He would have been trained under the direct supervision of the cathedral's great maestro di capilla, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, and the cathedral's payment records indicate that García de Zéspedes was a highly valued singer indeed. In 1654, García de Zéspedes took over some of the duties of training choristers and cantors in singing and instrumental performance, as Padilla was either ailing or neglecting such duties as those entrusted to him. Padilla died in 1654, and García de Zéspedes was named only interim maestro di capilla for the time being. No suitable alternative was found to fill the position, and García de Zéspedes was awarded the full title and salary in 1670. Within two years, however, records indicate García de Zéspedes was already in trouble for neglecting his teaching and borrowing instruments, books, and manuscripts that belonged to the cathedral and not returning then in a timely fashion. Final admonishment to García de Zéspedes for further slacking is recorded in the cathedral ledger in 1676, but not long after the composer became a victim of paralysis and was relieved of his duties not long before he died at about the age of 60.

To date, only seven compositions of García de Zéspedes have been located, but they are all considerable ones and are marked by an unusual sense of variety. His best-known work is the villancico Confidante seta la Noche, which utilizes the African-derived folk dance form of the guaracha and is the oldest known example of this type of music extant; the guaracha, and guajira, whose rhythm likewise appears in this piece, would later serve as important components to Cuban popular music. Although his output is dominated by villancicos, García de Zéspedes also composed Latin mass music, including a seven-voice Salve Regina that could have come straight out of something by Palestrina. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis , Rovi
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