EVANSTON, Ill. — Drew Edward Davies, associate professor of musicology at the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, has published Catálogo de la Colección de Música del Archivo Histórico de la Arquidiócesis de Durango, a complete catalog of the sheet music collection of Mexico’s Durango Cathedral, along with an essay that discusses the characteristics of the repertoire and the criteria for the catalog. 

The 533-page work, released in Mexico City in November 2013 by the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Association for the Support and Development of Archives and Libraries of Mexico (ADABI), was published in Spanish and in Mexico “out of respect for its subject matter, which is the cultural patrimony of Mexico,” says Davies. However, he designed the catalog entries to be understandable to international readers through the use of abbreviations, standardized phrases, and cognates with English.

Durango is one of seven cathedral archives in Mexico that preserves colonial music manuscripts, and this is the first catalog of any of them that includes detailed bibliographic information as well as musical incipits of both the vocal and instrumental parts of every work. 

“We can and will not know the extent of the colonial Mexican repertoire, or its true character, until we know the contents of the archives,” says Davies. “While at one level this is a reference work, at another it is the most comprehensive and browsable glimpse we have to date of the music repertoires of a colonial Mexican cathedral in the 18th century. 

“The catalog benefits the archive itself by creating a detailed inventory of its possessions—something that didn’t exist before; it benefits the scholar by revealing the diversity of repertoires present in a colonial cathedral; and it benefits the musician and the listening public by opening up unknown repertoires from the past.” 

Davies says he wishes he had had such a tool when he began his research in Mexico, as he basically had to discover for himself what was there.

The 936 works of music cataloged date from the sixteenth through twentieth centuries, but the majority of them were composed during the second half of the eighteenth century and are scored for chorus or solo singers and chamber orchestra. These music manuscripts were originally used in church services at Durango Cathedral or for teaching music to young people. Many of the pieces were composed for the cathedral itself by chapel masters or local musicians. Other pieces were composed in Mexico City, Spain, or Italy, and brought to Durango by priests or musicians. The catalog reveals how the music of Italian masters were preserved side by side with pieces written by local people born in Mexico.

Davies first worked with this collection of music in 2002 as part of his dissertation research at the University of Chicago. The catalog itself was drafted primarily between 2006 and 2010 after joining Northwestern’s musicology faculty. Thus altogether it has been a project of more than a decade of work.

Davies has collaborated with musicians in Chicago, Dallas, New York, Mexico, Spain, and Ukraine to perform and record selected works from this repertoire, and his edition of the complete works of Santiago Billoni, also from this collection, has already been published.

Among other projects, he is currently collaborating with Lucero Enríquez, Analía Cherñavsky and members of the Seminario de Música en la Nueva España y el México Independiente (Seminar on the Music of New Spain and Independent Mexico) to produce an eight-volume catalog of the much larger music collection of Mexico City Cathedral using a format partially modeled on Davies’ work in Durango. The first two volumes of this publication should be available in 2014.


  • Drew Davies