Cantum Mensurable

Editions of Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Polyphony

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28 Nov 2011

Diogo Dias Melgás

A biographical note on Portuguese composer Diogo Dias Melgás.

Portuguese composer and teacher Diogo Dias Melgás was born in Cuba (near Évora), 11 April 1620 and died in Évora 10 March 1700. He was admitted as a choirboy at Évora Cathedral on 10 May 1647, being His teacher Bento Nunes Pegado. On 14 March 1662 Melgás was elected master of the boys, in 1663 mestre da crasta and c1678, mestre de capela. In 1697, because he had become blind, his former pupil Pedro Vaz Rego began to substitute him in the Cathedral services. However, because of the esteem in which he was held, the Cathedral chapter continue to pay his salary until July 1699.

Melgás’s music shows a composer that is in the frontier between the stile antico and stile moderno (as far as 1680’s). In some of his motets he’s very traditional using a sober contrapuntal style.However, in other works (as some bouble-choir works) he expands his musical language in a very auspicious way, using a florid contrapuntal style, free chromatic inflexions and even clearly harmonic language. He is the first Évora composer to use bar-lines in his polyphonic works.

His works are preserved in cathedral archives at Évora and Lisbon, being all liturgical works. There are also four incomplete villancicos at Évora Public Library. Two have Spanish texts, on a Galician and one a Portuguese text. He also edited a plainchant hymnal containing 152 melodies, all barred in binary and ternary metre.

He is also the first Évora composer to provide independent instrumental parts for harp (Évora Cathedral employed an harpist from as early as 1643), organ and unfigured bass. Melgás is considered to be the last important composer of the stile antico tradition at Évora Cathedral, although his pupils (like Vaz Rego and Celestino) were still influenced by the polyphonic style, their works show a clearly leaning towards the new Italian style introduced in Portugal by King D. João V.

Luís C. F, Henriques