The Song of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin is a polyphonic musical piece that the Basque master Mr. Juan María Goñi López de Munaín composed in Sant Joan in 1883, and that more than 130 years later continues being sung in the Church of San Juan Baptist on the Sábado de Pasión (Saturday of Passion), as the official beginning of the Holy Week. This prayer of simple harmonies combines the religious part with the historical and cultural part, since, over the years, it has become the most important legacy of the religious and popular music of Sant Joan.
Every Sábado de Pasión, hours before Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), the Junta Mayor de Cofradías y Hermandades (Mayor Board of Brotherhoods) invites to Canto de los Dolores to the singers of Orfeón San Juan and to the instrumentalists of the Sociedad Musical la Paz (a group of students of the Professional Conservatory of Music ‘Villa de Sant Joan’ have acted in recent years). About a hundred performers are led each year by a musician or director invited by the Junta Mayor, which offers the possibility of participating in the direction of this prayer to a prominent artist.
Regardless of who the director is, what does not change is that the Dolores are interpreted before all the population, and that since it is traditional, for more than a hundred years, the ‘salary’ that will be paid to the musicians is a dozen of eggs. Of course, the priests have two dozen.
The data about the first representation of the Canto de los Dolores dates from the end of the 19th century. Originally, they sang ‘a capella’ and it is not known whether any instrument or instrumental group, from which the scores would have been lost, accompanied the voices, in particular, by deep voices. Through the information of the Parish Archive, the image of the Virgin Dolorosa is venerated in our church since 1830, which would suggest an increase in devotion for the tradition of Los Dolores. We know in town two different compositions made by the masters Mr. Francisco Senante Laudes and Mr. Juan María Goñi López (1822-1884). The composition of the master Senante is probably older, but the one that is interpreted at present is the one of Goñi, Basque composer, natural of Salvatierra (Álava) that lived in Sant Joan the final years of his life and was director of the Musical Band of Sant Joan from 1877 until his death (he died precisely in 1884, possibly shortly after the release of the Song of Sorrows in 1883).
Therefore, the Dolores was interpreted from its creation until the decade of the 70s, except for the Civil War years, during the Semana de la Pasión (Passion Week), prior to Semana Santa (Holy Week). In the 70s they stopped playing, but in 1994 the Junta de Cofradías promoted their recovery by gathering the testimony of some people like Ms. Dolores Caturla Antón or Mr. Antonio Climent Ferrándiz, thanks to whom the vocal part could be recovered. The latter, then director of the music band, made the new instrumentation based on the original according to memories and old scores. The Dolores returned to sound on 22 March 1997, Sábado de Pasión, in the Parish Church with the participation of Orfeón San Juan and Sociedad Musical La Paz. In 2002, the former director of Orfeón San Juan, Alberto Alcaraz Pastor, made the adaptation to four mixed voices and band, which is how it is currently interpreted by Orfeón and a section of Sociedad Musical La Paz.
Did you know that?
The popular devotion for the Dolores of the Virgin began in all the Christianity around the Middle Age. As part of the devotion some associated songs appeared and were interpreted during Cuaresma and Semana Santa (Lent and Holy Week), along with the rest of pious and devotional acts, like the cults and processions with the images of La Pasión (The Passion). In the old Kingdom of Valencia some data locate these songs in the sixteenth century. The work originally had very similar characteristics to other ‘Dolores’ to the Virgin, framed in the popular European Marian tradition, intimately related to the Via Crucis, and whose origin is found in the lower Middle Ages. With a predominant homophonic structure, with simple harmonies loaded with lyricism and described in a lower pitch, the elements of each season (pain) are described in the Bible (Gospels) following the most dramatic moments in the life of Mary. The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary are based on biblical episodes of the Gospels: the prophecy to Simeon, the flight to Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the temple, the encounter with Jesus on the way to Calvary, Mary at the foot of the Cross, the Death of Jesus and the burial of Christ.