Exploring the sacred music of nuns in colonial Mexico and Latin America

Published: December 1, 2023
Cesar Favila portraitCesar Favila (photo courtesy of UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music)

Robert Baker | December 1, 2023

In his first book, Cesar Favila book takes an imaginative approach to recounting the lives of nuns who sang devotional music in Catholic churches in 17th- and 18th-century Mexico and Latin America.

Favila, an assistant professor of musicology at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, is a faculty affiliate of the CMRS Center for Early Global Studies, the Center for 17th- and 18th-Century Studies, and the LGBTQ Studies Program in the UCLA Division of Humanities.

“Immaculate Sounds: The Musical Lives of Nuns in New Spain,” published in November by Oxford University Press, examines rarely studied printed and manuscript sources for convent musical and devotional life. The new text is available via open access thanks to a partnership between UCLA Library and the Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem.

In an interview with the School of Music, Favila spoke about 17th-century polyphony, tales of spiritual communion and his own Catholic upbringing in northern California.

Your book is about music sung by nuns in New Spain. What made nuns’ music special?

Nuns’ singing was thought to be essential to salvation. My book traces the order of Immaculate Conception, the first group of nuns to arrive in New Spain from Europe, and the convents that sprung up afterwards throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

It was widely believed that women had to be locked away in these convents and preserved for singing because that singing was essential to saving people’s souls. I connect this belief to a really unusual doctrine of the Virgin Mary’s essence, which basically held that her soul was conceived without original sin from the beginning of her existence in order that she could be the mother of Jesus Christ. This made Mary a kind of co-redeemer.

Read the full interview on the School of Music website.