by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
A native of the southern Austrian province of Carinthia, Jacob Hand! (1550-1591) was one of the great masters of the Venetian polychoral style. He spent the first years of his professional life living in monasteries to take the opportunity, as he put it, "to understand the muse and meditate on the shepherd's pipe." He later served the Moravian Bishop of Olomouc as choirmaster and the church of St. Janna Brzehu, in Prague, as cantor. His musical creations were generally popular, though their complexity, especially in the use of many voices at once, caused some criticism by his contemporaries.
In Handl's famed setting of the Pater Noster, which introduces the Communion rite of the mass when sung by priest and congregation, he uses the polychoral style - a four-part women's chorus alternating and responding to a four-part male chorus, as each phrase of the Lord's Prayer is elaborated until all voices unite in the last lines. The men's chorus introduces his setting with the familiar Gregorian chant.
Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1553) is "widely recognized as the first major composer from the Iberian peninsula and the most important figure in early 16th century Spanish sacred music," according to Grove's. Born, raised and educated in Seville, he spent the majority of his career in the papal choir in Rome, where he mastered the polyphonic style. This position in the pope's retinue exposed his compositions to the greatest audiences, both in number and quality: Morales twice performed his own works before the Emperor Charles V of Austria.
The Spanish composer published sixteen Magnificats in two sets in 1542 and 1545. Grouped into two settings in each of the eight Gregorian modes or tones, the first of each set provides a polyphonic setting for the odd verses, and the alternate setting for the even verses. This evening's Magnificat is in the first mode with the even verses composed, and the odd rendered in chant.
Unlike many other composer's legacy, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's (1525/6-1594) posthumous reputation has only grown with the passing centuries as a result of his supreme mastery of Renaissance vocal polyphony and counterpoint. His style is noteworthy for its serenity of expression, artistic discipline and thorough consistency. Exsultate Deo excerpts verses 2 through 6 of Psalm 81 with chant settings reaching back to the ninth century. It is a work of rejoicing embellished with word-painting, as when the word "buccinati' [sound the trumpet] occurs, he has the voices of the chorus sound repeated trumpet calls.
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was initially educated in organ and composition by the Norman master Saint Evode before coming under the formative influence of Paul Dukas, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Nevertheless, his own unique style emerged in 1947 with the publication of the widely performed Requiem which demonstrated his achievement in the integration of Gregorian chants into modern choral/ orchestral composition. In 1960 he again established his command in his Four Motets, based on Gregorian themes.
Tantum ergo presents his re-working of the chant setting of St. Thomas Aquinas' great Eucharistic hymn Pange lingua, which is sung at Second Vespers for the feast of Corpus Christi and on Maundy Thursday. Tota pulchra es combines chants of the first and third antiphons for the psalms of Second Vespers on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Tu es Petrus, the famed Pettine text from Matthew 16:18 ("You are Peter and on this rock ... "), serves as the fifth psalm antiphon for Lauds on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The exquisite Ubi caritas is never omitted from the several antiphons prescribed to be sung during the rite of the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday.
Born in Norway in 1927, Bjarne Slögedal earned a degree in organ in 1949 from the Oslo Conservatory. He then studied composition and conducting for two years at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Having conducted and performed in numerous concerts in the United States from the 1950's, he has conducted since 1952 the Cathedral Motet Choir of Kristiansand, Norway with considerable success.
The text of the Anthiphona de morte [antiphon of death] is that of the Responsory, Media vita, to be sung at the rite of Benediction of the sacrament during the old Septuagesima season immediately preceding Lent. In view of life's uncertainty and brevity during the Middle Ages, death was an ever-present reality, seen from a biblical viewpoint as a punishment for man's rebellion against God. Slögedal uses whisperings, voiced words and music in this piece. He commences with the assertion that, even in the midst of life, we are in the presence of death. The women plead that God will not continue his wrath at our sins, and then the entire chorus implores him truly to be the Savior and not to hand us over to bitter, spiritual death.
Les Chansons des Roses premiered in 1993 by Oregon's acclaimed chamber chorus, Choral Cross-Ties, conducted by Bruce Browne, and have since become one of the most performed choral cycles in the world. The Chansons were featured at the World Choral Congress in Vancouver, B.C., the American Music Festival at the National Gallery of An in Washington, D.C. and at numerous ACDA conventions, including the 1995 National at the Kennedy Center.
Composer Morten Lauridsen writes, "In addition to his vast output of German poetry, Rilke (1875-1926) wrote nearly 400 poems in French. His poems on roses struck me as especially charming, filled with gorgeous lyricism, deftly crafted and elegant in their imagery. These exquisite poems are primarily light, joyous and playful and the musical settings are designed to enhance these characteristics and capture the delicate beauty and sensuousness of the French text. Distinct melodic and harmonic materials recur throughout the cycle, especially between Rilke's exquisite Contre Qui, Rose (set as a wistful nocturne) and his moving La Rose Complete. The final piece, Dirait-on, is composed as a tuneful chanson populaire, or folksong, that weaves together two melodic ideas first heard in fragmentary form in preceding movements."
Tonight's concert commemorates the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). He had filled the void left by Schumann at his death in 1856, continuing the Austro- German symphonic tradition introduced by the other composer. Yet, as Grove's states, Bruckner did so in such an "individual and unexpected a direction, that until recently ... his stature has been a subject of controversy." While the chants of Ecce sacerdos magnus serve as antiphons or a Gradual for the feast of bishop-saints, they are most familiar as the processional for the entrance of a bishop in his cathedral or a church. Bruckner composed this piece for seven-part choir, organ and three trombones to celebrate the centenary of the Bishopric of Linz on April 20, 1885.
By 1864 he had emerged as a mature composer, with three Masses composed between 1864 and 1867. All three constitute a prodigious gateway to his monumental nine symphonies. Of these sacred works, the Mass in E minor, performed tonight, marked a significant departure from the flourishing classical models of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. In this work Bruckner consciously combined, in creative conformity with the German Caecelian Movement for the reform of church music, the art of Palestrina's polyphony with a restrained and austere use of fifteen wind instruments. As was his inveterate custom, he subsequently revised the score of the Mass in 1876 and again in 1882.
Bruckner's expressive harmonic and contrapuntal mastery opens extraordinary vistas to future, modern twentieth-century developments. Unlike the other two, more traditional classical-styled Masses in D and F, the E minor was more consciously composed as a liturgical work and dedicated to his supportive Bishop, Franz Josef Rüdiger. Its first performance on September 29, 1869 served to consecrate a Votive Chapel in Linz Cathedral. Indeed, the very structure of the Mass, its variations of tempi and its textual divisions presuppose in Bruckner a thorough understanding of prevalent, correct liturgical practice connected with the celebration of a Tridentine Pontifical Solemn High Mass.
Though a detailed analysis of the Mass in E minor cannot be offered here, the listener's attention is directed to the contrasts and the process of unification achieved in the voices of the Kyrie-Christe Eleison, coupled with the delicate entry and use of the winds. Note how the Gloria with fuller wind accompaniment divides into contrasting sections of majesty and humble submission, building to the glory of the Amen fugue. While the succinct Credo overall may be the finest such setting ever composed, consider especially the exquisite reverence characterizing the "Et incarnatus est" movement, leading into the poignant sorrow of the Crucifixus.
The Sanctus-Benedictus, which are central in the introduction to and continuation of the Roman Canon, also form the great centerpieces of the Mass. Like the Kyrie, the Sanctus reveals Bruckner's mastery of Palestrinan counterpoint. The Agnus Dei, through its sequence of soft and loud pleas for mercy and peace, clearly summarizes Nowak's description of Bruckner's heroic humility and spiritual wisdom.
Voices and instruments are so inextricably interwoven, diversified and unified that the listener must give undivided attention to both the choral and instrumental development and color they afford in this masterly work. In the last analysis, however, the Mass in E minor’s greatness rests on Bruckner's ability to illuminate with music the profoundly Roman Catholic theological content with the words and phrases of the Book of Common Prayer.