Preamble to the Program Notes
This evening's program of Renaissance music is broadly illustrative of what Gustav Reese, in his book Music in the Renaissance, asserts: "Western music as a whole ... achieved a cultural unification it has never since matched. Composers, especially in the 16th Century, spoke one musical language . . ." albeit with various local dialects.
Renaissance ecclesiastical art music flourished chiefly in chapels and churches of Catholic and Protestant clerical and secular princes. Here, paid choral establishments were comprised generally of 12 to 24 well-trained singers together with a complement of instrumentalists. Numerous important and widely travelled composers emerged from these establishments proficient in compositional techniques and performance practices.
Renaissance secular music flourished likewise in noble courts where madrigals and similar forms provided entertainment opportunities required for the musically educated courtiers. Indeed King Henry VIII could not envisage a "gentleman" or "lady" not proficient in the ability to read music.
Since "counterpoint" and "polyphony" constitute the chief essence of this era's techniques, it is helpful for our enjoyment of the music to describe them briefly. "Counterpoint" is that combination of simultaneously sounding "parts" or "voices" each of significance in itself and the whole resulting in a coherent texture. "Imitation" is probably the most common device in contrapuntal composition. One voice enters with a melodic phrase, which is then more or less exactly copied by other voices in different pitches, the whole developing the "canonic" or successively repetitive and harmonic implications inherent in a given melody.
Considerable leeway in performance practices likewise permitted the doubling of the voice part with instruments, where a specific accompaniment had not been composed for a selection.
- Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
DAWN OF THE RENAISSANCE
Dufay, a giant among fifteenth-century French-Burgundian composers, was complimented by his contemporaries as "the moon of all music and the light of all singers." His festive Gloria "imitative of trumpets" was one of nine independently composed Glorias.
Considered by his contemporaries the greatest composer yet to appear, Josquin Des Pres utilized his famed motet Ave Maria ... Virgo Serena to illustrate various contrapuntal techniques in its five stanzas. The fourth and fifth, Ave Vera Virginitas and Ave Praeclara Omnium utilize canonic imitation. With superb delicacy Josquin celebrates the supernatural prerogatives of the Virgin Mary and closes with an exquisite homophonic appeal for her intercession.
I f Ye Love Me, one of the four earliest known English anthems, was produced between 1547 and 1548. These clearly show the mark of Tallis, organist and composer to the Tudors, one of the first musicians to write music for the new Anglican liturgy. This prototype anthem exhibits the influence of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for clear syllabic word settings.
A pioneer builder of Elizabethan musical culture, the recusant Catholic Byrd enjoyed Protestant Elizabeth's favor. His Sing Joyfully sets verses 1-4 of Psalm 81, as does Palestrina in his identical Latin setting Exultate Deo. Both composers superbly paint vocally the blare of trumpets at the words "Blow the Trumpet." "Buccinate . . . Tuba."
TWO HOLY WEEK RESPONSORIES
Some of Victoria's most mystical and poignant music resides in his settings of his Holy Week Responsories, those scriptural meditations found after the Lesson readings of the Tenebrae Offices. This greatest of Spanish Renaissance composers produced Officium at Rome in 1585. Eram Quasi Agnus Innocens is the Responsory to the Seventh Lesson of Matins for Holy Thursday.
The turbulent Renaissance Prince, Don Carlo Gesualdo, was one of the most original composers of the 16th Century, known especially for his extraordinary harmonic daring, modern even to our ears. In the Holy Saturday Responsory, O Vos Omnes, Gesualdo conveys the tortured anguish of the Crucified, inviting all passers-by to contemplate if there is any sorrow like unto His.
THE GOLDEN AGE
The Missa Brevis (Short Mass) Palestrina composed in 1570, three years after the famed Missa Papae Marcellae, while in the employ of the wealthy Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este of Tivoli. It is one of his 'free-composed' Masses with no thematic correspondence characteristic of Masses based on the themes of chants or motets, called "parody" Masses.
THE SECULAR RENAISSANCE
The masterful, versatile and inventive Claudio Monteverdi certainly ranks among the world's foremost composers. Ecco mormorar l 'onde sets a poem of Italian poet Torquato Tasso. Appearing in his Second Book of Madrigals published in 1590 and exhibiting Marenzio's strong influence, the madrigal is set for five voices and conveys in his courtly pastoral style the mirror image of dawn reflected on the sea.
Appearing in his Fourth Book of Madrigals, published in 1603, Ah! Dolente Partita illustrates Monteverdi's extraordinary harmonic characteristics as he sets Guarini's poem in an exceedingly passionate lament of an ill-fated lover about to depart from this world.
Marenzio has often been considered the prince of Italian madrigalists. His prolific and wide-ranging compositions strongly influenced his counterparts in other countries, especially England. His Cantava la piu vaga pastorella, on a poem of Petrarch, and published in his First Book of Madrigals in 1580, illustrates exquisitely Marenzio's pastoral mood.
Andrea Gabrieli brought international stature to the Venetian school of composers. His style, like that of his nephew Giovanni, based itself largely on the multiple choir lofts and organs in St. Mark's Cathedral, coupled with a brilliant Venetian instrumental tradition. This situation encouraged antiphonal singing. Magnificat for twelve voices and composed in 1587 utilizes a women's, a mixed, and a men's choir to achieve its opulent chiaroscuro effects.
Palestrina composed his Sequence Stabat Mater for double chorus in 1589- 90. It is one of his most profoundly simple creations. Upon hearing this meditation on the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the cross, Richard Wagner exclaimed, "an absolute spiritual revelation which filled us with indescribable emotion."
The dramatic Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes for double chorus and organ was composed by Victoria in 1600 while in the service of the royal Dowager Maria resident at the Convent of Santa Clara. This scintillatingly joyous and ebullient work capitalizes on the dramatic aspects of its dialogue between the Angel and Mary Magdalene at the tomb of the Risen Savior.
An Italian Jew, Shlomo (Salomone) Rossi, spent his productive years in the Gonzaga Court of Mantua. So esteemed was he that he was exempted from wearing the yellow badge identifying Jews. While he composed mostly 13 books of Madrigals, "II Ebreo," as he styled himself, composed a book of synagogue music entitled Hahirim Asher Lishlomo (Song of Songs). No setting of that Song appears there, the title being a pun on Rossi's first name. Elohim Hashivaynu is a psalm setting taken from this book.
Ascendens Christus, a motet for Ascension Thursday, is one of 93 motets Jacob Clemens published in 1554. This prolific Franco-Flemish composer of the Netherlands School often jocosely signed his compositions J. Clemens non Papa to distinguish himself, as some assert, from Pope (Papa) Clement VII (d. 1534), or as others assert, from a contemporary local poet and friend, Jacobus Papa.
Jacob Handl, an exceedingly skillful contrapuntist and polychoral composer, composed his magnificent Pater Noster between 1586 and 1591 when he published his Opus Musicum. A Slovenian bachelor, his native name was Petelin, meaning rooster, but he worked rather under the Latin or German equivalents, "Gallus," or "Handl." His musical works represent a summary of the compositional techniques of his day.
In reality an accomplished Baroque composer of 21 operas, Antonio Lotti served for many years as organist and choirmaster at St. Mark's, Venice. Here he composed elegant church music in the enduring tradition of Renaissance contrapuntal art. He was a craftsman of the highest order. His eight-voice Crucifixus is one of several settings of this central excerpt of the Creed which Lotti composed for St. Mark's.
The resplendently festive motet for high and low choruses, Jubitate Deo, was published by Giovanni Gabrieli in his Sacrae Symphoniae of 1597. Its markedly contrasting passages afford the listener an unrivaled opportunity to hear the developed and majestic Venetian polychoral style and its contrasting choral colors.