By Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola Marymount University
Giovanni Gabrieli developed his uncle Andrea's invention of the use of the antiphonal or double chorus (cori spezzati) at St. Mark's in Venice, in a more sophisticated manner. Rather than simply having one choir repeat what had been presented initially, Giovanni used the device to further develop the motet's thematic material.
Between 1597 and 1615, he produced four motets entitled Jubilate Deo, two of which were for eight voices, one for ten and one for fifteen. This evening's Jubilate Deo (Psalm 99 Vulgate Bible) has often been described as "perhaps the greatest motet ever composed" and "the crowning achievement of the polychoral Venetian school." Gabrieli published it in 1597 in a collection of motets scored for voices, organ and brass instruments. The piece illustrates the aforementioned Venetian style, but while also developing contrasts between groupings of high and low voices within the melodramatic structure. This joyful motet culminates in dazzling and sonorous union of voices and instruments.
Vere languores (nostros ipse tulit) (Truly he has borne our sorrows) is Tomas Luis de Victoria's profoundly poignant and fervent lament composed for the reverence of the Holy Cross at the Mass of the Presanctified on good Friday. It was probably published in his first book of motets in 1572. This piece, along with O Vos Omnes and Ave Maria, is the work upon which Victoria's posthumous reputation rested before his numerous sacred compositions were discovered, resulting in a re-evaluation of his full style and achievement.
Ludovico Viadana, upon joining the Observant Franciscans sometime after 1588, changed his family name of Grossi to that of his birthplace, Viadana, near Parma. He served chiefly as Choirmaster in Mantua, Padua and Rome. Exsultate justi appears to be an early festive polyphonic motet probably published in 1588. Most of Viadana's later music produced for one or few voices required instrumental accompaniment, distinguish him as one of the earliest pioneers in the use of basso continuo.
Between 1563 and 1584 Giovanni da Palestrina published 177 motets, and another 72 were published posthumously. The great motet, Super flumina Babylonis (Psalm 136 Vulgate Bible) for five voices was constructed from the opening words of a Psalm for Thursday Vespers, or from the Offertory of the Mass for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. It depicts the lamentation of the exiled Jews by the banks of the Euphrates River near Babylon.
Clement Janequin's 250 polyphonic chansons fill six volumes in a modern edition published between 1965 and 1971. He spent his generally impoverished life in different French cities as a priest-clerk to bishops from Bordeaux to Paris. In addition to his chansons he produced 150 psalm settings, a number of motets, and two Masses. The contemporary royal publisher Attaingnant included his chansons in published collections, as did the publisher Gardanes.
Janequin's chansons are strongly programmatic as illustrated in the vivid La Bataille (de Marignano) and Les Oiseaux.Au Joly Jeu de pousse avant and La plus belle dans Ia ville aptly illustrate Janequin's jovial and mirthful artistry. Also a French priest, Passereau (1509- 47) attained the distinction of being included in Rabelais' list of "merry musicians." This accomplished singer produced chansons almost exclusively; indeed, only one motet is attributed to him. His cheerful narrative and descriptive songs, like Janequin's chansons, were included in publications by Attaingnant. His popular II est bel et bon imitates onomatopoetically the sound of hens clucking. The song attained such popularity that it was sung in the streets of distant Venice and was subsequently transcribed for various instrumental groups.
Flor Peeters (1903) enjoys the distinction of being only one of three Belgian musicians since 1830 to have been raised to the peerage when King Boudoin proclaimed him a baron in 1971. Baron Peeters' achievements as composer, teacher, and organist have won him honorary doctorates from The Catholic University of America and Louvain University. In 1958 Pope Pius XII conferred on him the rank of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory. His Magnificat (Opus 110) for mixed choir and organ was composed in 1962 and has proved to be one of his most popular and enduring sacred compositions.
In 1920 Ralph Vaughan Williams became profoundly influenced by the work of Sir Richard Runciman Terry, Choirmaster of Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral in London. Terry's work actively resurrected the great music of the English Tudor composers, especially that of William Byrd.
Responding to this discovery, he composed the a cappella Mass in G for solo quartet and eight-part mixed chorus. It not only broke new ground, but also set a standard for the re-creation of England's a cappella choral tradition. This setting of the Mass Common was dedicated to Gustav Holst and his Whitsuntide Singers, but its first liturgical performance occurred in Westminster Cathedral on March 12, 1923.
New England-born Daniel Pinkham has been strongly influenced by the work of contemporary composers including Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, Aaron Copland and Arthur Honegger. His music, particularly the Christmas, Easter, and Wedding cantatas has made him one of the most successful American composers. The Gloria in excelsis from his Sinfonia Sacra, clearly influenced by Giovanni Gabrieli, exhibits his compact, contrapuntally cohesive and rhythmically propulsive style.
Blind from birth, Jean Langlais has spent much time teaching in France's School for the Blind. His own teachers were Paul Dukas and Tournemire, the latter of whom he succeeded as organist at prestigious St. Clotilde. His compositions have been strongly influenced by Gregorian chant. The Solemn Psalm #1 is one of three festive psalms produced in 1965 for solo quartet, choir, organ, and brass.
Wilbur Chenoweth's popular Vocalise utilizes an old nineteenth century singing practice technique. Like such composers as Rachmaninoff and Thompson, this well-known southern Californian has made the song a distinguished art form.
The sea shanty as a song-form is a nineteenth century phenomenon. Of all work-songs it is the most significant, for it existed in several forms, depending on the particular nautical operation involved. These songs permitted the sailors to work in a coordinated manner while adding zest to the task. Shenandoah, perhaps the most famous of all shanties, seems to have originated as a voyageur's river song. It has been the subject for innumerable arrangements, of which Roger Wagner's has proved widely popular.
Stephen Foster composed Glendy Burk in 1860 as one of his later "Ethiopian" songs, using less pronounced Southern or Negro dialect than that which had characterized his earlier works. Glendy Burk illustrates Foster's renewed acquaintance with the practice of Negro stevedores and steamboat deck hands of his day.
The two spirituals on the program illustrate the sensitive and discriminating art of arranging popular songs. These arrangements require considerable simplicity in order to preserve the almost naive directness of the spiritual without submerging its message or harmonic structure under elaborate choral apparatus. Roger Wagner's arrangements succeed in conveying the genuine spirit of the pieces in a straightforward manner.