NOTES BY ROBERT STEVENSON
Tomas Luis de Victoria was not only the most renowned Spanish Renaissance polyphonist but also the most precocious. Born at Avila in 1548 or 1549, he published at Venice in 1572 the collection of 33 motets by which he is still best remembered. Such exquisite jewels as the tear-stained O vos omnes and Vere languores belonged to this first book of motets.
Already as an adolescent he was a student at the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, at work in the shadow of the mighty Palestrina - 24 years his elder. Fellow students in the German College carried back to their homeland his choicest gems, among them the brief Ave Maria being heard this evening immediately after the Gregorian chant on which it is based. Roger Wagner, who has long made Spanish Renaissance polyphony one of his most admired specialties, has frequently opened his touring programs with this same plangent Ave Maria. Also, however, he pioneered by being the first to record any of Victoria's longer Masses - such as the Missa Ave maris stella that he recorded April 22, 1961, in Schoenberg Hall, UCLA.
Victoria wrote his Missa Laetatus sum for a triple choir in 12 parts. However, the acknowledged masters of polychoral technique in his time were the Venetians Andrea Gabrieli (ca. 1516-1586) and his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1555-1612). Andrea began as a singer at St. Mark's, Venice in 1536. In 1562 he was a member of Albert V's chapel establishment in Bavaria but he returned to become, in 1564, second organist of St. Mark's and in 1585 first organist. His mighty Magnificat for three choirs heard this evening was posthumously published at Venice in 1587, one year after his death, as part of a collection edited by his nephew with the significant over-all title of Concerti. Here the composer no longer defers to tradition but boldly strikes out on hitherto uncharted seas.
In contrast with Andrea's gigantic sonorities, the next group consists of a pair of frolicsome chansons by Passereau who was employed at Paris by the Duke of Angouleme in 1536, and another pair by the most versatile of Renaissance composers, Orlandus Lassus (1532-1594), who was equally at home in Italian madrigals, German drinking songs, French love chansons, Latin motets and penitential psalms.
Jacob Handl (1550-1591), a Cistercian monk, led a wandering life that took him from Vienna (1574) to Breslau (1578) to Olmitz (1579) to Torgau (1585-1588) to Prague, where he died. His fire coupled with tenderness, his instinct for contrast, his boldness varied with graciousness, made him one of the prime Middle Europeans of the epoch. Paul Pisk, who in 1935 edited six Handl Masses, commented on the modernity of his major-minor harmonic sense. Handl excelled in mixing the old and the new, Flemish imitative technique with Venetian polychoral brilliance.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872- 1958) knew equally well how to blend the old and the new. His Mass in G minor for SATB soli and double chorus (1922) composed when he was 50 harks back to Tudor polyphony for its abundant so-called "false" relations, but was completely of its own time in its abundant parallel triads and its prevailingly sumptuous sound. To unify the work he used the same music for different fragments of the traditional Latin text - for instance, the Patrem omnipotentem and Et resurrexit, the Kyrie and "miserere nobis" in the Agnus Dei; or by using the same four-note motto to introduce several successive clauses of the text, as in the Et in Spiritum Sanctum section of the Credo. Suspensions, which are a hallmark of imitative polyphony, scarcely interested Vaughan Williams. Antiphony between choruses and between soloists and chorus, on the other hand, constantly fascinated him throughout this wondrously flexible setting of the most time-honored of texts.
Schoenberg's Friede auf Erden ("Peace on Earth"), composed in 1907 when he still paid allegiance to tonal harmonic relationships, is a setting of four verses by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. The opulent chordal fabric is frequently knit with strings of parallel thirds for sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses- as at "flehend leis verklagend." The refrain of verses 1, 2, and 4 is also bound with long necklaces of parallelisms, not only of thirds but also 6/3 chords over a pedal: witness the drawn-out D Major cadence with which he sets the words "Friede auf Erde" at the close of verse 1. Much more than Vaughan Williams, Schoenberg exploited dissonant suspensions followed by their resolutions, to suggest perhaps the yearning for peace followed by its fulfillment. This poignant work was composed the year that Mahler left Vienna, the year that Schoenberg's chamber symphony of 1906 was premiered there, and the year that he began his F sharp minor string quartet with soprano voice.
Alberto Evaristo Ginastera, born in 1916 at Buenos Aires, came most forcibly to wide international notice with his three sensational operas, Don Rodrigo (Buenos Aires, July 24, 1964), Bomarzo (Washington, D.C., May 1967), and Beatrix Cenci (Washington, September 10, 1971). The blood and lust, especially in the last two, contrast with the chaster subject matter of his early works. Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes, in the form of three motets for unaccompanied chorus, was composed at Buenos Aires when he was thirty and premiered there July 21, 1947. To this day it remains perhaps the finest work for a cappella chorus by a living Latin American.
Giovanni Gabrieli's Jubilate Deo (1597) brings us back to the polychoral splendors of the Venetian composer who best bridged the gap between the Renaissance and the Baroque. In no epoch has Psalm 100 been more jubilantly set.
NOTE: BY THE COMPOSER
Canti was written in 1971 in Switzerland and in Berlin where Henri Lazarof was Composer-in-Residence as guest of the German Government and the Berlin Senate. The work was written for and dedicated to Roger Wagner and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The premiere performance took place in 1973 in Brussels, Belgium, by the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir under the direction of Andrzey Markowski. Tonight it is being performed for the first time in the United States. The work is in one continuous movement and uses a multilingual text written by the composer.