Christmas Concert Program Notes
By ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Annotator, Los Angeles Master Chorale
We tend to think of the music of the Renaissance in terms of the Italian Palestrina (1525-1594) and his younger contemporary in Rome, the Spaniard Victoria (1548-1611). However, the glory that centered in Italy and spread throughout Europe was first developed by a remarkable group of French and Netherland composers who brought their rapidly maturing art to the Italian peninsula: Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400- 1474), jean de Ockeghem (c. 1420- c. 1495), Heinrich Isaac (c.1450-1517), and Adrian Willaert (c. 1490-1562) who as the predecessor of the Gabrielis at Venice was largely responsible for passing on the influence of the Franco-Netherlands School to Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and the Roman Palestrina. ·
By far the greatest of these (and the first to write music that seems to us to be in a familiar harmonic idiom) was Josquin des Prez (c. 1445-1521). Born in Hainaut (according to Ronsard), he served as a youth at the Milanese Duomo and later in the Papal Choir. In 1499, Hercules I of Ferrara employed Josquin in spite of the fact that the Duke's secretary recommended the engagement of Isaac instead of Josquin, because Isaac "is able to get on with his colleagues better and composes new pieces more quickly. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he does it when it suits him and not when one wishes him to."
By the end of Josquin's career the musical vocabulary used by Palestrina, Victoria, and Lassus was complete. One of the techniques that josq uin developed to fruition was the device of canon: the exac~ repetition of one part in another part at the same or a different pitch. "Apparently [Josquin] wrote canon as readily as Bach wrote fugue and was no more motivated by pedantry in using his favorite device than was Bach. Each man merely employed a technical medium particularly suited to his genius." (Reese: Music in the Renaissance, p. 256) Incidentally, Roger Wagner earned his doctorate with a study of the Masses of Josquin.
Just as Josquin ushered in the sunrise of the High Renaissance, Sweelinck in Amsterdam and Schütz in Dresden provided an extended sunset long after the Baroque revolution of Peri, Caccini, and Monteverdi had begun. Hodie Christus natus est was published in Cantiones sacrae (1619). Although the words Cum Basso Continuo ad Organum appear on its title page, the bass part of Hodie is actually a basso seguente (slavishly doubling the lowest part) and is obviously included merely to seem stylishly upto- date.
Ich bin eine rufende Stimme in der Wüsten was published in Geistliche Chormusik (1648), dedicated to the city of Leipzig and the Thomas choir. Although Schútz had written in the post-Renaissance and Baroque styles of his teachers Giovanni Gabrieli and Monteverdi for many years, in this collection he took a retrospective glance at the previous century and "succeeded in doing the impossible; he fused stile antico [16th century] and stile moderno [17th century] into a higher unity." (Bukofzer: Music in the Baroque Era, p. 93) As in the earlier Sweelinck collection, the continuo is not obligatory, and the spirit of Josquin still permeates the music.
Wachet Auf (Chorale Cantata, S. 140)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Easter was very early in 1731, and so there were 27 Sundays after the feast of Pentacost - a rare event. For this last Sunday before Advent, Bach chose to use the Chorale of Philipp Nicolai (1 556-1608) on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Wachet auf (Freudenspiegel des ewigen Lebens, Frankfort, 1599), and supplemented it with passages from the Song of Solomon and the Apocalypse. It is scored for three oboes (which presupposes bassoon in the bass), strings, and continuo. A horn part is replaced in this performance by the use of boys' voices to strengthen the chorale melody. "In the first movement [it] is presented in long notes by the soprano, under which the lower voices weave a vivid contrapuntal texture inspired by the words rather than by the hymn's melody. The orchestra adds a completely independent accompaniment picturing the approach of the heavenly bridegroom and the eager anticipation of the maidens. Out of these various elements grows a sound combination of overwhelming sensuous beauty. In the magnificent second chorale arrangement [IV.], the hymn tune in toned by the tenors is joined by a completely different violin melody of a caressing sweetness rarely to be found in Bach's cantatas; this depicts the graceful procession of the maidens going out to meet Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom. In the duets preceding and following this chorale arrangement, the hymn tune is not used, and the pledges that Christ and the soul exchange sound not very different from those of earthly lovers. The first achieves a mood of sweet poignancy with the help of the bright cantilena intoned by a violino piccolo (a small violin tuned in Bach's scores a minor third higher than the parent instrument). The second, with its similarity of motives in both voices, points far into the future, to the duets between husband and wife in Haydn's Creation and Beethoven's Fidelio." (Geiringer: Johann Sebastian Bach, p. 175) To Bach, there was nothing profane in conjugal love; Wachet auf is a wedding cantata with the bass singing the part of Christ and the soprano that of the soul.
The C major Te Deum of 1935 is the first of two settings Britten has made of the traditional hymn of praise (a Festival Te Deum was composed ten years later). It is scored for strings and harp, or organ. For the first forty-six measures, the chorus and strings ring the changes on a C-major chord against a moving chant-like bass line - a device that builds great tension which is suddenly relieved as the words Holy, Holy, Holy thrust the ensemble into the unrelated key of E-flat major (many years later Britten was to sustain a G-minor chord for a full minute in the War Requiem to produce the opposite effect). Following the exigencies of the text, the Te Deum is in free style given form by a periodic return to the texture of the opening measures. It is a work of great simplicity and charm.
Laud to the Nativity
Laud to the Nativity (1930) is a setting of a poem ascribed to Jacopone da Todi (c. 1230-1306), who, after the sudden death of his wife (c. 1268), renounced his career as an advocate gave his goods to the poor, and after ten years of penance became a Franciscan tertiary. He wrote many poems full of ardent mysticism and is probably the author of the sequence Stabat Mater Dolorosa. The text of the Laud is sung this evening in an English version by Harold Heiberg. In form, the composition is a cantata, but the sections are composed continuously rather than separated into movements. The most striking feature of the setting is its deliberate archaism: the pastorale rhythm, the suggestions of modality (the medieval Church modes, as opposed to the classical major and minor), the open fifths reminiscent of 11th century organum, the imitative counterpoint, and the passages resembling Gregorian chant.
The Laud pictures the most familiar scenes of the Nativity story: the appearance of the Angel to the shepherds and the visit of the shepherds to Mary and her Child. A poignant touch is that of the shepherds offering their cloaks to keep the Infant warm in the manger.
French Christmas Music
The French noel provides us with one of the most delightful manifestations of the Christmas spirit. It embraces a large treasury of music ranging from simple folk tunes through original polyphonic compositions to Baroque and modern variations on the ancient melodies.
Guillaume Costeley (1531-1606), organist to Henri II and to Charles IX was one of the last manifestations of the French Renaissance. Sus, debout has almost the gravity of style usually found in the motet, but Allon, gay, gay Bergeres is pure chanson with an infectious lilt in a AABACADAEA form with the last refrain shifting into a~ ecstatic major. Costeley manages to combine spontaneity and polished complexity.
Louise-Claude Daquin (1694-1772), who performed for Louis XIV as a six year-old prodigy, eventually became organist at the royal chapel (1739). His Nouveau Livre de Noels pour I'Orgue et le Clavecin contains variations on twelve of the traditional melodies, dont Ia plûpart peuvent s'éxécuter (of which the majority can be performed) sur les Violons, Flûtes, Hautbois
In the spirit of Daquin's suggestion, the tenth noel in G ma;or has been arranged for voices and instruments using words from a noel Bresse that probably was Daquin's original source (a noel Béarn is similar except for the third phrase). The shepherds are instructed to visit the "child who is in the manger on the fresh straw." A second verse tells them to take their oboes and musettes and sing to Jesus who "is already born all bare there on hard ground in this bitter cold."