sábado, 8 de septiembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [08-IX-2012]

Tiburtio Massaino (c.1550-1609): Musica super Threnos Ieremiae prophete in maiori hebdomada decantadas a 5 (Venezia, 1599). Feria V. In coena Domini. Lectio prima.
Huelgas-Ensemble - Paul Van Nevel.
Music to express.

In words of the
great Paul Van Nevel:
“The Lamentations (Thrênoi, Threni, Lamentationes) of the Prophet Jeremiah were written in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Judah in 586 B.C. The text was written by eyewitnesses and definitively compiled during the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah was therefore certainly not the sole author of the Lamentations, and some authorities even think that he had no hand at all in the writing of the text.

The Lamentations consist of five chapters, or rather songs or cantos. The structure of the first, second and fourth chapters is identical. Each of them comprises 22 verses, corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The Latin Vulgate wished to preserve the reminiscence of this alphabet and therefore begins each verse with the first Hebrew letter of the verse. So the first verses of Chapters I, I1 and IV begin with the letter ALEPH followed by the Latin text, the second verse begins with BETH, the third with GHIMEL, and so on. In addition, the first Lamentation starts with the heading Incipit Lamentatio Hieremiae Prophetae, which, however, is not always sung.

The structure of the third Lamentation differs from that of I, II and IV. The shorter verses (I and II consist of verses in three sections, IV of verses in two sections) are linked in groups of three in the third Lamentation. Each of these grouped verses begins with the same Hebrew letter, so that the chapter comprises not 22 but 66 verses. The Vuigate, too, always repeats this letter. The structnre of Song III is therefore: ALEPH   (. . .), ALEPH (. . .), ALEPH, (...) BETH (...), BETH (...), BETH (...), etc. The fifth and last chapter differs from the others in various ways. In the first place this chapter has the character of a prayer (the Vulgate begins with the title Oratio…). Moreover, there is no mention of the letter at the beginning of each verse. Finally, they are very simply structured in two distinct sections.

The text of Lamentations is highly emotional, rich in imagery and in a language replete with rhetorical turns of phrase. It is a text which, as has been mentioned, was written by eyewitnesses and therefore manifests - how could it not? - an intimate relationship with the sorrow, helplessness, bitterness and supplications of the population of Jerusalem.
It is precisely this aspect of the combination of dramatic elements and meditative fragments, together with the incantatory citation of the Hebrew letters that undoubtedly attracted the attention of medieval and particularly of Renaissance composers. Otherwise how can it be explained why a text that - unlike the Mass, for instance - was used only once a year (during Holy Week) inspired so many composers? (1).

From the Middle Ages on parts of the Lamentations were used in one specific instant of the Divine Office, i.e. during matins on Maundy, Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Matins, a prayer and sung service that took place before dawn, consisted successively of three psalms and three lessons (lectio). It was for the first nocturne of matins on the last three days of Holy Week that the Lamentations were used for the three lessons. A total of nine lessons were therefore devoted to the Lamentations. The use of the Lamentations during matins had another peculiarity. At the end of the verses each lesson was concluded with the verse Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad dominum Deum tuum. This was not a Biblical text, but it served as a kind of refrain that was repeated after each lesson.

The selection of the Lamentations for the lessons varied greatly from region to region until the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The choice, number and order of the verses were determined by local preferences. After the Council of Trent, that had attempted to impose certain rules on ecclesiastical music, there seems still to have been room for local discretion, as may be observe in listening to the four Lamentations on this CD. The liturgical monophonic repertoire comprises at least several hundred melodies among which Spanish manuscripts are particularly prevalent. Many polyphonic compositions have as their cantus firmus the best know pslm tone on F (F-G-A…), with the formula A-G-F-G-F for the Hebrew letters. The use of a different cantus firmus was, however, common (as, for instance, in the compositions of Robert White).

Because of the somber character of the text and its position in the liturgy (at night, before dawn, during the most sorrowful days in the liturgical calendar), it goes without saying that these polyphonic compositions create a very particular mood. Shorn of all festive ornament, these Lamentations go back to the very essence of polyphony, while the tiniest detail, the slightest emotional turn can create a wondrous effect. And thought the exordium - like Hebrew letters (without substantive “meaning”) were composed in an entreating melismatic style, and though many composers used a sturdy harmonic idiom in particularly inviting passages (e.g. plorans ploravit and o vos omnes), Nicola Vicentino (1511-1576) writes in his treatise L’Antica Musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (Roma, 1555) that “… Every singer must take care that when singing lamentations he does not sing a single ornament (diminution), lest the sorrowful character turn into a joyful mood…” (Book IV, Ch. 42).

(1). As late as the 19th century the Holy Week matins (called the Tenebrae were still very popular because of their powerful musical attractiveness. When Franz List was asked was particularly worth hearing in Rome -opera, symphonic or chamber music - he emphatically replied, “No, certainly not that. That sort of thing can be heard anywhere else, and better. Musically there is one thing that is unique and incomparable: the Tenebrae in the great basilicas”.

Van Nevel continues:
“Tiburtio Massaino (c.1550-1609 was an Augustine monk and composer-singer in Cremona, Innsbruck (at the court of Archduke Ferdinand III) and Salzburg where he was arrested on suspicion of homosexuality. He subsequently fled to Praha where he became a singer in the court chapel of the Emperor Rudolph. From 1594 he was back in Italy as Maestro di Cappella in Lodi and Piacenza. His 5-part Lamentations were published in 1599 and were dedicated to the monastery of Monte Oliveti in Piacenza.
So Massaino wrote his Lamentations for the surroundings where they belong: the closed monastic community. The music is in a polyphonic idiom, but mostly syllabic. The structure is supported by a rich harmonic tone palette that does not shun the occasional surprise, as on the text … et lachrime of the BETH verse. The melismatic “acclamations” of the Hebrew letters are, compared to those of his comtemporaries, short (five to six breves). The “Hierusalem”, that uses a slow-moving falling motive in the voices on the word “convertere”, is particularly beautiful”.

I think the music for Lamentations is probably the most expressive in the Renaissance polyphony, as well as the music of Requiem. This album is absolutely fantastic. Pure “Huelgas sound”, with an expressive power that drags you to deeper insight of the life. Highly recommended; absolutely essential.

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