martes, 6 de noviembre de 2012

The Choir Project ald día [06-XI-2012]

William Byrd [1540-1623]: Infelix ego a 6 from Cantiones Sacrae [1591].
The Cardinall's Musick - Andrew Carwood.
The great Catholic Byrd.

   Andrew Carwood says about Byrd and this motet:
"It is perhaps no surprise that Elizabethan England should have produced such an amazing array of artistic talent. Increased prosperity, strongly enforced government with a consistent religious policy, the growth of confidence as England took its place as a diplomatic and military force, these all helped to create the right conditions in which the arts could flourish. The arts were no longer simply used for reasons of propaganda and display but saw an increase in the importance of the individual and his unique abilities, a natural development from the humanistic ideas of the Renaissance. Standing at the pinnacle of this English flourishing is William Shakespeare, a man who through his crafting of words, control of drama and subtle character development could speak to people in many and various ways. Raucous vaudeville, romantic plot lines or searing tragedy for all, as well as coded political messages for monarchs, princes and politicians all under the guise of ‘innocent’ entertainment. If there is an English musician who comes close to Shakespeare in his consummate artistry, his control over so many genres and his ability to speak with emotional directness it must be William Byrd.

   Byrd spent his formative years in the maelstrom of the English reformation. Born in the reign of Henry VIII, he would have seen the changes brought in by Edward VI and his Protestant advisors and experienced, perhaps more deeply, Mary’s artistically stimulating Catholic restoration in his teenage years. As an adult he lived through the reign of Elizabeth and was in his sixties when her successor James came to the throne. It seems clear that Byrd’s sympathies lay with the Catholic cause. Unlike most of his contemporaries (except Peter Philips who fled to the Continent) the majority of his religious music was written in Latin. Furthermore, in the 1590s and the dangerous months after the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 he published not only music in Latin but texts specifically designed to be performed during the celebration of Catholic Mass and Divine Office. His three settings of the Ordinary movements of the Mass were published in the early 1590s and his two books of Gradualia in 1605 and 1607 respectively. In addition he published Latin sacred music in 1575, 1589 and 1591 and left a host of pieces in manuscript. It is interesting that not a note of his music for Elizabeth’s reformed church (including the monumental Great Service for ten voices) was published during his lifetime.

   Byrd was probably not encouraged to write by the stability or consistency of Elizabeth’s reign. It is possible that the anti-Catholic legislation enacted by the government was a stimulus; perhaps even the crescendo of tension around the imminent arrival of the first Spanish Armada and its defeat in 1588 might have had an effect on the composer but this is merely speculation. The simple fact appears to be that Byrd proclaimed through his music his Catholic faith, the deprivation that he felt and the hope to which he clung. In so doing, he spoke directly to the Catholic community with messages of hope and consolation. It is remarkable that Byrd escaped serious penalty for his beliefs. Perhaps the censors and the spies did not understand his messages or notice his carefully chosen texts where verses from scripture were placed in a different order so as to highlight a particular emotion. Perhaps music was not thought to be a serious threat. And perhaps Byrd’s devotion to the country of his birth was clearly understood. He never left England and if he considered the possibility of joining the throng of Catholic exiles he never acted on the idea. Undoubtedly the greatest point in his favour was his brilliance as a musician. He was able to assimilate the sounds of the past as taught to him by John Sheppard and Thomas Tallis, to learn from his contemporaries (especially Alfonso Ferrabosco) and then to be at the forefront of compositional development at all times, most notably in the madrigalian pieces of the 1591 Cantiones Sacrae and the two books of Gradualia (published when Byrd was in his sixties). Elizabeth I might even have been personally aware and appreciative of his talents. Surely she must have been moved by his most beautiful English-texted piece O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our Queen to rejoice in thy strength. Is it too fanciful to suggest that there was some degree of understanding between the two? Shakespeare was allowed to make pointed contemporary remarks under the cloak of entertainment: perhaps Byrd was given the same liberty with his music.

   Infelix ego is the crowning glory of Byrd’s achievement as a composer of spiritual words and one of the greatest artistic statements of the sixteenth century. The text is a meditation on Psalm 50 written by the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498). This remarkable man successfully led a campaign in Florence against the corrupt Medici family. With his powerful preaching he roused the townsfolk in religious zeal, cast out the Medici and set up a devastatingly rigorous Christian regime. Inevitably the fickle populace eventually grew tired of Savonarola’s severe piety and welcomed the Medici back; to satisfy their wounded pride, the family arranged for Savonarola to be tried for heresy (rather than treason) and then executed by fire. This remarkable text, taking the form of a number of rhetorical statements and questions, shows the whole gamut of emotion from a soul in torment—guilt, fear, embarrassment, anger, but crucially the gift of release when Christ’s mercy is accepted.

   Infelix ego had been set before by Adrian Willaert, Cipriano de Rore and Orlandus Lassus but none of these comes even close to this emotional tour de force. Byrd would have known Tallis’s radical setting of the prayer Suscipe quaeso Domine which uses homophony set against polyphony to underline rhetorical questions and which must inform the younger composer’s setting. But more than this Byrd seems to have an emotional link with Savonarola’s words and to understand the mindset which has given rise to them. Savonarola sits in his cell in Florence awaiting execution for having followed his heart and his religious faith. At one time he was acclaimed by the people and his beliefs were an integral part of their lives. Byrd is in England, cut off from his faith and the rest of the Church to which he belongs. His colleagues are persecuted for their beliefs, beliefs which had been held by most of the people in England. Perhaps it is this shared metaphorical experience which leads Byrd to understand the real power of this text. There is not the space here for a full analysis of this Renaissance symphony, nor time to refer to all of the telling and subtle gestures which permeate the piece. The upward melodies which express the yearning in the writer’s eyes looking up to heaven for redemption, like Marlowe’s Faustus seeing the blood of Christ running in the heavens but being unable to access it. The juxtaposition of polyphony with homophony throughout: the constant ebbing and flowing of emotion as powerful as the sea. The build up of tension caused by an extended period of imitation around one of Byrd’s most frequently chosen words (‘misericordiam’ or ‘mercy’). The master stroke of a caesura followed by an astonishing chord progression and then a coda where it seems as if the longed-for mercy has actually been received."

   For me this is one of best motets in Byrd's production. One of few, also with tripartite structure and one of longest on his work.
These performance is really wonderful, sing here the six parts with two singers per part [svperivs, medivs, contratenor, sextvs, tenor & bassvs], using a really "dream team" of Bristish singers.
This album -volume 13 of William Byrd edition on Hyperion Records- is absolutely fantastic and indispensable recording.

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