lunes, 31 de diciembre de 2012

¡Feliz 2013! / Happy 2013!

   Pues sí, otra vez más llegamos al final de un año. Uno que se va y otro que le sigue sin solución de continuidad. Así es.

  Como siempre en estas fechas, es tiempo para echar la vista atrás, revisar, recolectar, reflexionar, en definitiva, hacer balance. Creo que para ||:doblebarra:|| este ha sido un año muy positivo. Un año en el que se ha vuelto con energías renovadas, en el que la actividad ha subido considerablemente, un año en el que la colaboración con The Choir Project ha sido uno de los pilares fundamentales que han sustentado la actividad, un año en el que se han creado secciones nuevas, se han hechos críticas de conciertos y discos, en el que veo cómo artistas de renombre me leen satisfechos ante los comentado sobre sus excelentes trabajos, en el que el número de visitas es regular y elevado, un año en el que han nacido la página y el grupo del blog en Facebook, con gran aceptación y un número realmente elevado de miembros -¡el grupo supera los 1220!-. Un año para estar orgulloso del trabajo realizado aquí, y que solo pretende ser una muestra honesta, sincera y apasionada de lo que mueve a diario, de la música que me ayuda a dar pasos en la vida, en definitiva, de aquello que me emociona y apasiona a cada punto del día.

   Por todo ello, y porque sin los lectores este humilde blog no sería absolutamente nada, quiero mostrar mi total agradecimiento una y otra vez para todos aquellos que han dedicado unos minutos de sus ocupadas vidas en pararse aquí, en intentar aprender algo nuevo -si es que eso he conseguido en algún momento-, en tener en cuenta algunas de mis humildes recomendaciones, en deleitarse con alguno de los fragmentos aquí expuestos, en fin, en dejar que la música entrase por la puerta de sus vidas, al menos para quedarse un ratito.

   Dicho esto, solo me queda mostraros todo ese agradecimiento y desearos lo mejor en estas fiestas. Os deseo todo lo mejor en vuestras vidas, muchas felicidad y que la vida os depare todo lo mejor rodeados de música, que nos emocione, llene y eleve. Así pues: 

sábado, 29 de diciembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [29-XII-2012]

William Byrd [1540-1623]: Mass for four voices.
The Tallis Scholars - Peter Phillips.
Catholic mass in an Anglican country.

   Peter Phillips says about Byrd and his masses:
"William Byrd is known to have been a tenaciously loyal Catholic in a country which was more or less militantly Protestant. In the last resort Byrd could have been sent to the stake for his beliefs and, as a member of the Chapel Royal Choir, he was always likely to attract the attention of the Protestants at court. Indeed from 1585 onwards he was continuously cited for recusancy: his house in Harlington was several times searched for incriminating literature. He and his family were yearly expected to pay crippling fines on account of their religion -in 1587 it was £200- but it seems that Byrd had sufficiently powerful friends at court for this sum usually to be waived. It is possible that the Queen herself directly protected him [For further details see Joseph Kerman's article on Byrd in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 1980)].

   It took some courage, therefore, for a composer to set Latin texts at all at that time. Actually to publish these compositions took a great deal more, yet it was necessary to publish them if the many covert recusant chapels were to be provided with up-to-date music for their services. Byrd published his three Mass-settings between c.1593 and c.1595 separately, in very small books and without any title-pages, though the music is coolly attributed to Byrd on all the pages [See P. Clulow, 'Publication Dates for Byrd's Latin Masses', Music and Letters, xlvii (1966)]. After Queen Elizabeth's death in 1603 the political climate seemed briefly as though it were more favourable to the Catholics. In 1605 Byrd became bolder and published a collection of motets, called the Gradualia, which abandons any pretence at concealment. However after the Catholic Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament later in that year, Byrd felt obliged to withdraw this edition of the Gradualia, and stored its pages until 1610 when he reissued it. Byrd's strength of character in proclaiming his religion is shown again in other highly incriminating gestures which he was determined to make -for instance in 1583 when he attended a house party in Berkshire to welcome two of the most celebrated of Jesuit missionaries, Fathers Henry Garnet and Robert Southwell, the poet.

   Against this background it comes as no surprise to discover that the music itself is deeply expressive. The Masses were originally written with the pragmatic purpose of giving small amateur choirs settings of important texts which they could reasonably hope to master. The five-part Mass, with its two tenor parts, seems rather ambitious in this context, but it is in fact less elaborate than many of the Latin-texted motets that he wrote at this time. Their musical style has been a source of abiding fascination to many enthusiasts for this music [For a fuller discussion see Joseph Kerman, The Masses and Motets of William Byrd, (London 1981) p. 190 ff.]. The exact mixture of influences from the past and from abroad has certainly produced an unusually direct mode of communication, despite the fact that it is also rather archaic. From the past Byrd has learned about, and remained true to, the English preference for counterpoint. If the four- and five-part Masses be compared for instance with Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli [Recorded on CDGIM 339] it will be seen that Palestrina regularly uses purely chordal passages, even though his setting overall is longer than Byrd's. Byrd, while aiming for concision, somehow managed to retain a very closely argued and efficient type of imitative counterpoint almost all the time. The best place to make this comparison is at the beginning of the respective Glorias and Creeds, where Palestrina is initially eager to move through the long texts without elaboration. From the continent Byrd obviously learnt how to pare down his use of imitation, yet the way he put this into practice here could not be confused with any continental writer's approach.

   All these details make for an unmistakable austerity of tone, and in this lies the peculiar power of these pieces. It is like a theme, to which each movement of each of the three Masses is a variation; but the theme is a mood, not a melody. Its emotional range extends from a darkness which is almost hopeless -in the four-part Agnus Dei- to a fierce defiance in adversity at Et resurrexit in the five-part Credo. During the course of these pieces Byrd clearly explored every feeling a man may have when he is fighting for something he passionately believes in, with his back to the wall. 

   The four-part Mass is generally reckoned [Ibid. p. 188 ff.] to be the earliest of the set, probably written around 1592, with the three-part following shortly after it, and the five-part coming last. The four-part is probably the most popular and intensely personal of the three, but it is arguable that it has some slight uncertainties of method, for instance at the end of the Credo which seems too short. In the five-part Mass in particular this passage -from Et in Spiritum Sanctum to the end- is substantially longer than in the four-part, and this gives a better balance to the movement as a whole. This is in contrast to the fact that in the later settings his inclination was to compress the dimensions of the four-part setting. With the three-part this may have been because his hand was forced by the difficulty of conceiving counterpoint at length for so few voices; but in the five-part the Kyrie and Gloria are set much more concisely. One must conclude that the four-part acted as a model for the others, which he improved upon where he could, with the result that his five-part Mass is one of the most convincingly argued, as well as sonorous, achievements in all his music.

   Service music of an altogether different kind is to be heard in the Mass for four voices. Although the Mass is an everyday event for a devout Catholic, the musical context for this composition was most unusual. Since the authorities had done their best to close down the Catholic tradition in England there had not been an English setting of the Mass for some decades (nor were there to be for some centuries to come). Byrd was single-handedly keeping the flame burning, inventing the style as he went along. No wonder he put everything he had into it. In addition he was taking a risk in writing and publishing music to such texts at all, a fact he clearly recognized since the original part-books have no title-pages. The style he invented was intimate, Flemish in its consistent use of imitation between the voices, with a discourse hinting at an inward life which wraps the listener into itself. The most renowned passage comes on the final page, at the words dona nobis pacem; but in reality Byrd has been preparing us for this climax on every page."

    For me it's very difficult to choose one of these three masses. Each has hundreds of special moments which are composed in the best possible. Probably, the three masses by Byrd are the best mass settings in Bristish music history.
This mass in four parts is really superb. The treatment of the same material in some movement is absolutely brilliant, but the differences in all the parts are remarkable by the Byrd's talent.
All the parts are really exciting, but the "Agnus Dei" is specially beautiful. This mass is really expressive and emotional.

    This performance is simply superb, fantastic. The colour of The Tallis Scholars is brilliant, wonderful, like a dream. Incredible pitch, balance and the wonderful stage -in Tewkesbury Abbey, with candles- are the best presentation as possible. A DVD absolutely essential for everybody, because is one of the best recordings of William Byrd's music.

sábado, 22 de diciembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [22-XII-2012]

Thomas Tallis [c.1505-1585]: Videte miraculum a 6.
Stile Antico.
British Renaissance Christmas.

    Matthew O'Donovan says about Tudor Music for advent & Christmas:
"The backbone of this programme of Advent and Christmas music is Thomas Tallis's extraordinary, yet incomplete, Christmas mass, Missa Puer natus est. In spite of the work's phenomenal scope, there is no conclusive evidence as to its origin. One attractive theory holds that the mass was first performance by the joint forces of Queen Mary’s Chapel Royal and Philip II of Spain’s renowed Capilla Flamenca in December 1554 [Philip and Mary had married earlier in the year]. It is based on the plainchant Puer notus est nobis -the introit for Christmas Day Mass -and it has been suggested that the plainchant may well have held a double entendre for its forst hearers, as Mary was at the time erroneously believed to be pregnant with a much hoped-for heir. The works lavish and unusual seven- part scoring -and the presence of Flemish influences in Tallis’s writing- lend weight to this theory. On the other hand, the question of exactly when the first performance might have taken place presents a problem. We know that such a 'joint service' took place at St Paul's Cathedral on 2 December, but that is unlikely to have been the occasion on which this mass was performed: Tallis surely knew the difference between Advent and Christmas-and cared!
Furthermore. as one scholar has argued, it seems improbable that Tallis 'would have been so insensitive as to use a text beginning Puer natus est nobis to celebrate the Queen’s rumoured pregnancy when the sex of the child, the survival of both child and mother ans the stability of the realm would all have been causes of trepidation rather than rejoicing' [David Humphreys, “Tallis’s Suscipe quaeso”, Early Music XXVIII no. 3, August 2000, p. 508].

    Whatever the work's original purpose, what is not in doubt is its extraordinary scale and virtuosic compositional intricacy. The impression it leaves is one of immense grandeur, an effect created at least in part by the steady progression of the cantus firmus, coupled with the almost unbroken use of a seven-part texture throughout. While the manner of his imitation seems to reflect the latest trends of continental composition, the use of a different plainchant melody as a cantus firmus is very much a nod to the conventions of earlier generations. Indeed, Tallis's treatment of the plainchant is governed by an extraordinarily complex quasi-medieval numerological scheme, whereby each note is assigned a value based on its vowel in the original text. We even hear the melody in retrograde at one point during the mass. This elaborate cantus firmus treatment, Tallis’s varied palette of contrapuntal techniques and the work's carefully proportioned structure together render this magisterial mass setting one of the most strikingly unusual and innovative works of the period.

    The second thread running through the programme is the group of four Byrd Propers -the seasonal liturgicai texts set for votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent. These come from the Gradualia of 1605, the first of two books in which William Byrd set out to provide the recusant Catholic community with a comprehensive array of musical settings of the Mass Propers throughout the year. As was Byrd's custom in Gradualia, these works are models of concision; each one is perfectly proportioned and compellingly individual, yet Byrd develops his musical ideas over a comparatively short space of time, and is as economical with his use of material as he is efficient in his (mostly syllabic) word setting. Nonetheless, his masterful control of texture ensures that each point of imitation is clearly declaimed.
   Perhaps it is Byrd's tonal resourcefulness and his genius for striking motivic invention that stand out here, though. Tollite portas is a prime example of the latter, where the opening point -festive and fanfare-like as the King of Glory is welcomed through the gates of Heaven- gives way to an ascending scale as the psalmist asks 'Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Rorate caeli is similarly memorable for its persistent ascending and descending motifs -as if to illustrate the believer calling up to the heavens, which, in turn, pour down justice. By contrast, the power of Ecce virgo is in the awe and wonder created by the unexpected shifts in tonality in the opening passage. These lend a palpable sense of anticipation which is only fulfilled at the final return to the tonic key of C minor as the name of the promised child -'Emmanuel- is revealed. In Ave Maria, Byrd creates another striking effect by effectively interrupting the opening platitudes of the angel's greeting -set to short, graceful phrases in the tonic minor- with an astonishingly luxuriant cadence in the relative major at the claim 'the Lord is with thee'. It is as if -just for a moment- he involves us deeply in the emotive power of those words, before re-adopting a more detached contemplative stance; the final alleluias graciously ooze simplicity itself.

    The earliest polyphonic work in the programme, Taverner's Audivi vocem de caelo, follows the common pattern of alternating polyphony and plainchant, and is, liturgically speaking, a responsory for All Saints Day, though the gospel Fassage from which the text originates is closely associated with Advent. The piece is striking for its close-knit four-part texture and narrow tessitura, making it particularly suitable for performance by upper voices alone; indeed, there is evidence to suggest that it might have been sung by a quartet of boy trebles. In other respects, the soaring musical language of this piece is very typical of Taverner's style, though there are also some interesting turns- perhaps most notably the bold passing dissonance in the very first phrase of the polyphony, which results in a peculiarly arresting start to the piece.

    If Taverner's motet is notable for its narrow compass, the opposite can be said of Robert White's expansive and virtuosic Magnificat, a work which rivals many of John Sheppard's for its huge range -well over three octaves spread over up to six parts. White's consistently inventive musical ideas and his imaginative and varied approach to melodic writing render this work a veritable contrapuntal tour de force. Again, plainchant verses alternate with counterpoint, but the contrapuntal verses themselves vary in conception: some are scored for full six-part choir, with the plainsong Magnificat tone sung as a cantus firmus in the tenor; others use smaller configurations of voices requiring subdivision of parts, changing at a chosen point in each verse, affording the composer the opportunity to exploit a wonderful diversity of different textures. At one point the plainchant moves to the mean voice; in others it disappears almost completely, left only as a fragmented memory in some points of imitation.

    The remaining two works are both based on a strict monorhythmic cantus firmus according to the old tradition: the plainchant appears in regular semibreves in the tenor voice throughout the polyphonic sections of the piece, which alternate with plainchant. The two composers, however, create startlingly different works. Videte miraculum, which opens the programme, is one of Tallis’s most sublime: through careful control of texture and harmonic rhythm, lulling use of repetition on several levels, and a masterfully-paced development of motifs, Tallis's motet effuses an extraordinary sense of rapt adoration, stillness and mystery: to hear it is to stand awestruck before a fine painting of the Virgin and Child. In Verbum caro, by contrast, Sheppard creates a radiant and sensuously enveloping sound-world spanning a huge vocal range, characterized by thrilling harmonic turns, his uniquely quirky approach to part-writing, and some truly daring sonorities.
Never one to sacrifice a thrilling effect on the altar of contrapuntal integrity, Sheppard calls upon his trebles to divide into a three-part gymel at the very end of the polyphony, in order to finish on a glorious eight-part chord."

    For me this is one the most exciting English Renaissance pieces for Christmas. The luminous harmony and brilliant lines are quasi-unique treatment in the music of Tallis.
This album is absolutely essential, for the incredible music and the wonderful performance.
The sound of Stile Antico the sound of this group is still as wonderful and as appropriate to perform English polyphony, that in few moments it seems almost unreal.
Probably it's one of the best recording of English Renaissance polypohny of recent year.

sábado, 15 de diciembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [15-XII-2012]

Philippe de Monte [1521-1603]: Missa Ultimi miei sospiri a 6.
Cinquecento [Renaissance Vokal].
Mass about Madrigal, sacred about secular...

    For Stephen Rice
"Philippe de Monte was one of the most extraordinarily prolific composers of the Renaissance, perhaps of all time. Certainly in the madrigal genre he outstripped all competition, with no fewer than thirty-four books published between 1554 and his death in 1603, containing over a thousand individual pieces. While his sacred output is less voluminous, it is nonetheless impressive, with thirty-eight Mass settings, approximately 250 motets, and 144 madrigali spirituali.

    Born in 1521, Monte appears to have been a choirboy at the church of St Rombout in Mechelen. He worked in Italy for several periods, including a spell as music tutor to the Pinelli banking family in Naples. In the 1550s he was associated with the chapel of Philip II of Spain, visiting England in that capacity for the wedding of Philip to Mary Tudor; his meeting with William Byrd on that occasion probably led to an exchange of eight-part motets between the two composers in which they bemoaned the fate of Catholics in England (Monte: Super flumina Babylonis; Byrd: Quomodo cantabimus). But it is for his thirty-five-year tenure of the post of Kapellmeister at the Austrian Habsburg court that Monte is best known. Employed by Emperor Maximilian II in 1567, he remained in Habsburg service for the rest of his life, despite a change of emperor (Rudolf II ascended the throne in 1576) and his own requests from 1578 onwards for permission to retire. His work is described in Grove’s Dictionary as ‘unfold[ing] in unhurried, sometimes quite melismatic lines, [with] little evidence of post-Tridentine concerns about textual clarity’. As will become apparent from this recording, such a broad statement covers considerable variety in techniques and in atmosphere.

    The madrigal Ultimi miei sospiri by Philippe Verdelot is among the finest and best-known secular pieces of the earlier part of the sixteenth century. As one of the early pioneers of the madrigal, Verdelot was also among the first to compose examples of the genre for as many as six parts, a texture which offers significant opportunities for contrast between high and low groups of voices, or other combinations. Such techniques form a major part of the text-setting strategy of this generation of madrigalists, with the text-obscuring properties of imitative counterpoint offset by the chance to re-hear the same words sung by another group of voices. Although madrigals of the 1520s do not approach the levels of chromaticism seen later in the century, the idiom is nonetheless highly expressive, due to these composers’ command of textual accent (impressively, since the majority of them, including Verdelot, were not native Italian speakers), and of tessitura. An instance of the latter is found in Ultimi miei sospiri at ‘Dite, o beltà infinita’ (‘Speak, O infinite beauty’) where the change of voice from narrative to interlocution is marked with a new entry on the highest pitch yet heard. Verdelot’s artistry is again observable towards the end of the piece where the long notes of ‘Tornat’in me’ (‘return to me’) appear to be guiding the music towards a peaceful ending, but a final effort at energetic movement is made on ‘ch’io non vorrò morire’, as the narrator rages against the dying of the light.

    Such recognizable musical characteristics made Verdelot’s madrigals (and indeed motets) eminently suitable models for the imitation Mass genre that dominated the later sixteenth century. As formulated by the theorist Pietro Cerone, writing in 1613, the essence of this technique is to transplant sections of polyphony into crucial moments of one’s Mass setting, more or less in the order that they appear in the model. This represents only part of the spectrum of borrowing techniques used in the century preceding Cerone’s remark: thematic transformation, juxtaposition of polyphonic sections in quite different ways, recomposition of imitative counterpoint, all found their place in the sixteenth-century imitation Mass. Monte’s technique in his Missa Ultimi miei sospiri does however resemble that described by the theorist: each Mass movement begins with a version of the madrigal’s opening, albeit slightly varied. Elsewhere he is relatively sparing in the use of borrowed material: examples include Domine Deus (‘Lord God’) in the Gloria, which adapts ‘Dal tuo fedel’’ (‘that your faithful one’) from the madrigal, and per quem omnia facta sunt (‘through him all things were made’) in the Credo, taking the phrase ‘Gitene ratt’in ciel’’ (‘go swiftly to heaven’). This latter phrase is also recast in triple time to form the basis of the Osanna.

    In common with many of his contemporaries, Monte divides his Mass movements into formal subsections. The Et incarnatus section of the Credo is one example: here the solemnity of the words is underlined by a full, slow chordal texture, followed by a brief upper-voice section for the Crucifixus. Another division separates the Christological section of the Credo with that dealing with the Holy Spirit and the Church: the latter is notable for its syncopated figures, a compositional device that adds to the vigour of this largely joyful final section. It also injects a certain madrigalian feeling to the movement, though such syncopation is in fact absent from Verdelot’s model."

    In my opinion, this a fantastis Mass satting about a italian Madrigal. I think the style of Monte and Verdelot is relatively distant, but I think the work he does in this Mass is very careful with the original Madrigal.
The performance is woderfull: crystalline, wonderful pitch, fantastic sound, good balance, really expressive... to complete an album that is essential for all Renaissance polyphony fans.

sábado, 8 de diciembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [08-XII-2012]

Dominique Phinot [c.1510-b.1561]: Pater peccavi a 5.
The Brabant Ensemble - Stephen Rice.
The talent of the unknowns.

   Roger Jacob & Stephen Rice think about this composer and his works:
"That this recording is the first to concentrate on the sacred music of Dominique Phinot is a reminder that a significant amount of music composed in the early sixteenth century continues to be terra incognita to present-day audiences. Moreover, our knowledge of the lives and careers of composers at this time is often based upon little more than fragmentary evidence. Information about Phinot’s career, for instance, is confined to a handful of documents from the 1540s and 1550s which indicate that he was a musician in the service of Duke Guidobaldo II of Urbino. A memorandum of 1544 records that he was proposed by the Duke for the post of cantor (singer or choirmaster) at the cathedral in Pesaro.

   Since all of Phinot’s works received their first printings during the period 1538–1555, the composer is likely to have been in his late twenties by the first date, in which case he would have been born around 1510. From Girolamo Cardano’s essay Theonoston, which implies that Phinot was executed for homosexual practices, we learn that his death occurred before 1561.

   Phinot’s output consists of over a hundred motets, two Masses, and settings of Vesper Psalms and the Magnificat, as well as two books of French chansons and two Italian madrigals. The acclaim with which his sacred compositions were received is evident both in the frequency of their publications as well as in the writings of his contemporaries. He was renowned as a master of imitative polyphonic writing, a trait which he shares with Gombert, Clemens non Papa, Willaert, and others of that generation who were the successors of Josquin Desprez. Indeed, the theorist Hermann Finck in 1556 placed Phinot behind only Gombert, Clemens, and Crecquillon (and ahead of Willaert) in a list of composers he described as ‘foremost, most excellent, subtlest and, in my judgement, to be imitated’.

   The publication in Lyons during 1547–8 of two collections of Phinot’s motets secured his reputation for the rest of the century and beyond. Not only do the five-voice motets in the Liber primus mutetarum confirm his outstanding polyphonic skills but the Liber secundus contains five eight-voice works which are of considerable historical importance. The latter are unique in the mid-sixteenth century in their treatment of double-choir dialogue, a technique in which two four-part ensembles normally alternate thematically related phrases of varying lengths. These works, of which four are included in this recording, are the antecedents of the resplendent Venetian polychoral tradition of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

   In his eight-voice sacred works Phinot builds upon those essential features of double-choir technique which first appeared in the liturgical music of northern Italy, mainly in the Veneto, during the early decades of the sixteenth century. Psalms and canticles, which had for long been associated with ritual antiphonal performance, frequently inspire double-choir settings by composers such as Ruffino d’Assisi (fl1510–1532) and Francesco Santacroce (1488–1556), who already exploit varied lengths of choral exchange, contrasts of high and low register between ensembles, and chordal writing, in order to create genuine double-choir dialogue.

   One of the most controversial theories surrounding the performance of Renaissance polyphony is that of the so-called ‘secret chromatic art’. First proposed by the scholar Edward Lowinsky (1908–1985) in relation to motets by Jacob Clemens non Papa, it holds that certain pieces could be performed with the addition of numerous accidental flats, sometimes leading to the entire piece ending a semitone lower than it began through a process of transposition. Lowinsky hypothesized that this related to crypto-Protestant significance in the music: Clemens’s mysterious nickname ‘non Papa’ would in this case indicate anti-Papal leanings—though more recent research suggests that Clemens was so called for much more prosaic reasons to do with his debauched lifestyle. Whatever the background to this phenomenon, it is certainly the case that in several pieces of this period, if the rules of musica ficta are followed as most likely would have happened in performance from separate partbooks, one flat after another appears in the music and leads to a downward spiral. One such example is Phinot’s Pater peccavi, a motet based on the story of the prodigal son.

   The first half of the motet proceeds in a contrapuntally unproblematic way; only when the son begins to describe his miserable circumstances (hic fame pereo) does the modulation begin, achieving the entire shift in an extraordinary passage a little over half a minute long (3'45" to 4'20"). Having so to speak ‘found his feet’ in the new tonality the son resolves to go back to his father to beg forgiveness (Surgam et ibo), but the pain of his humiliation is underlined by the highly expressive downward sequence of suspensions (et dicam ei) before the plea ‘Make me as one of your servants’ (Fac me sicut unum ex mercenariis tuis) returns in a mood of resignation. Such a direct narrative explanation may seem out of place for a motet published as early as 1538; yet the remarkable effect both of the ‘secret chromatic’ spiral and the later suspension passage suggests just such an interpretation despite the early date."

   For me, this a wonderful album and the only monographic recording on the works of Phinot -I think-, an excellent reason to celebrate this.
The performance is really great, specially female voices -the Ashby sisters are absolutely amazing-.
This music will surprise many by its immense quality, I'm sure.

sábado, 1 de diciembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [01-XII-2012]

Thomas Tallis [c.1505-1585]: Gaude gloriosa a 6.
The Tallis Scholars - Peter Phillips.
Music for Henry VIII.

    Andrew Carwood says about Tallis and this piece:
"When Henry VIII broke with the Roman Church over the issue of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon he and his advisors plunged the country into decades of unease and instability. Certainly there had been criticisms of the pre-Reformation Church and discontent over a number of political issues, but England was a remarkably devout country – in terms of liturgy and observance, as devout as they came. Henry himself was foremost amongst the defenders of the Catholic Church, proudly holding the papal title Fidei Defensor (found on British coins to this day) for writing a scathing attack on Luther and his heretical doctrines.

    Once the split was underway the fabric of society was changed through the systematic dissolution of the monasteries from 1536 onwards. The end of the religious houses and collegiate chapels meant that the people were more able to see and hear the drama of the Mass even if they could not understand its more subtle points. But in terms of liturgical change, Henry’s reforms left much unchanged – ‘Catholicism without the Pope’ as it is sometimes termed. It was only with the accession of the boy-King Edward VI and his Protestant advisors that a significant difference became obvious, with the two English Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552. On Mary’s accession Catholicism was restored, England reconciled with Rome and a Latin liturgy re-established. On her sister Elizabeth’s accession a ‘third way’ was found: a path which disliked extremism of any sort and which tried to establish a peculiarly English ecclesiastical ‘pax’.

    For composers of liturgical music these cataclysmic changes meant that they had to make a decision: whether to remain true to the old faith and stop writing music altogether (as did Nicholas Ludford) or whether to repudiate old beliefs and embrace the new (John Merbecke). Later in the century, others seemed able to cling to the old beliefs in spite of the prevailing political wind, producing music for both the English Church and motets which resonated with the recusant Catholic community (Robert Parsons and William Byrd). Thomas Tallis seems to have steered a remarkable path through the lives and whims of four sovereigns, producing music acceptable to each of them and living a long and discreet life. Amongst his output are large-scale votive antiphons for Henry VIII, shorter pieces in English for Edward VI, liturgical music for Mary, and liturgical and domestic motets in English and Latin for Elizabeth.

   Of Tallis’s early life we know very little. His first employment record is as organist of the Priory in Dover in 1532, which perhaps suggests Kent as his area of birth. Dover Priory was a small Benedictine monastery which was dissolved in 1535, suggesting that something may have been very wrong with the community (Henry’s dismantling of the smaller houses did not begin in earnest until 1536). No record exists of Tallis’s departure from Dover but we know he was in the employ of St Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate in London during 1537/8 and that by the autumn of 1538 he took a position at Waltham Abbey in Essex. If Tallis was hoping for security at Waltham he was disappointed. 1538 was also the year that saw the dissolution of the larger monastic houses and Waltham was no exception, being closed on 23 March 1540 (the last English abbey to be dissolved). Being a recent employee, Tallis received no pension from Waltham Abbey but he did get 20s in outstanding wages plus an extra 20s. However he soon gained a place in the newly founded choir of Canterbury Cathedral – where he headed the list of twelve singing men in 1540 – but remained there for only two years, having been appointed to the most prestigious and desirable position for a professional Tudor musician – Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. The exact date of his joining is not known but he is recorded in the list of gentlemen in the lay subsidy roll of 1543/4. Perhaps this new position gave him extra security and confidence for in about 1552 he took a wife, Joan. He remained a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal for the rest of his life, rising steadily until he became its most senior member, finally being titled ‘Organist’ in the 1570s.

    Tallis died in 1585 and is buried in the Church of St Alphege in Greenwich where is found this gentle, modest and touching epitaph:

Enterred here doth ly a worthy wight,
Who for long tyme in music bore the Bell;
His name to shew was Thomas Tallys hyght;
In honest virtuous lyff he did excell.
He served long tyme in Chapell with grate prayse,
I mean King Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes,
Quene Mary and Elizabeth our Quene.
He maryed was, though children he had none,
And lived in Love full three and thirty Yere,
With loyal Spowse, whose name yclipt was Jone,
Who here entomb’d now company him bears.
As he did lyve, so also did he dy,
In mild and quyet sort, O! happy man.
To God ful oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lyves, let Death do what he can.

    Tallis’s monumental votive antiphon, Gaude gloriosa is another piece requiring some detective work. At first glance it appears to sit firmly within the pre-Reformation style. A setting of a lengthy and rambling text to the Virgin, it is similar to those set by the older masters such as Robert Fayrfax, Ludford and Taverner. What imitation is present in the piece is modest and short-lived and the whole makes its effect through its length (461 bars), wide vocal ranges and superb control of dramatic gestures. Contrast is created by juxtaposing sections for reduced forces with settings for full choir: all characteristics typical of the pre-Reformation style.

    Yet there are good reasons for supposing a later date of composition. Compared with Tallis’s early compositions (Ave rosa sine spinis, Ave Dei Patris filia and Salve intemerata virgo), Gaude gloriosa shows a considerable advance in confidence, structure and effect. The earlier pieces can seem rather sprawling, and in some cases appear to be the work of a composer learning his craft. Indeed Ave Dei Patris filia refers to Fayrfax’s work of the same name much in the style of a student exercise. Yet Gaude gloriosa is sure-footed and eloquent, a considerable advance on his early work. It is scored for six voices rather than the more usual five-part texture and sports divided tenors, a baritone and a bass part allowing a thicker sonority than is sometimes usual for an early sixteenth-century composition. The full sections contain little respite for the singers, with hardly a bar’s rest in any voice part, lengthy and demanding writing and a fairly constant exploitation of the upper register of the top part. In short it is bigger, thicker and more well-nourished than the earlier style. The sections for solo voices are the work of a mature composer, especially in the section making use of the treble and alto gimmells (the voices split into two parts) and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no duets (de rigueur in earlier pieces). It is almost as if this is Tallis remembering an older style, recreating a sound world banished by Edward VI.

    One further point needs consideration. The text, an extended paean to the Virgin Mary is deeply Catholic. It seems unlikely that such words would have been deemed appropriate in the latter days of Henry VIII, even when he was having a more Catholic phase. Yet this text in nine sections each beginning with the word Gaude would have been just the sort of piece that Mary Tudor might have wanted to hear, one which could knit together both the old and new: a celebration of the world of her youth in its form and text and, through its very composition, a bedrock for her new Catholic order."

    In my opinion, this is one of the most impressive pieces composed by Thomas Tallis. The power and energy of this music is almost infinite. The text is a real praise to the Virgin, set in music in a way so passionate and devout, that really impresses.

    This version is absolutely wonderful. The Tallis Scholars are always a safe bet. The female voices and tenors here are absolutely incredible -like a dream-. The pitch, balance, sound and pronunciation are fantastic. This is a very complicated piece, but Peter Phillips and his singers performs this it as if it were really easy.
This is a classic album, one of the best with music by Tallis.