sábado, 27 de abril de 2013

The Choir Project al día [27-IV-2013]

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina [1525-1594]: Missa Brevis à 4.
The Tallis Scholars - Peter Phillips.
Il Principe della Musica.

   Peter Phillips wrotes about:
"Despite its title Palestrina's famous Missa Brevis is one of the most substantial and sonorous of all his mass-settings to be written in four parts. The reason for its title (meaning 'short mass') is a mystery, though the use of it may be connected with the lack of any obvious model for the setting. Palestrina, early in his career, liked to use other composers' motets or plainsong chant to rework in 'parody' fashion, an old and respectable technique. Many people have looked for such a model in this case but without success. Plainsong was the most likely starting-point, but if so the melodies are not consistently applied. The mass was first published in 1570 and was a success from the start, being reprinted several times before 1620. There have been countless modern editions.

   The most likely explanation for this general descriptive title Brevis is that no other came readily to hand. In other cases of a 'free' setting Sine Nomine was common; but some of these, like the one which has recently been proved to be based on Josquin's motet Benedicta es, are bigger pieces in terms of the number of voices employed, and perhaps a distinction between the titles Sine Nomine and Brevis is implied. Not that anyone ever proposed the title Missa Longa. The idea that the word Brevis comes from the fact that every movement starts with a breve in the original notation is discounted since literally hundreds of works start with that note and it is hard to imagine anyone fixing on this detail as being worthy of comment.

  The music has a strong character, confidently written, with the motif of the falling minor third, usually followed by upward movement by step, appearing very regularly. This happens not only at the beginning of most movements, but frequently during them, for instance in the remarkable sequence in all the parts to the word Amen in the Credo. This interval alone goes some way to explain the unusually subtle cohesion which the Missa Brevis displays on close acquaintance, where a casual glance might judge it to be disparate. The music is for SATB, increasing to SSATB for the beautiful second Agnus Dei. The phrase at the beginning of the first Agnus - an ascending scale - is inverted at the beginning of the second, which rounds off the music in the most satisfying way."

   In words of Ivan Moody:
"Palestrina’s four-voiced Missa Brevis was first published in 1570, in the third book of masses, and several times reprinted. Its title has been the subject of considerable but fruitless speculation – it is not particularly short, and could indeed be considered quite substantial as a four-part work. Though many have looked for a model, this does not seem to be a “parody” Mass; the world brevis was probably used simply because no other title suggested itself. Haberl’s idea that it was because each movement opens with a breve is certainly not be worthy of note.

   One of the most frequently sung Masses in Palestrina´s oeuvre, the Missa Brevis has been an immediacy of melodic and a notable clarity of texture. Its lack of recurrent reference to a musical model is compensated for by the regular appearance of a particular melodic features, notable a descending minor third followed by a brief scalic ascent – this is clearly audible at the very opening of the Kyrie. The four-part texture gives way in the Benedictus to a flowing trio (SAT), and in the second Agnus Dei to a five-part setting, with trebles in canon at the unison."

   In my opinion, this is a fine example of academic style by Palestrina and one of the best Mass setting in four parts ever composed.
The text is clear, absolutely understandable, but the music is not affected by this, and the beautiful of this piece is really incredible.
This is Renaissance, voices, harmony, melody, polyphony... an authentic example of the best Renaissance polyphony ever composed.

   This performance is really impressive. The lines move, cross and listen with incredible clarity, and sound is amazing.
This album is pure Palestrina, pure "Tallis", pure Phillips, pure Renaissance, pure polyphony and pure glory.

domingo, 21 de abril de 2013

The Choir Project al día [21-IV-2013]

Estêvão Lopes Morago [c.1575-c.1630]: Versa est in lvctvm à 4.
Grupo Vocal Officium - Pedro Teixeira.
The Portuguese Golden Age.

   Ivan Moody said about:
"The fact taht Estêvão Lopes Morago, a significant figure in Portuguese musical history, was in fact Spanish by bith is indicativa of the natural processes of cultural interchange between the two contries at the time -an interchange which was independent of the fact of Portugal's being under Spanish rule from 1581 to 1640. Morago was one of the three know pupils of Filipe de Magalhães at évora. The other two, Estêvão de Brito and Manuel Correis, followed the opposite course fro Morago and went to work in Spain.

   Morago was born in Vallecas (now part of Madrid) in about 1575, but susequently spent nearly all his life in Portugal. After studying at Évora with Magalhães he became canon and mestre de capela of the Cathedral of Viseu (in the north of the country) from 1599 until 1628. He then retired to the Franciscan monastery at Orgens, not far from Viseu, and died in or after 1630. His music survives in archives in Viseu.

   Magalhães's influence shows quite clearly in Morago's clean contrpuntal technique (as indeed it does in the work of Brito and Correa), but what is especially impressive about Morago's music is the daring handling of dissonance and, in several works of more straightforward harmonic character, an interest in antiphonal effects. Motets such as Oculi mei, tonally ambiguous and dripping with adventurousness fouths, demonstrate perfectly the expressive use to closely-wrought imitative writing with sudden outbursts of rhythmic homophony is also characteristic of 'Versa est in luctum' and Commissa mea. In fact, Morago's setting of penitential or funeral texts is sensitive in the extreme. Ealier composers such as Cardoso, or indeed Magalhães (not to speak of their Spanish antecedents such as Guerrero), could never have conceived the kind of abrupt juxtaposition which occurs in Versa est when the word organum suddenly springs out of the polyphonic context, 'underlined' so to speak, in a flash of dancing homophony. The plangent piling-up of suspensions at nihil enim sunt dies mei later in the piece certainly is anticipated in ealier composers, but even so, for intensity of effect in only four parts, Morago is unique.

   Pieces such as Laetentur caeli and Montes Isreal show that Morago was equally capable of responding to othre sorts of text, as do his surviving Psalm settings and responsories for Christmas matins. But it is for what have often been called the 'mannerist' quealities of his settings of more emotive texts that he is known, and it is something which is often seen to be representative of Inerian music of this period at the expense of other aspects. (The modern emphasis on Victoria's Missa Pro Defunctis and Tenebrae Responsories at the expense of his other Mass settings or motets is the prime example of this.) Nevertheless, Morago's music for precisely this reason complements extremely well that of the later composer Diogo Dias Melgás."

   Robert Stevenson wrotes:
"[...]But liked his teacher and his contemporaries Brito, Cardoso and Lôbo, he always remained too much the Peninsular conservative to write for continuo, to forgot imitation and the equality of the voices or to venture far into chromaticism. For dramatic effect, however, he did place adjent to each other chord as disparate as those of G minor andE major and Bb and A major. To add to the harmonic tension he frequently changed accidentals in succesive imitative entries (occasionally he wrote an iverted final entry). Many chordal sequences are found in his more expressive motets, as also are chains os suspensions and passing and changing notes. Occasionally he mixed the extremes of fast and slow motion in the same motet, and six of his eight Christmas responsories are in fast triple metre. His shorter motets are frequently monothematic. He sometimes confirmed his endings with long pedals. Despite the triple canon closing his Magnificat on the 8th tone he could not being to match the contrapuntal pyrotechnics of his Spanish contemporaries Vivanco and Aguilera de Heredia; nor was he fastidious about avoiding forbidden consecutives."

  When I discovered this piece in 2010 -at Evora Cathedral Music School - International Workshop | "Jornadas"- and I sang this in small ensemble under the conducting of Peter Phillips, I thought: "Wow, this music is simply incredible, exciting, amazing, very impressive". The tenor line was absolutely awesome, one of the most beautiful lines I've ever sung, really.
This piece struck me as few works and today, three years after, it still moves me and I singing in my head many times.
This piece and that moment were one of the most impressive musical moments in my life.

   Congrats to Portuguese Officium Ensemble for fantastic performance in this video. I think Portuguese Renaissance polyphony is simply at same level as the rest of the European musical production of this time. for me the authentic "Idade d'ouro" of Portuguese music.

sábado, 13 de abril de 2013

The Choir Project al día [13-IV-2013]

John Sheppard [c.1515-1558]: Media vita à 6.
The Tallis Scholars - Peter Phillips.
Polyphony in large format.

   Peter Phillips wrote about Sheppard and his album:
"John Sheppard's reputation as a composer is still not fully established. Part of the reason has certainly been the lack of reliable editions of his music, when his contemporaries Taverner, Tallis, Tye, White and others have been promoted from the first decades of this century; but even now, with some recordings and many publications devoted especially to him, progress has been slow. We hope that with this first recording of his masterpiece Media vita, all doubts about his stature will be fully dispelled.

   Various mischances concerning Sheppard's life and work have hindered understanding of what he achieved. It is always unfortunate when there are no firm dates of birth and death for a composer, since it is then impossible to have anniversary celebrations for him. Also, little is known about Sheppard's career, except that he was employed at Magdalen College, Oxford between 1543 and 1548 and also at the Chapel Royal from 1552 or before to 1559 or 1560 when his name disappeared from the list of Gentlemen. It is assumed that this disappearance was as a result of his death; but since he arguably made an important contribution to Anglican music after Queen Elizabeth's accession in 1558, a later date of death would certainly be a possibility.

   Much of Sheppard's music has survived incomplete. In general it has been the tenor part which has been lost, as is the case with Verbum caro, Reges Tharsis and Media vita on this recording. Normally this is not a serious problem, since he often based his compositions on plainchant tenors (one of the last composers in Europe consistently to do so) and these can be provided from other sources. But there are passages in Media vita where the tenor is 'free', necessitating recomposition (in this case by David Wulstan) before it can be performed. Just occasionally the absence of a part has posed such severe editorial problems that it has been found impossible to make an effective version of the music: Sheppard's only surviving votive antiphon, Gaude Virgo Christiphera, is in this category.

   Sheppard's most important music was composed specifically for the Salisbury rite, either as hymns, responds or Mass settings. His style is immediately recognisable, since much of his writing was for the same six-part choir of treble, mean, two countertenors, tenor and bass, which he deployed to achieve the maximum sonority. He used the treble voice with unusual flair (in, for instance, the gimell at the words qui cognoscis in Media vita or the last chord of Verbum caro) and some of his harmonies were also exceptionally daring by the standards of the time. His use of the false relation could be as direct and harsh as that of any composer - In manus tuas II and III provide good examples of this - dissonances inspired by sheer pleasure in their sound rather than by any especially suggestive passage in the text.

   All the music included on this disc is based on chant. Verbum caro and Reges Tharsis are responds for Matins on Christmas Day and Epiphany respectively, and the In manus tuas settings (from Compline on Passion Sunday to Wednesday in Easter Week) also have a respond structure. All three of these are founded on the same chant melody, though in the first Sheppard chose a more elaborate scheme than in the others by setting a larger section of the chant in polyphony, including the opening words, and by writing imitative counterpoint. Christe Redemptor omnium and Sacris solemniis are hymns from Lauds on All Saints Day and Vespers at Corpus Christi respectively, each with a sequence of verses which alternate chant and polyphony. Hymn settings were customarily intimate and restricted compositions, with the chant in the top part (as Christe Redemptor omnium shows), so it is all the more suprising to find so elaborate and splendid a composition as Sacris solemniis in this genre, with its divided trebles and means, giving eight parts in all. Sheppard also showed unusual sophistication in this work by disguising the chant and breaking it up between the higher voices and the lower ones, which at times form antiphonal choirs.

   Media vita is a unique achievement, in its length, expressive power and liturgical function. The text consists of the antiphon to the Nunc dimittis at Compline on the major feast-days in the two weeks before Passion Sunday. The Nunc dimittis itself is the only part of the text to be sung to chant alone, while the antiphon text, which for days of this importance contained a verse and respond structure within itself, is set in polyphony complete. The first two verses are for men's voices, the third for two trebles, two means and bass, and each is followed by all or part of the response Sancte Deus, Sancte fortis, Sancte et misericors Salvator. The composition begins with some of the most haunting words in any of the Offices: Media vita in morte sumus (in the midst of life we are in death). It was in setting these words that Sheppard conceived one of the greatest passages in all Tudor polyphony."

   In my opinion, this is one of the most impressive piece in european renaissance polyphony. His large setting and his incredible compositional quality make this piece an almost unique example in the history of music.

   Is a really complex music and its performance is absolutely demanding. In their version, The Tallis Scholars make a incredible reading of this piece: the balance, pitch, sonority, phrasing, melodies, counterpoint... are an example of how to interpret this music.
It's really incredible the sound of trebles in this recording. Wonderful sound and impressive job!
I like so much the Stile Antico's version too.

   This album is absolutely essential for all fans of Renaissance polyphony and choral music.