Thomas Tallis (±1505-1585): Miserere nostri

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March 30, 2015

Miserere nostri is unusual amongst Tallis' motets in being set for more than five parts and in following a continental double canon model rather than an English model. It's for six voices with a seventh (tenor) voice making an appearance once for harmonic reasons.

mfi

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Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650): Missa Miserere mihi Domine

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March 29, 2015

Miserere mihi, Domine, et exaudi orationem meam.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord, and hearken unto my prayer.

The  penitential chant Miserere mihi, Domine is the Psalm antiphon for Sunday Compline, Cardoso set this Mass using it as the Cantus Firmus. As with other Portugese sacred polyphony from the first half of the seventeenth century it's rather old-fashioned in some ways. It reminds me of Victoria's work full of sonority and with enough musical variation in the longer passages to maintain interest. Despite being such a conservative work inspired by the Renaissance and Palestrina you can hear  throughout the work some of the new harmonic ideas of the Baroque and it is this skilful juxtapositioning of the old and the new that give this Mass its very considerable appeal. It's performed below by the Ensemble Vocal Européen directed by Philippe Herreweghe.

mfi

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Hans Leo Hassler (1562-1612): Ad Dominum

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March 28, 2015

Hassler was very influential in his day both Bach (O Haput voll Blut und Wunde) and Schütz (Psalmen Davids) quoted his music. The son of a stonecutter and part time musician in Nuremburg he was sent to Venice to study music and composition. In Venice he came under the influence of the Gabrieli's  studying under Andrea Gabrieli he stayed in Venice for eighteen months and returned to Germany taking up a position in Augsburg  as chamber organist to Octavian Fugger II. Word of this talented musician and composer spread  the Landgrave of Hesse tried to "poach" him from the Fuggers while the emperor granted him a potentially very lucrative patent to copyright his works. When Fugger died in 1600 the town council tried to keep him in Augsburg by making him the town's musical director but Hassler returned to his home town a year later to take up a similar posting, in 1607 he travelled to Ulm where he married severing all ties to Nuremburg. In 1608 Christian II of Saxony commissioned a composition from him and then appointed Hassler to his staff, he continued as a member of the Saxon court rising quickly to Kapellmeister until his death in 1612.

Musically Hassler was both conservative and ecumenical, ecumenical in that although he himself was a protestant he was quite happy to compose for both the Catholic and Lutheran churches and conservative in that he never wrote a piece that used that hallmark of baroque music the basso continuo  confining his religious compositions to the polyphonic idiom that had been at its height fifty years earlier not only that but you'll often hear the cantus firmus as a motif in every part of his composition. Having said that he was musically conservative I had better qualify that statement somewhat by saying that it was his religious music that was so conservative, he wrote a considerable quantity of secular music such as madrigals, instrumental works, and dance songs, in all of which genres he allowed himself to be somewhat more free-handed. His motet Ad Dominum cum tribularer (In my distress I cried unto the Lord) which takes its texts from the opening verses of Psalm 120  is another exception to the conservatism rule. It's very chromatic with none of the traditional diatonic harmonies, and as you listen you can hear what he was trying to do – to make his music match the text to portray both tribulation (cum tribularer) and its cause a deceitful tongue (lingua dolosa).

mfi

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Richard Farrant (±1525– 1580): Lord, for Thy tender mercy’s sake

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March 27, 2015

We don't know anything about Richard Farrant's early life. The first record of him appears in 1552 when he was listed as being one of the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal. There are records of him participating in some of the most important ceremonial events of the Tudor era – Edward VI's funeral, Mary I's  coronation and funeral, and Elizabeth I's coronation. He resigned his post in 1564 to take up his new duties as Master of the Choristers and as one of the organists at St George's Chapel, Windsor, and in 1569 he was also appointed as  master of the choristers of the Chapel Royal retaining both positions until his death in 1580.

He organised the boys into a dramatic company producing a play for the Queen every winter. None of these plays have survived and only two of the songs he wrote for the stage are now known. He's far more important as a composer of church music although he doesn't seem to have written much liturgical music. Only three main compositions by him are known to have survived the anthems Call to remembrance and Hide not thou thy face and the 'High Service'. Along with When as we sat in Babylon and Mundy's Ah, helpless wretch they're some of the first examples of verse-anthems and to judge by the number of sources in which they survive must have been wildly popular with his contemporaries. Lord, for Thy tender mercy’s sake remains popular with choirs to this day and is sung below by the Choir of Clare College. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Franz Tunder (1614-1667): Ach Herr, laß deine lieben Engelein

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March 26, 2015

Bach used the text to Tunder's cantata Ach Herr, laß deine lieben Engelein (O lord, let Thy dear angels) in the closing chorale of Bach's St. John Passion, it's from Schalling's hymn Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (Great is my love for Thee, o Lord) but there's absolutely no resemblance between the two pieces. Tunder's setting scored for soprano, four viols and basso continuo is a concertante aria that eschews the chorale in favour some lovely arioso writing. It starts with an eloquent sinfonia following which the soloist enters into a dialogue with the strings. It has some wonderful musical portrayals such as the melodic ascent which depicts the soul's rise and entry into Abraham's bosom or the equally wonderful depiction of the descent into the tomb using increasingly lower registers or the way in which Tunder depicts rest (Ruh' bis am Jüngsten Tage) by using long held almost languid notes. The second part of the cantata is equally eloquent using shifts of register and tone to depict the soul's rejoicing at awakening to the sight of Christ on his  throne of mercy. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Henry Purcell (1659-1695): O dive custos Auriacae

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March 25, 2015

Purcell setting of Henry Parker’s poem O dive custos Auriacae domus 'An elegy upon the death of Queen Mary' is a stunning piece of music. The poem's calls upon the Isis and the Cam (the Oxbridge rivers) to weep for their deceased Queen. It's in the form of a duet and is a wonderful example of Purcell's Italianate writing that surely ranks high amongst his masterpieces. Purcell has the two voices intertwine in some highly expressive chromatic writing whose jagged intervals, discordant chains, and declamatory style combine into a polished and moving piece of music.

mfi

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Attr. John IV, King of Portugal (1604–56): Crux Fidelis

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March 24, 2015

Crux Fidelis is the eight verse of the hymn beginning Pange lingua ('Sing, my tongue') by Saint Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (c530-c609). It's sung on Good Friday during the Adoration of the Cross, during Holy Week, and during feasts of the Church honouring The Cross. This setting which was first published in Paris in 1843–5 in an eleven-volume collection of 'musique ancienne' is ascribed a date of 1615 and attributed to John IV, King of Portugal. This attribution is unlikely to put it  mildly as he was born in 1604 and nowhere is there any mention of him as being a child-prodigy. The attribution is also highly dubious on stylistic grounds, it's a lovely piece of music and one of my favourite polyphonic settings, but its highly chromatic tonality makes it very unlikely that it was composed during the seventeenth century at all, let alone during its fifteenth year. It's more like something that Lizst in a fit of conscious archaism would have written than a product of any Renaissance composer let alone a composer from the Iberian peninsula. What a pity that the publishers of 'musique ancienne'  felt that instead of accepting and publishing it on its own terms – as a wonderful piece of polyphonic writing,  that they had to assign it an entirely spurious heritage.

mfi

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Absolve Domine

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March 23, 2015

Absolve Domine – the tract from the Missa pro Defunctis performed here by the Grupo de Música Alfonso X el Sabio.

mfi

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Johann Kaspar Kerll (1627-1693): Missa pro Defunctis

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March 22, 2015

image Kerll was born in Saxony the son of the organist at Adorf. He must have shown a fair amount of talent and aptitude early on because the first confirmed record of him composing dates from 1641. He studied under Giovanni Valentini in Vienna in the early 1640s and took up a post as organist at the court of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in Brussels. The Archduke must have been pleased with him because he sent him to Rome to study under Carissimi for several years. 1 He was appointed vice-Kapellmeister the Elector Ferdinand Maria in Munich on March 12th 1656 and six months later on September 22nd as Kapellmeister following the death of Giovanni Giacomo Porro. Amongst his students during his time as Kapellmeister in Munich was Agostino Steffani. He was clearly well thought of by his contemporaries – it was Kerll who was commissioned to write the coronation Mass for Emperor Leopold I at Frankfurt and he was ennobled by the Emperor in 1664. Following a row with Italian musicians in Munich he resigned and moved to Vienna where the Emperor first granted him a pension and then gave him a post as one of the court organists. He's best known now for his keyoard music – none of his operas have survived, but his religious music is also very fine. His Missa pro Defunctis which you can hear below dates from 1669 and is the earliest of his 18 surviving Masses it's a five-part unaccompanied setting that's very reminiscent of  Palestrina's plainsong Masses. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Thomas Weelkes (1576–1623): The Ape, The Monkey and The Baboon

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March 21, 2015

Weelkes was best known to contemporaries as a madrigalist and published several volumes. The  Ape, the monkey and the baboon was one of his last compositions and was published in 1608 in Ayeres or Phantasticke Spirites for Three Voices. It's surprisingly difficult to find good recordings of it but this performance by The Alley Barbers singing at  the University of Bath's Choral and Orchestral Society's 2014 Easter Concert captures the spirit of the piece well. The lyrics which were distinctly risqué for the time are below the video. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623): Give ear, O Lord

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March 20, 2015

The text of Weelkes' anthem 'Give ear, O Lord' is from William Hunnis' (d1597) collection of devotional texts 'An humble sute of a repentant sinner for mercie' it's a penitential text and there are some indications that Weelkes and Hunnis, who was master of the Chapel Royal choristers at the time he wrote it, knew one another. Its a lovely anthem, to my mind one of Weelkes' best, the motif which Weelkes used on several occasions pays tribute to Byrd while the harmonic writing is full of depth and colour and highlights how tightly woven this anthem is. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Buxtehude’s Nichts soll uns scheiden von der Liebe Gottes and its influence on Bach’s Jesu Meine Freude

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March 19, 2015

Buxtehude's cantata Nichts soll uns scheiden von der Liebe Gottes (Nothing shall part us from the love of God) takes its title and theme from Romans 8: 35-39

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (KJV)

Buxtehude wrote it as a rondo with three couplets for soprano and alto and three for soprano, alto, and bass and his intent was a musical meditation – an aria, that took Paul's text and used as a repeated refrain with the repetitions being separated with strophes that loosely paraphrase the verses listing the various things and powers that are powerless in the face of God's love. It's a lovely piece of music that's well worth listening to both for itself and also because it greatly influenced Bach. You can hear this influence particularly clearly in "Jesu Meine Freude" the outline of which is generally the same with the same alternation of a one refrain leit-motiv, and caplets, and the alternation of homophony and counterpoint. Nor do the similarities stop there listen to how Buxtehude treats the exclamations of "nichts, nichts" and compare it to what you can hear in Bach's composition it's very clearly Bach paying homage to his teacher. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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