Monthly Archives: January 2012

Saturday Chorale: Byrd – Senex puerum portabat

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January 7, 2012

Byrd's four-part anthem Senex puerum portabat was published in 1607 in the second book of Gradualia. It's a beautifully expressive piece of music in which Byrd manipulates the vocal lines to convey the joy felt both by Simeon and by the Virgin Mary. Thus at the end of the first line – "Senex puerum portabat",  he sets the word 'portabat' to a rising interval holding the melodic line high. Similarly in the last line culminating in the word 'adoravit' where Byrd uses the vocal lines to portray both the Virgin's adoration of the Messiah and her joy as the mother of a new-born child. It's performed here by the St Paul's Cathedral Choir conducted by John Scott. The lyrics and a translation are below the fold. Enjoy :-)

markfromireland

 

Video Source: Byrd - Senex puerum portabat – YouTube Uploaded by markfromireland on Jan 4, 2012

Lyrics: Senex puerum portabat

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Epiphany: Luca Marenzio (1553/1554 – 1599) : Tribus miraculis (Three miracles)

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January 6, 2012

The feast of the Epiphany which you'll sometimes hear called "little Christmas" celebrates the visit of the magi (the three wise men) to the infant Jesus when according to Matthew 2:11 they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It marks the end of Christmas in the Catholic religious calendar. (In the Eastern tradition from which it originates the Epiphany celebrates Jesus' baptism at the hands of John the Baptist in the River Jordan). Jesus' transformation of water into wine at the marriage feast at Canaan is also celebrated on this day.

I've picked Luca Marenzio's "Tribus miraculis" – "Three miracles" for today's posting first because it's a remarkable piece of music by a remarkable musician, and secondly because it celebrates all three Epiphany events. Luca Marenzio born in Coccaglio  near Brescia in either 1553 or 1554, and died in Rome on Aug 22nd 1599. His reputation as a composer comes mostly his secular works particularly his madrigals which are notable for very detailed verbal imagery and harmonic expressiveness. He also wrote sacred madrigals which differ from their secular counterparts only in their texts. His sacred works are made up of motets, of which he wrote about 70, and Masses, like his madrigals they make heavy use of verbal imagery. Unlike his madrigals however his motets and Masses makes relatively heavy use of religious symbolism and in this he differs from Palestrina and Victoria both of whom influenced his compositions. His reputation was such that within six months of Palestrina's death the avvisi di Roma of August 12th 1595 referred to him as the 'foremost musician in Rome'. Marenzio wrote "Tribus miraculis" in 1585 scoring it for four voices, it's characterised by pronounced changes in texture ranging from the very florid opening which describes the three miracles to the dramatic change at "hodie vinum ex aqua factum est ad nuptias" ("today water was changed into wine at the marriage feast") to the chromatic shifts at the description of Christ's baptism culminating in the sequential Alleluia. Tribus miraculis is  performed here by St Paul's Cathedral Choir conducted by John Scott, lyrics and a translation to English are both below the fold. Enjoy :-).

markfromireland

Video Source: Luca Marenzio (1553/1554 - 1599) : Tribus miraculis (Three miracles) Uploaded by markfromireland on Jan 5, 2012

Lyrics: Tribus miraculis (Antiphon at second Vespers on the feast of the Epiphany)

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Chilcott: The Shepherd’s Carol We stood on the hills, Lady

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January 5, 2012

Bob Chilcott's The Shepherd’s Carol was composed for the 2000 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge. It's a thoroughly modern piece that takes Chilcott's original melody repeating and enhancing it from verse to verse spinning a beautiful web of choral music as it does so. It's quality speaks, or rather sings, for itself, further comment from me is extraneous. Lyrics are below the fold. Enjoy :-)

markfromireland

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Lyrics: The Shepherd's Carol We stood on the hills, Lady

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Feature: Praetorius: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern ("How brightly shines the morning star")

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January 4, 2012

Himself the son of a Lutheran pastor Philipp Nicolai was born at Mengeringhousen in Waldeck (near Arolsen), Hessen, Germany, on August 10th 1556, he started his university career in Erfurt in 1575 but a year later he forsook Erfurt in favour of phillip-nicolaiWittenberg graduating in 1599 and from where he ultimately received his doctorate in divinity in 1594. His career is a testament to the social religious turmoil then engulfing Germany. He was forced to resign his first independent posting as a preacher because the Town Council were Catholics who reintroduced the Mass after the invasion by Spanish troops in 1586. He then held several posts but in 1592  was prohibited from preaching by Count Franz of Waldeck who supported the Calvinists in the "Sacramentarian controversy". Four years later in Unna in 1596 he was again locked in bitter dispute with the Calvinists but his time there was filled with grief as a result of an outbreak of Bubonic Plague which took place during 1597 and 1598 and ended with him being forced to flee for his life on December 27th 1598 from the invading Spanish troops. He did not return to Unna until the end of April, 1599.

Living amongst these scenes of plague, fear, death and grief, together with his own escape from an agonising death at the hands of Spanish soldiers caused Nicolai considerable distress, to relieve this anguish he turned once again to study immersing himself in St. Augustine's "City of God" and contemplating eternal life. So effective were his studies and meditations that he wrote a book of meditations entitled "Freudenspiegel deß ewigen Lebens", ("Joyful Mirror of the Eternal Life") which included amongst its devout reflections two hymns "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" and "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" that are notable both for their ardour and for their complex musical rythmns.

A Radical Departure in Lutheran Music

"Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" ("How brightly shines the morning star") marks the start of something new, something that must have been very exciting in Lutheran church music. Nicolai published "Freudenspiegel deß ewigen Lebens" at a time when Lutheran music – in particular Lutheran hymnology, was modelled upon the simplicity and fitness for purpose of early Latin hymnology, psalmody, and the hymns attributed to Saint Luke.  Nicolai's writings broke with this and pioneered a new style which soon became very prevalent and which led to that class of hymn callled "Hymns of the Love of Jesus." This new departure resembles in some ways some of the late medieval hymns devoted to the Virgin and to the Saints, its scriptural basis was the Song of Solomon and the Apocalypse and it not only reached back to pre-reformation hymnology but also built upon the Lutheran foundation of hymns addressed to God the Father through the intercession of Jesus, the intercession of the Trinity, or if the hymn was one of sorrow and repentances through the intercession of The Saviour. However this new style pioneered by Nicolai did not stop there it developed further taking as one of its subjects Nicolai's conception of the mystical union of the soul with Christ and (as the theme was taken up by later hymnologists) even allowing the use secular allusions and similes. It marks in short the transition from the objective to the subjective in Lutheran hymnology and laid the basis for the numerous hymns such as those written by Franck and Scheffler which celebrate Christ as the soul's bridegroom.

I said above that "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" must have been very exciting for his contemporaries and those who followed after him. It rapidly became what I can only describe as a hit. It was seized upon by the composers of the period, Buxtehude used it (BuxWV223), as did Kuhnau (I have a posting in draft form about this and plan on publishing it towards the end of February), Bach used it repeatedly (BWV 1, 739, 763, 764,), and so did Praetorius. But it didn't stop there it entered civic culture too, Nicolai's tune was used by city chimes , it was a regular fixture at weddings, and its verses were to be found in pamphlets, samplers, and even on earthenware.

Praetorius: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern

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Palestrina: O magnum mysterium

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January 3, 2012

Agnolo Bonzino Adoration of the Shepherds 1539-40 Oil on wood Szépmûvészeti Múzeum Budapest 296x409Palestrina's six-part motet "O magnum mysterium" was published in Rome in 1569 as part of  a collection of motets, for five, six and seven voices. It's a six-part motet that Palestrina wrote for Christmas – the Feast of the Nativity and is both a beautiful piece of music and a marvellous example of his skill. In it Palestrina trys, and largely succeeds, in expressing the  joy and  awe felt by the shepherds as they celebrated Christ's birth and worshipped the Christ-child as he lay in a manger.

For this motet Palestrina took his text from the first half of the fourth and third Responsories at Matins on Christmas Day. It opens with a slow series of chords that announce the "great mystery and wonderful sacrament" ("O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum") and continues with a series of voices in different combinations before breaking into a chorus in triple time representing the "chorus of angels praising God" ("chorus angelorum collaudantes Dominum"). Palestrina ends the first part of them motet with a series of 'Alleluias' in double time.

The second part of the motet reuses much of the material found in the first except that this time the shepherds directly recount what they've seen "The newborn we have seen and a chorus of angels praising God" ("natum vidimus et chorus angelorum collaudantes Dominum"). Lyrics and a translation are both below the fold. Enjoy :-)

markfromireland

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Lyrics: O magnum mysterium

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