Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621): Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium

Tollefsen and Dirksen describe Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) as "the last and most important composer of the musically rich golden era of the Netherlanders" the "Netherlanders" or the  "Franco Flemish School" dominated music on the Continent quite literally for centuries.  If you think of a line stretching down through the centuries and call it "The Netherlanders" the line would start with either  Dufay, Binchois and Busnois (take your pick) and proceed through the centuries with generations being marked by such names as  Ockeghem, Obrecht, de la Rue, Josquin, Gombert, Willaert, Lassus, De Monte, and ending with Sweelinck. By the time Sweelinck came along the style of music that originated with the Burgundians such as Dufay had evolved and been carried by composers and musicians all over Europe to the point where it had become the European style.

Sweelinck deserves recognition not only because he’s one of the anchors of the "Netherlander"  line but because he’s a composer who produced a remarkable amount of excellent music of various types and styles. It’s no exageration to say that he was one of the of the late Renaissance’s leading choral composers  and a composer moreover who was equally at home writing settings of the Psalms for the Calvinist burghers who comprised the new Dutch elite and five-voice Catholic motets which he dedicated to his friend the Catholic writer and philsopher Cornelis Gijsbertsz Plemp (1574-1638). Sweelinck’s Cantiones Sacrae quinque vocum was published in Antwerp by Phalèse whose publishing firm had a quarter of a century earlier printed his five-voice Chansons. Sweelinck chose Phalèse not only because of these previous dealings which had been very satisfactory to both parties but also because Antwerp was a Catholic city and a set of thirty-seven motets whose texts were drawn exclusively from the Catholic liturgy and the Vulgate could not be published in Calvinist Amsterdam.

Within the set of thirty-seven there’s a group of nine Nativity motets all of which are five-part with doubled soprano (SSATB) and all of which are musical gems. Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium (Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son) which takes its text from Isaiah 7:14; has its own very special atmosphere it’s a beautifully simple piece of music whose atmosphere is one of hope and hushed expectation throughout, even the closing Alleluia is restrained rather than exuberant. Enjoy :-)


Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621): Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium

Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium,
et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:14; Communion at Mass for the Annunciation to the Virgin

Behold a virgin will conceive, and bear a son,
and his name will be called Emmanuel.

Performers: Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam conducted by Harry van der Kamp

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