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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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