Drakensberg Boys Choir: Music is my Life — 2014 New Boys First Song

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July 12, 2014

When a new year's intake start attending the Drakensberg Boys Choir School they get five weeks of tuition in how to sing choral music. Then they give their first public performance. This year's new boys sang Eugene Butler's 'Music is my Life'.   Enjoy :-).

mfi

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William Byrd (±1539-1623): Solve iubente Deo

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July 11, 2014

To judge from the fact that he wrote three pieces in honour of the saint Byrd plainly had a particular devotion to St. Peter. One of these is his short six-part (SSATTB) motet Solve iubente Deo.  Short it may be but that doesn't stop it being a magnificent piece of music. It's from the 1607 Gradualia and Byrd packed it with sonority and wonderfully vivid musical illustrations from the vigourous opening 'Solve' to the rattling of chains at 'catenas' to the sunny upland vistats of 'caelestia regna beatis' Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Beatus vir RV597

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July 10, 2014

Vivaldi composed three settings of Beatus vir (Psalm 111 in the Vulgate, 112 in protestant bibles) the first – the original, dates to sometime before 1719. That setting is now lost and what we have instead are two reworkings of it. This version RV597 is the better-known of the two and was composed sometime around 1725. It's a due cori (two choir) setting conceived on the grandest of scales, a fact that must have given considerable pleasure to its intended audience who would have been well aware of the fact that right from the opening movement with its French style dotted rhythms that VIvaldi was showing that the musical forces of the Serene Repunlic were more than equal to emulating and excelling the muical pomp and circumstance of the court of Versailles.

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Vulnerasti cor meum

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July 9, 2014

The tenth in his series of chamber motets bases on texts from the Song of Songs Vulnerasti cor meum was published in Rome published in 1584 in Rome in the Motettorum Quinque Vocibus LIBER QUARTUS. As with all these motets Palestrina's intent was that they could be performed by groups of varying abilities and resources.  Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Déodat De Séverac (1872 – 1921): Tantum Ergo

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July 8, 2014

De Séverac was a native of Languedoc and its music profoundly influenced him. He entered the Paris Conservatoire as a student in 1896 but transferred to the Schola Cantorum as he disliked the rigid academicism of the Conservatoire. He studied under d’Indy, Magnard and Guilmant and learnt the piano from Albéniz. I like his music and wish it would be perormed more often his four-part setting of Tantum Ergo is a beautiful motet consisting of just two verses and an Amen code. If you haven' t heard his choral music before this is its perfect introduction. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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John Blow (1649 – 1708): I will hearken

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July 7, 2014

The collapse of the Puritan regime and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy under Charles II in 1660 meant an immediate change in the style of government. Charles' government immediate priority was restoring those institutions of state that the Puritans had destroyed and that included the Chapel Royal which had been a vital centre of English musical life.  Cooke – Charles' first choirmaster had a difficult task because the tradition of training choirboys had been destroyed but he did have benefit of being able to ride a wave of pent-up creative energy. Blow was a chorister at at Newark Parish Church when Cooke conscripted him into Chapel Royal's choir thirteen years later Blow was appointed as as Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal a post he held for nearly thirty five years combining it with a very successful career as a composer.

His setting of verses 8-12 of psalm 85 is one two dozen symphony anthems that he composed for the Chapel Royal.  It's a contemplative and quite intimate piece that uses short ritornellos that develop naturally from the vocal material rather than a main symphony. Blow chose to have the instruments accompany the voices instead of alternating with them and it is this innovation which accounts for the piece's pleasing richness and the seamlessness of its texture. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Souvenir de Florence

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July 6, 2014

Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky composed and scored in June and July 1890 his string sextet in D minor, Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70 at Frolovskoye and revised it at Maydanovo between November 1891 and January 1892. It's scored for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos, and has four movements, lasting somewhere in and around 35 minutes in performance:

  1. Allegro con spirito (D minor)
  2. Adagio cantabile e con moto (D major)
  3. Allegro moderato (A minor)
  4. Allegro vivace (D minor)

Its name was given to it by Tchaikovsky following his return in 1890 from a stay in Florence, he seems to have had quite a lot of difficulty with it describing the task in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky as 'unimaginably difficult', happily for us he persevered. The name it has to be said is a bit misleading, it's a very Russian piece and whenever I hear it – particularly the last two movements which are so Russian in their character as to be downright stereotypical I find myself thinking that while he may have enjoyed himself thoroughly in Florence he didn't bother to bring back any souvenirs.

It's given me so much pleasure over the years that I really wish it were better known, it's a gracious piece of music that starts with a vigorous main theme which contrasts beautifully well with the subsequenty light and airy lyricism. The second movement opens with a slow version of the first movemen't main theme which progresses to a delightful melody supported by a pizzicato accompaniment. Tchaikovsky then springs a musical surprise by abandoning melodicism and chamber music's formality to produce some music that's pure sound-effect, it's wonderful when it's done properly which is by no means as easy as it sounds because it has to be played with the strings playing rapidly on the point of the bow. The third movement – the only movement in A minor is a happy carefree piece with a trio section that never fails to remind me that this is the man who gave us The Nutcracker. The concluding Allegro vivace makes use of what sounds to me like  a folk tune the tune itself isn't much it's a pleasing musical trifle but oh my what Tchaikovsky does with it! He puts it through its paces including a somewhat surprising fugato before bringing down the curtain with a brilliant close. It is as I say a piece that's given me a great deal of pleasure over the years and I have to say that the performance below which was broadcast on June 27th 2014 by the Dutch Public Broadcasting Organization AVRO as part of their live concerts series is one of the best performances of it I've ever heard. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Ndumiso Manana – 26 April 2014

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July 5, 2014

As I'm sure you know by now I'm a fan of the Drakensberg Boys' Choir I sometimes wonder how the boys progress musically when they leave the school, so I was very pleased indeed when this video of  Ndumiso Manana turned up in my feed.  He was unforgettable aged ten a decade ago — I think you'll agree he's doing very good things with his talent. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Edmund Turges (?1450-????): From stormy windes

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July 4, 2014

Arthur Tudor 180x250 captioned I can tell you very little about Edmund Turges we don't know where or when he was born – although London around 1450 is a reasonably good guess. We know that he was admitted to the London parish clerks' company of the Fraternity of St Nicholas between 1468 and 1470 and we know that his songs were played at the court of Henry VII. It's almost certain that Turges himself moved in the court's musical circles and was commissioned to write songs for particular occasions such as his part-song From stormy wyndis which was addressed to Arthur, Prince of Wales (b 1486; d 1502), either to mark his betrothal (1497) or marriage (1501) to Catherine of Aragon, or to pray for his safety before setting out on a journey. Of those three possibilities I think that it was most likely the song was composed for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon because the date 1501 has been added as a note to the lowest voice-part by a later hand furthermore it was used Browne for his setting of Stabat iuxta Christi crucem the next year which suggests to me that Browne was capitalising on the familiarity and popularity of the song. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Juditha Triumphans RV644

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July 3, 2014

Vivaldi wrote Juditha Triumpans or Juditha Triumphans devicta Holofernes barbarie to give its full title in 1716 for the girls of the Ospedele della Pietà. It's the only one of his oratorios to survive and it's a further demonstration that Vivaldi had full confidence not only in the soloists, and the chorus, but also in the orchestra for whom he wrote glorious music that could only be played by a group of talented and dedicated virtuosi. The score includes parts for recorders, oboes, chalumeaux, trumpets, mandolin, theorboes, viola d’amore and splendid writing for solo strings and continuo.

Venice being Venice spectacle, religion, and politics were closely interwined and this oratorio is no exception the "Sacred military oratorio" is an allegory – a very thinly veiled allegory of the contemporary politico-military tensions in the Adriatic that existed at the time it was composed. What Vivaldi was depicting in concentrated and simplified form was the struggle between Venice and her possessions – Juditha, and the Ottoman Empire – Holofernes. This political aspect accounts for its defiant and assertive tone to say nothing of how heavily it's larded with self-justification. His audience lapped it up but I have to admit it's not my favourite amongs his works. it's very uneven, in fact it's rather like the little girl with the little curl, when it's good it's very very good and when it's bad its, well not horrid, but very very wooden. The major weakness is the chorus which is very under-developed and the arias are very uneven few of them reach the heights of musicality of Veni, veni me Sequere fida but in the face of the splendidly colourful and dramatic orchestral accompaniment that never fails to delight and impress perhaps that hardly matters. Enjoy :-).

markfromireland

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Ecce tu pulcher es

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July 2, 2014

Ecce tu pulcher es is the eight in the series of motets by Palestrina based upon the Song of Songs. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Felice Anerio (±1560-1614): Magnificat quinti toni

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July 1, 2014

Felice Anerio (the elder of the two brothers) had a very successful musical career starting as  a choirboy at Santa Maria Maggiore and at St Peter's where he studied under Palestrina. He went on to be maestro di capella  at the Spanish Santa Maria di Monserrato and the English College before being appointed composer to the Papal Chapel following Palestrina's death in 1594. He wrote a lot of music for double choir which was so popular in Rome that the production of its resident composers of polychoral music outstripped that of the Venetians. The Magnificat quinti toni is typical of Anerio's output for the Sistine chapel, it's through-composed and based – very loosely based, on the fifth reciting tone which you can hear quoted in the piece. Anerio provides momentum and interest by dividing the verses between the choirs and making them engage in an antiphonal dialogue, he highlights the important words and phrases in the text by having them sung by eight voices and by switching between homophony and polyphony. It's a beautiful piece of music that really deserves to be far better known. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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