Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Laeva eius sub capite meo

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July 30, 2014

Laeva eius sub capite meo (His left hand is under my head) the thirteenth in the set of twenty-nine motets based upon the Song of Songs is a striking and strikingly sensual piece of music – it's sacred music certainly but like so many of these motets it makes a lot of use of word-painting to match the sesuous text.  Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Salve Regina

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July 29, 2014

Haydn's setting of the Salve Regina in E major (Hob. XXIIIb:1) is an early work. He wrote it in 1771 as a response to surviving a life-threatening illness the year before, an early work then and scored for very modest forces but that doesn't mean it's not a major piece of music in Haydn's opus. It is, in fact I'd go so far as to say that it's his first major work it marks the start of a new more professional approach to composition that Haydn learnt at the hands of Nicola Porpora. It's scored for soprano soloist, SATB choir, organ, and strings sans violas  in typically Austrian style. It's a lovely piece of work which makes a consistently effective use of contrasts between very elaborate – indeed operatic, writing for the soloist and chordal writing for the choir it's an interesting and enjoyable piece of music throughout but for me Haydn saved the best wine for last – the pianissimo ending is to my mind some of the most beautiful music he ever wrote. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Jacob Regnart (±1540-1599): Quare tristis es, anima mea?

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July 28, 2014

Jacob Regnart's setting of words from Psalm 42 is quite unusual in that the setting is at variance with the text. The words are meant to be reassuring but Regnart, for whatever reason. chose instead to emphasise the soul's grief rather than God's comfort. He starts with a disconcerting tonality which migrates almost into a lament. I find myself wondering whether he intended it as a Lenten motet his use of Phrygian tones make the possibility seems quite likely to me.

mfi

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Opus 8 (1854, revised 1891)

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July 27, 2014

There are two versions of the Trio in B Major the first of which was written in 1853 when Brahms was only twenty. That version was played for nearly four decades but Brahms who was nothing if not a perfectionist revisited the work and revised it so thoroughly that for all practical purposes he recomposed it. Brahms himself said that the revision "did not provide it with a wig, but just combed and arranged its hair a little" but Brahms was given to understatement quite as much as he was given to perfectionism.

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Arvo Pärt (b1935): Salve regina

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July 26, 2014

A very nicely sung performance of Pärt's setting of the Salve given on March 23rd 2014 as part of the twelfth Puerto Cruz Festival of Ancient and Baroque Music. It's a good performance – I was a bit dubious  at first when I saw the timing on the video as it's quite a bit slower than I'm used to but in fact it works very well as it brings out the hymn-like qualities of the piece. They handled the broad  harmonies of the build-up to the climax very well indeed. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599): Regina caeli a 8

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July 25, 2014

His contemporaries thought so highly of Guerrero that during Philip II's reign he was hailed as Spain's foremost composer. His compositional skills were based upon his musical gifts he not only sang but was an excellent player of the organ, vihuela, harp and cornett.  Later generations weren't so enthusiastic with musicologists and music historians tending to dismiss his music as being both excessively sweet and lacking in the musical vigour of Morales and Victoria. I've never undrestood this criticism it's true that his music is nowhere near as dour as that of Morales (who taught him) nor is it as taut or as cheerful as de Victoria's compositions — it's somewhere in between, it's reminiscent of both while having its own distinctive style and voice. As to lack of vigour – really? Nobody who hears what he does with the alleluias at end of each section of the antiphon would ever say that it lacked vigour.   Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Magnificat RV610a

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July 24, 2014

There are several versions of Vivaldi's Magnificat in G minor the earliest would most likely have been written for the Pietà and dates to some time in or around 1715. Early in the 1720s Vivaldi revisited it reworking the lower voices to make them more suitable for lower voices and adding a pair oboes for whom he expanded 'Sicut locutus est' so that he could take advantage of their novel and pleasing sound in obbligato passages. So much for the instrumental accompaniment what of the disposal of the vocal forces? Well it's specified for two cori, there's some reworking, and Vivaldi's directions on the score specify which of the two cori (or both) should sing what. But to be honest all of that is more a question of Vivaldi trying to show that he was up to date with musical fashion than anything else as the work is distinctly monochoral in its structure and conception. It's an admirlably concise and restrained setting that nevertheless manages to fit a lot of musical drama into very little space. Thus we have the chromaticism of the opening verse followed by a tripartite aria in which each of the three succeeding verses is taken by a different voice this 'aria a tre' is succeeded by the wonderfully poignant  choral handling of 'Et misericordia eius',  which is followed by two choral movements. These are a delight I like how Vivaldi  illustrates the Lord's strength over the bass line ('Fecit potentiam') and the graphic way in which the mighty are put down and the humble are exalted. The soprano duet in which the hungry are 'filled with good things' (Esurientes implevit bonis) is downright charming while the 'Sicut locutus est' terzet which follows on from the brief 'suscepit' is a cheerful and optimistic piece of music – which must have caused a lot of raised eyebrows when it was first heard. Finally the doxology as you might expect opens with a restatement of the work's opening which gives way to a splendidly muscular traditional double fugue. Not easy to sing but a joy to listen to when it's sung well as the excellent Argentinian choir Coral Mirabilia directed by Fernando Polonuer demonstrate below. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Introduxit me rex in cellam

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July 23, 2014

The first edition of these motets published in Rome in 1584 by Alessandro Gardano made no mention of the fact that they consisted entirely of texts drawn from the Canticum Canticorum – The Song of Songs. As Gardano and Palestrina became more confident of their acceptance subsequent editions mentioned the fact explicitly with phrases such as motettorum ex canticis Salomonis or Salomonis nimirum cantica on their title pages. They need hardly have bothered word had spread about the beauty of these latest madrigali spirituali and of how they could be sung by all kinds of small singing groups in low- or high-pitch performance. They sold like hot cakes so much so that there were multiple editions printed between 1587 and 1613. Introduxit me rex in cellam (The king brought me to his wine cellar;) is the twelfth in the series and like so many of its companions Palestrina's music matches perfectly the sensuality of the text. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521): Recordare, virgo mater

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July 22, 2014

Some musicologists doubt whether this is really by Josquin but I think the fact that it survived only in Antico’s second book of motets which he published in 1520 isn't enough to discount it. It's got an unusual texture – three equal high voices being set against one low one, and is almost relentlessly energetic in its sense of swirling motion. It's not a piece I listen to often but I always enjoy it thoroughly when I do and hope you will too.

mfi

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John Sheppard (±1515-1558): Libera nos, salva nos I

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July 21, 2014

Although the text of Libera nos, salva nos is from the first antiphon at Matins on Trinity Sunday its  plea to to the Holy Trinity for freedom, redemption, and absolution is so general in tone that Sheppard's setting which most probably dates from his time at Magdalen College, Oxford was used on other occasions not the least of them being the twice-daily readings of this very text stipulated in Magdalen's statutes. It'smore than a little unusual for Sheppard's works because as you listen you can hear the cantus firmus in the lower voice. As a result of this the rate at which the harmonies change are really rather slow and this together with its modal stability creates the mood of serenity which deepens as the piece unfolds. It's one of my favourites amongs Sheppard's pieces for this reason. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Franz Joseph Haydn: Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo in B flat major Hob XXII 7 Kleine Orgelmesse

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July 20, 2014

Although he didn't date it we know from the original autograph that Haydn's Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo or the 'Kleine Orgelmesse' as it's also called, dates from the 1770s. The Sancti Joannis de Deo (Saint John of God) in the title is a reference to the patron saint of the Hospitallers of St John of God, commonly referred to as the St. John of God Brothers an order of monks who specialise in medical services. They believed strongly in music as a palliative which is why music played such a strong part in their religious services. Haydn was well acquainted with the order he'd played the violin in their Viennese church during the 1750s and had composed numerous small pieces for them during his youth. If you ever come across early Haydn pieces that deal with an Advent theme the chances are it was written for the Barmherzigen Brüder. Nor did his connections cease as he grew older as the Eszterházy's were generous and regular benefactors of the order.

Based on the sparsity of the musical forces for which he wrote it I think it most likely that Haydn wrote this Mass for performance in the small church in Eisenstadt. The 'Missa brevis' in the title means that it's for routine services that is for performance on days weren't important feast days or celebrating a patron's nameday. The word 'brevis' means 'short' or 'brief' and there are several techniques a composer can make use of to achieve brevity. One of them is polytextuality a technique in which several clauses of the lenghtier texts in the Mass are sung simultaneously if you listen to the Gloria and the Credo you can hear that Haydn did indeed set them polytexually. The technique was in widespread use at the time and indeed it would have been surprising if he had not used it. Don't let the fact that this is a short Mass lead you to undervaluing it short it may be but it's a supremely polished piece of music with many highlights. My personal highlights are the wonderfully contemplative opening and closing movements and the glorious solo of the Benedictus but there are many many more facets to this musical gem and no doubt as you listen you'll discover highlights of your own. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Masterclass

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July 19, 2014

Back in September 2011 I posted a superb performance of Tallis' 'Salvator mundi' by the Danish choir Herning Kirkes Drengekor (see: Saturday Chorale: Herning Kirkes Drengekor: Salvator Mundi – Thomas Tallis | Saturday Chorale) they're a superb choir and living proof that the vibrant Danish choral tradition is alive and well. They put in a lot of dedication and effort to their singing  and that includes collaborating with the celebrated  Jyske Sangskole's  masterclass programme. Hard work but a lot of fun too. Enjoy :-).

markfromireland

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