William Byrd (±1539-1623): Factus Est Repente – Merbecke Choir

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January 16, 2016

Factus Est Repente, by William Byrd - a communion motet for Pentecost, from Byrd's Gradualia II, 1607, number 35.

This performance is by the Merbecke Choir, directed by Huw Morgan, at Southwark Cathedral on 20 November 2012, as part of a poetry evening hosted by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
Photos by Marcos Avlonitis.

Enjoy :-)

mfi

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William Mundy (±1529-1591): Adhaesit pavimento

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January 15, 2016

William Mundy's six-part (SSATBB) psalm motet Adhaesit pavimento sets verses from psalm 119 (118 in the Vulgate) gets its name from verse twenty five Adhaesit pavimento anima mea (My soul has cleaved to the dust) which is its first line. English composers of Mundy's generation were well aware of Josquin's psalm settings and sought to emulate them at least a couple of times. Mundy's psalm settings are, I think, some of his most beautiful music. Adhaesit pavimento consists of very densely woven through-composed polyphony that's inspired by continental psalmody but which is nevertheless distinctively English. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Giac­hes de Wert (1535-96): Providebam Dominum

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January 14, 2016

De Wert was a Fleming who worked in Northern Italy for most of his life. 1 He had a very considerable influence both during his lifetime and for many generations after his death not least because of his strong influence on Claudio Mon­tever­di studied under him. He was a renowned madrigalist and his approach to the madrigalian form shows a very inventive and original use of rhythm.

Providebam Dominum (I foresaw the Lord) is his setting of Acts 2:25-28 it's somewhat unusual amongst his motets because he uses two techniques to represent joy and rejoicing there's a fairly straightforward and  conventional triple time passage at "propter hoc lætátum est cor meum, et exsultávit lingua mea" (For this my heart hath been glad, and any tongue hath rejoiced) and then towards the end when we get to "replébis me iucunditáte" ( thou shalt make me full of joy) he uses what is almost his signature technique of employing rapidly shifting madrigalian style singing a crossing over from secular to sacred music which must have greatly shocked his contemporaries hearing it for the first time. It must have caused consternation amongst those required to sing it for the first time too. Happily for us the singers of Collegium Regale under Stephen Cleobury are more than equal to the challenge. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Giovanni Paolo Cima (1570- 1630): Sonata per violino e violone

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January 13, 2016

Cima pioneered the sonata form particularly the trio sonata. His Sonata per violino e violone (Sonata for violin and double bass viol) is a lovely piece of music with the tessitura of the instruments' voices creating alternating and contrasting passages, some brief antiphonal motifs, and some really lovely virtuoso playing in the concertato style all over a very pleasing continuo.  It's not hard to see why his fellow musicians admired him so greatly. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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William Byrd (±1539-1623): Though Amaryllis Dance In Green

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January 12, 2016

dance in green

Byrd's irresistibly sprightly Though Amaryllis Dance in Green sung here by Barbara Bonney. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Franchino Gaffurio (1451 – 1522): Salve Regina

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January 11, 2016

Virgin Mary Cathedral Door Milan

Gaffurio is now remembered as a scholar and a theoretician rather than as a composer. He was very influential during his lifetime and for about a century after. He stands out as an Italian at a time when the choirs and musical ensembles of the courts, colleges, and cathedrals were dominated by composers from the North such as Josquin and Weerbeke.  He wound up working for the Sforza family in Milan where he greatly expanded the repertoire of the cathedral there. He came to composing fairly late on and the music of his that survives which includes eleven settings of the Mass and fifty one motets show him to have been a skilled composer. His motets show greater inventiveness than his Masses and I've chosen to introduce his music here on Saturday Chorale with a setting of Salve Regina firstly because it's beautiful and satisfying music with a pleasing melodic line and secondly because as a Sforza appointee he would have been expected to produce a lot of specifically Marian music – the devotion of the Sforzas to the Virgin Mary was legendary. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Sunday Playlist: Franz Schubert (1797-1828) — Piano Duets – Imre Rohmann & Andras Schiff

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January 10, 2016

schubert captioned rondel 160x160For some strange reason it's always been quite difficult to get your hands on recordings of Schubert's piano works for four hands. I've no idea why this should be so as they're wonderful pieces of music, I was gobsmacked back in 1977 when I first heard the Hungaroton recordings by Imre Rohmann and Andras Schiff at a friend's house. Despite being seriously broke I made a detour on my way home to buy my own copy I tried everywhere without success until I visited the now defunct Golden Disc's classical department in the basement of their Grafton Street shop and snaffled their last copy. I walked home triumphantly bearing my prize and feeling that the fact that I would have to walk into work for the rest of the month and walk home again afterwards was a small price to pay. So here they are for your edification and delight:

  • Fantasy in F minor, D.940
  • Lebensstürme in A minor, D.947
  • Grand Rondeau in A major, D.951
  • 2 Marches Caractéristiques in C major, D.886 - No.1
  • 2 Marches Caractéristiques in C major, D.886 - No.2

To my mind the cover notes by the renowned Austrian pianist Jürg Demus excel by far anything I could hope to write about these musical gems so I've shamelessly quoted them in their entirety. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Concerto No. 1 in D Major, BWV 972 (after Vivaldi RV 230; Op. 3/9)

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January 9, 2016

bach signature This splendid piece of music dates from Bach's time in Weimar. It's a transcription of from L’Estro Armonico of Vivaldi's Concerto Op 3 No 9 D major RV 230 and is one of a series of transcriptions he produced during his time there possibly at the behest of the Duke of Weimar. It has the usual pattern of such works of a fast introductory movement, a slow middle movement, and a slow concluding movement. It always amazes me when I hear these transcriptions how Bach, who was a great admirer of Vivaldi's music, managed to adapt a piece of music written for strings for the harpsichord. It's so fresh and natural sounding that you'd never know to listen to it that it was a transcription all of the character and brilliance of Vivaldi's  original is presented and is enhanced by the genius of Bach.

The first movement (Allegro) starts with a fanfare followed by the ritornello proper it's a bit unusual amongst Vivaldi's ritornellos as it lacks the restatements throughout the opening material of the opening material and is harmonically straightforward as stays in the tonic key pretty much for all of the time. For the second movement (Larghetto) Vivaldi wrote a beautiful solo melody with piano1 homophonic  accompaniment played by the upper  ripieno strings without bass. The original is lovely and you'd think hearing it that it couldn't be improved but Bach's elaborations of the melody add, in my opinion, considerably to the original while retaining the framing of full groups of homophonic chords with which Vivaldi accompanied so many of his slow movements. The final movement - also marked Allegro, is announced by a lively tune, the final presto of which has the ritornello theme making an appearance in the bass against a background of loud repeated full chords played by the right hand. Bach then takes Vivaldi's bass line and transforms it into passages of brilliant thirty-second notes to bring the concerto to its close. You'll find it below both together with a link to a YouTube search on RV 230 if you're not familiar with the original. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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William Mundy (±1529-1591): Evening Canticles

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January 8, 2016

Mundy is one of those Tudor composers about whom we know almost nothing. His career spanned the entirety of the English reformation, the Henrician overthrow of the Catholic church, the Edwardian intensification of reform, the Marian reaction, and Elizabeth II's re-entrenchment of the Anglican church, Mundy saw them all. His contemporaries thought very well of him and his musical abilities his music encapsulates English music of the period and deserves to be far better known. If you contrast his career with those of his great contemporaries you'll see what I mean Taverner, Tye, Tallis and Sheppard were all older than him and their compositional technique was largely settled by time the religious turmoil started. By contrast Byrd, Morley and, going forward a bit Weelkes, Gibbons and Tomkins had no compositional experience of the status quo ante whilst amongst his near contemporaries the two who stand out Robert Parsons and Robert White both died young. Only Mundy encapsulates the entire period and I think its fair to say that at his best he crowns it. How I wish that more of his music had survived. To judge from his Cathedral music he seems to have had both the taste and the aptitude for large-scale works. You can hear what I mean below in his settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis which represent not only Mundy's largest-scale English work but are in fact the most ambitious by any sixteenth century composer ten-parts (SAATB.SAATB) plus organ! My God. He must have set the evening canticles for a special occasion and for a special establishment – presumably the Chapel Royal. It's beautiful music and unusual not only for its scale but also because of how he contrasted the solo and full voices, his inclusion of a separate solo group between the 'decani' and 'cantoris' sides of the choir, and last but by stretch of the imagination least his use of trebles. It's magnificent and must have both startled and impressed its intended audience. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521): Most clere of colour

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January 7, 2016

When we think of English renaissance sung music we tend to think in terms of the large-scale polyphonic music written for cathedrals, colleges, and the Chapel Royal. Certainly this music is worthy of our fullest attention but it would be a mistake to ignore the chamber-song repertory of the time. Much of it is both beautiful and technically very demanding – it can be a beast to sing even for the most skilled singers but oh how wonderful when they bring it off. Fayrfax's Most clere of colour  which like all of his secular songs is a love song. It's a three-part setting divided into two sections found in the Fayrfax manuscript. The text describes the beloved's beauty which in turn is mirrored by the clarity and beauty of the music. It concludes with some very demanding melismatic writing. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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William Byrd (±1539-1623): Vidimus stellam ejus in Oriente a4

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January 6, 2016

Painting: Journey of the Three Magi to Bethlehem Date: 1638-40 Technique: Oil on panel, 79 x 107 cm Location: New York Historical Society, New York Artist: Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674) Bramer was a highly successful artist who spent his entire life in Delft. He seems to have had a particular talent for painting night scenes - he's known to have produced several hundred of them of which this one which depicts the arrival of the Magi is one. The Magi are preceded by torch-bearing angels who light their way. They've either arrived at the stable in Bethlehem or are close enough to dismount.

Painting: Journey of the Three Magi to Bethlehem Date: 1638-40 Technique: Oil on panel, 79 x 107 cm Location: New York Historical Society, New York Artist: Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674) Bramer was a highly successful artist who spent his entire life in Delft. He seems to have had a particular talent for painting night scenes - he's known to have produced several hundred of them of which this one which depicts the arrival of the Magi is one. The Magi are preceded by torch-bearing angels who light their way. They've either arrived at the stable in Bethlehem or are close enough to dismount.

Byrd published his four-part (AATB) Communion motet Vidimus stellam ejus in Oriente (For we have seen his star in the East) in the Gradualia of 1607. The text is from Matthew 2:2 and is proper to the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord which falls on January 6th and marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. This feast is one of the oldest Christian feasts and celebrates various events all of which commemorate Christ revealing himself or being revealed to others, in this case to the Magi – the three wise men. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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In The Bleak Midwinter : Choir of Kings College, Cambridge

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January 5, 2016

The choir of Kings College Chapel, Cambridge sing the lovely Christmas carol, In The Bleak Midwinter. The wonderful words of Christina Georgina Rossetti are sung to a beautiful setting by Gustav Holst.

Enjoy :-).

mfi

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