Posts Tagged ‘ Cantus Firmus ’

Hans Leo Hassler (1562-1612): Ad Dominum

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March 28, 2015

Hassler was very influential in his day both Bach (O Haput voll Blut und Wunde) and Schütz (Psalmen Davids) quoted his music. The son of a stonecutter and part time musician in Nuremburg he was sent to Venice to study music and composition. In Venice he came under the influence of the Gabrieli's  studying under Andrea Gabrieli he stayed in Venice for eighteen months and returned to Germany taking up a position in Augsburg  as chamber organist to Octavian Fugger II. Word of this talented musician and composer spread  the Landgrave of Hesse tried to "poach" him from the Fuggers while the emperor granted him a potentially very lucrative patent to copyright his works. When Fugger died in 1600 the town council tried to keep him in Augsburg by making him the town's musical director but Hassler returned to his home town a year later to take up a similar posting, in 1607 he travelled to Ulm where he married severing all ties to Nuremburg. In 1608 Christian II of Saxony commissioned a composition from him and then appointed Hassler to his staff, he continued as a member of the Saxon court rising quickly to Kapellmeister until his death in 1612.

Musically Hassler was both conservative and ecumenical, ecumenical in that although he himself was a protestant he was quite happy to compose for both the Catholic and Lutheran churches and conservative in that he never wrote a piece that used that hallmark of baroque music the basso continuo  confining his religious compositions to the polyphonic idiom that had been at its height fifty years earlier not only that but you'll often hear the cantus firmus as a motif in every part of his composition. Having said that he was musically conservative I had better qualify that statement somewhat by saying that it was his religious music that was so conservative, he wrote a considerable quantity of secular music such as madrigals, instrumental works, and dance songs, in all of which genres he allowed himself to be somewhat more free-handed. His motet Ad Dominum cum tribularer (In my distress I cried unto the Lord) which takes its texts from the opening verses of Psalm 120  is another exception to the conservatism rule. It's very chromatic with none of the traditional diatonic harmonies, and as you listen you can hear what he was trying to do – to make his music match the text to portray both tribulation (cum tribularer) and its cause a deceitful tongue (lingua dolosa).

mfi

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Feature: Josquin Des Prez (±1450 – 1521): Missa Ave Maris Stella

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November 16, 2014

Josquin's Missa Ave maris stella is a relatively early that must have been composed sometime between 1495 and 1505 when it appeared as the opening work in the second book of Josquin's Masses published by Ottaviano Petrucci the Venetian master printer and publisher. It's a cantus firmus work in other words Josquin used the melody of another piece of  music as the musical foundation for this setting of the Mass. As the name Missa Ave maris stella might lead you to expect the cantus firmus Josquin used was the Dorian mode Marian hymn of that name and which I include as the starting track in the recording below.

This hymn which was appointed to be sung at First Vespers on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary was very popular and very greatly loved. Even as Gregorian chant there are six settings of it that I know of and there could well have been more there's also a very well-known setting by Dufay. Not being one to  pass up an opportunity Josquin's setting makes heavy use of it as a cantus firmus. You can hear it throughout the Mass both as a structural voice subject to embellishment or as the foundation for some highly developed imitation. It's a really stunning setting in which Josquin somehow manages to combine some quite severe contrapuntal writing with intensely declamatory treatment of the text and numinous euphony. It's a compositional tour de force in which Josquin clearly set out to show what he could do and I find it very difficult to pick out one highlight over another so I'll confine myself to mentioning just a few points.

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Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521): O virgo virginium

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November 15, 2014

I've written about the great 'O' antiphons frequently, or to be more precise I've written about seven of them. These are the seven antiphons that are sung in the week before Christmas starting with 'O Sapientia' and concluding ón December 23rd with 'O Emmanuel'  most people think that these seven antiphons – the 'Great Antiphons' as they are often referred to are the only antiphons for this time, but  this is wrong in fact there are other antiphons which are proper to this week as the list below which I take from Guéranger shows:

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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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Feature: Johannes Ockeghem (1410-1497) – Missa L’homme armé

February 19, 2014

Clerks Group 325x302 captionedIn common with other composers of his era Johannes Ockeghem (1410-1497) composed a setting of the Mass using the catchy popular song L'homme armé (The armed man) as a cantus firmus underpinning the structure. Unlike many of his contemporaries in Ockeghem's setting you can clearly hear it right throughout the work. In the playlist below you can hear it sung first in a version by Robert Mouton, combined with a rondeau Il sera pour vous which was one of its earliest polyphonic settings. Followed by the Mass. I particularly love how in the Agnus Dei it appears, oh so slowly, in the bass, taken down to low G to stunning effect. Enjoy :-).

markfromireland

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