Posts Tagged ‘ English choral music ’

William Byrd (±1539-1623): Magnificat from the Great Service

2
August 22, 2014

byrd_signature_01_small Although he was a devout Catholic Byrd nevertheless produced music for his royal protector's church. Not very much of it to be sure and none of it was published under his name,  people sometimes assume that because he believed so strongly that the Anglican church was in error that the music he produced for its services must necessarily be somehow lesser than the music he produced for his fellow Catholics and their persecuted church. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Magnificat from the Great Service testifies.

It's a relatively late work that must date from the last years of the century and both its musical breadth and its lavish ten-part structure (SAATBSAATB)  makes me think that he wrote it for the Chapel Royal.  He pays musical homage to the previous generation's canticle settings  but handles them in a far more imaginative and sophisticated way. There's a lot of juxtaposition and contrast which Byrd exploits to dramatic effect. The effect is both sonorous and beautiful I cannot help but think that Elizabeth would have been very pleased with him. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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William Mundy (±1529-1591): Vox Patris caelestis

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August 15, 2014

Mundy composed Vox Patris caelestis (The voice of the heavenly Father) during Queen Mary's reign (1553–1558) we can date it to these five years first because Mundy was too young to have written it during Henry VIII's reign, secondly its text which is a Marian paean based upon the Song of Songs would have been unacceptable both to Edward VI and Elizabeth I as protestant monarchs as would the musical style. It probably wouldn't have been all that acceptable to Mary's fellow Catholic monarchs either, it's musical style is very English and Mundy who clearly liked to compose on a gigantic scale is far more concerned with letting his melodies spread their wings than with textual clarity. His structure is aimed at achieving this melodic breadth. You can hear this in the way the solos build and increase in intensity Mundy wanted it to be spectacular and so it is he took most spectacular voice combination available to him two trebles, two means and two basses and heightens the musical firework again and again until at last we come to conclusive 'Veni, veni, veni: caelesti gloria coronaberis. Amen'. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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William Child (1606-1697): O praise the Lord

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July 15, 2014

William Child is largely forgotten today and when musicologists do discuss his music they tend to dismiss it as unimaginative and utilitarian. I very much doubt though that that is what his contemporaries and his successors, who included Blow and Purcell thought. We may today be grateful for our rich inheritance of music from Blow, Purcell, but it was Child who laid the groundwork for them by singledhandedly producing a vast output of church music for the Anglican church as it struggled to make a new start and re-establish its traditions after the 1660 restoration of the monarchy. His music served as a model for the first generation of Restoration composers and both Blow and Purcell thought sufficiently highly of his music to transcribe it and develop it further  for example by developing the aria-recitative structure which much of his music anticipates. His importance then is as a model but not only as a model, granted he wasn't a genius but even the most run-of-the-mill of his compositions are eminently listenable to and at his best his music shows both vitality and sensitivity to the the texts he was setting. I think it unfair to dismiss his music as nothing more than a way-point between Gibbons and Blow it's more accurate to see him as the first Restoration composer as the man who paved the way for Blow and Purcell. His anthem 'O Praise the Lord', a setting of the first four verses of Psalm 135, was 'Composed Upon the Restauration of the Church And Royall Family in 1660' and marks the start of the climb to greatness of English church music as it recovered from the devastation wrought upon it by the Puritans.  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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Thomas Tallis (±1505-1585): A new commandment

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June 9, 2014

Tallis' A new commandment is another one of those neglected gems that are his English language anthems. It's a four-part setting and probably dates from about 1570. Its use of melisma means that its style is not quite as stark as that of his other English language anthems, perhaps that's why it's one of my favourites amongst those works. It's performed below by the Chapelle du Roi conducted by Alistair Dixon. Enjoy :-).

markfromireland

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