Franz Tunder (1614-1667): An Wasserflüssen Babylon

Tunder’s setting of  An Wasserflüssen Babylon (By the waters of Babylon) is one of only seventeen vocal works of his that survived.  It’s a straightforward setting that uses the chorale melody in the vocal part and surrounds it with a delicate web of instrumental counterpoint that expresses the sense of loss and exile. It’s a…

William Byrd (±1539-1623): Teach Me, O Lord

It must have been an agonising experience for Byrd to see his hopes for the five-year English Catholic renaissance of 1553–58 dashed with the death of Queen Mary. A devout, and stubborn Catholic he was to live the remainder of his life under protestant monarchs. Fortunately for him, and for us, he managed the difficult…

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

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…

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

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,…

John Blow (1649 – 1708): I will hearken

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…

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643): Confitebor tibi Domine

For this setting of Psalm 111 Monteverdi re-used parts of his madrigals Dolcissimo uscignolo and Chi vol haver felice published in 1638 in his Eighth Book.  The syllabic word-setting and fluctuating musical pulse that you can hear throughout means that it’s in the French vers mesuré style or at least it’s in that somewhat staid…

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Laudate Dominum RV606

Vivaldi’s powerful and concise setting of Psalm 116 (117 in Protestant bibles) for choir and strings is one of my favourites. It dates from his ‘first’ period at the Pietà because it’s so short – there’re only two verses plus the Lesser Doxology Vivaldi had to find a way of making it musically interesting. He…

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Domine ad adiuvandum RV593

This is one of the most perfect pieces of music that Vivaldi ever wrote.  The text is half a verse from Psalm 69 (70) as a response to the versicle with which Vespers begins ‘Deus in adjutorium meum intende‘. It’s one of a group of large-scale double choir works that Vivaldi wrote during the 1720s.…