Posts Tagged ‘ Religious Music ’

Miserere dominum (troped Kyrie ): The Winchester Troper

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April 21, 2015

On Easter Sunday 1043 Edward the Confessor was crowned during Mass in Winchester Cathedral the music sung during that Mass has come down to in the book known as 'the Winchester Troper' which now resides in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College Cambridge (MS 473). The book consists of chant which went beyond the standard Gregorian repertory which began to be composed for use in the English usage as a result of the reforms to English liturgical usage initiated by Bishops Dunstan (of Glastonbury and Canterbury), Oswald (of Worcester and York), and Æthelwold (of Abingdon and Winchester). Of these three reformers Bishop Æthelwold was the strictest and most radical. He dismissed the clergy of Winchester Cathedral who had been responsible for celebrating The Liturgy and replaced them with  Benedictine monks. His intention was that they would supplement the standard Gregorian Chant with new types of composition to the greater glory of God.

Æthelwold's reforms succeeded brilliantly the monks he appointed to Winchester concentrated their creative efforts on several different types of music:

  • Tropes which incorporate new passages into existing chants.
  • Sequences which consisted of entirely new songs comprised of structured prose and melody.
  • Melody alone, sung after the Alleluia at Mass.
  • Polyphonic enhancements of existing chants.

It's arguable that Æthelwold's reforms represent the birth of distinctively English Church music. The troped Kyrie (Miserere domine) which you can hear below is – so far as I know, the only polyphonic proper troped English Kyrie to have survived the ravages of more than nine centuries.

mfi

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William Byrd (±1539-1623): Tribulatio proxima est

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March 31, 2015

Byrd's penitential motet Tribulatio proxima est (Tribulation is near ) was published in the Cantiones Sacrae of 1591 and takes its text from Psalms 21 and 69 respectively. As you might expect of Byrd the music serves to portray the text so we have a strong outcry at the plea for justice (vindica me), twisted and anxious music at contumelias et terrores (insults and terrors), the slow build up of homophony to portray God's strength as the Psalmist's helper (adiutor) and the plea for God to hasten to the aid of the faithful Domine, ne moreris (O Lord, tarry not) which Byrd repeats no less than five times.

mfi

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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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Henry Purcell (1659-1695): O dive custos Auriacae

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March 25, 2015

Purcell setting of Henry Parker’s poem O dive custos Auriacae domus 'An elegy upon the death of Queen Mary' is a stunning piece of music. The poem's calls upon the Isis and the Cam (the Oxbridge rivers) to weep for their deceased Queen. It's in the form of a duet and is a wonderful example of Purcell's Italianate writing that surely ranks high amongst his masterpieces. Purcell has the two voices intertwine in some highly expressive chromatic writing whose jagged intervals, discordant chains, and declamatory style combine into a polished and moving piece of music.

mfi

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Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623): Give ear, O Lord

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March 20, 2015

The text of Weelkes' anthem 'Give ear, O Lord' is from William Hunnis' (d1597) collection of devotional texts 'An humble sute of a repentant sinner for mercie' it's a penitential text and there are some indications that Weelkes and Hunnis, who was master of the Chapel Royal choristers at the time he wrote it, knew one another. Its a lovely anthem, to my mind one of Weelkes' best, the motif which Weelkes used on several occasions pays tribute to Byrd while the harmonic writing is full of depth and colour and highlights how tightly woven this anthem is. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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