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Later in life he was associated with St Albans: The Missa Albanus is not the only work associated with St Alban: Fayrfax also set a motet entitled O Albane Deo grate. The Mass-setting, like all but one of his six Ordinary cycles, is in the standard English texture of five voices: It is based on a short extract from a plainchant antiphon for St Alban, previously used by John Dunstable or Dunstaple c— ; this six-note motif is presented in its natural, retrograde, inverted, and retrograde-inverted forms, as well as in imitation with itself.
John Taverner The best-represented composer in this collection, and probably the best-known musical figure in Henrician England, is John Taverner.
The five CDs here constitute a comprehensive survey of his output, including almost all of the works that survive complete. It is worth recalling that England was home to some of the most elaborate polyphony composed anywhere in Europe at this time: English composers, too, seem to have favoured the use of block textures and sheer sonority as an expressive device, whereas the Continentals focused more closely on contrapuntal technique.
This amplification of texture and concentration on sonority—the latter observable in English polyphony as far back as the thirteenth-century Worcester fragments—has a parallel in the religious practices of late-medieval England. As Eamon Duffy has shown in a succession of books of which The Stripping of the Altars is the best known, the piety of English men and women in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries often outstripped that of other nations, even those such as Spain known for their Catholic sentiment.
The English were active in bequeathing money to monasteries and churches for Masses to be sung—sometimes polyphonically—for their souls; and their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary was second to none.
It is surely no coincidence that the elaboration of musical expression should reach its high point in such a religious climate. Erasmus of Rotterdam found the omnipresence of music in English religious services towards the end of the s quite shocking: The rather more haphazard nature of the English Reformation led to some unique compromises.
This rather harsh judgement should perhaps be taken in the context of the extremely high standard set by the other two Festal Masses, Gloria tibi Trinitas and Corona spinea. If not quite reaching these levels, Missa O Michael is nevertheless an impressive achievement. Somewhat surprisingly, on neither of the occasions on which the name of Jesus is mentioned in the Gloria text is it particularly highlighted: Another noteworthy feature of the Missa O Michael is the extreme rhythmic elaboration in the second Agnus Dei beginning around 3'00": Taverner sets the Agnus movement in tripartite form.
In this duet between treble and first contratenor voices, an initial slow triple tactus gradually increases in complexity through the addition of shorter notes and compound rhythms, with eventually eight notes being fitted into the time of three, and a final scalic melisma running up one-and-a-half octaves, before a third voice enters and brings the section to a climax, the short phrases passed between the voices at this point resembling the fourteenth-century technique of hocket.
More importantly, they elevate the techniques used in Missa O Michael to a much higher level, creating a balanced and unified structure while retaining the melodic inventiveness that characterizes all his music.
In their dimensions and scoring they can be seen as an extension of the Eton Choirbook style, whilst by their greater sense of direction and formal control paving the way for the earlier pieces by the next generation of composers, such as Tallis. The tenor of this Mass is a modern reconstruction, so complete certainty is impossible. But his contributions to the Antiphon and to ritual forms such as the Respond should not be overlooked.
The famous Dum transisset Sabbatum I falls into the latter genre: This recording also includes the less well-known second setting of the same text.
Also noteworthy is the setting of the Te Deum, which although not the earliest a polyphonic tradition can be traced as far back as the Musica enchiriadis of c has no English tradition on which to draw in the generation preceding Taverner. John Caldwell, in the authoritative Oxford History of English Music , describes Taverner as synthesizing the best aspects of his contemporaries: The first Act of Supremacy was passed in , when Sheppard was probably reaching the end of his teenage years, and he died within a month of Queen Mary Tudor in The two Mass-settings of Sheppard represented here are analogous to the two styles of polyphonic writing seen earlier with Taverner: Usually with Sheppard, both of these genres feature a cantus firmus in equal note-values—which is fortunate since the tenor part is lost from many of these pieces, though because of the rigidity of the compositional structure it can be reconstructed with confidence in these cases.
In certain pieces the cantus firmus is found in the treble part Filiae Hierusalem is an example, where perhaps the high-voice plainsong represents the daughters of Jerusalem of the title.
Especially noteworthy here is the control of tessitura: His recent appreciation has much to do with these groundbreaking performances. Given the musical glories that were swept away in the establishment of the Anglican Church, it is hardly surprising that musicians should have felt more than a little nostalgia for the old rite.
In both languages he was capable of large-scale works: Also noteworthy is the six-part motet Adolescentulus sum ego , which as an exercise in expressive writing to a Latin text shows an entirely new aesthetic, perhaps developed alongside the imitative technique of Tallis.
To make the book more saleable, Monteverdi also made provision for the Vespers music to be performed with organ alone on those occasions when other instruments were not available. Similarly, Monteverdi provided two settings of the Magnificat—one for seven voices with strings, wind and brass instruments as well as organ, the other for six voices and organ alone.
Both versions are presented in this recording, and it is fascinating to compare the two: although we cannot be certain in which order they were written, it is likely that the seven-voice version is a reworking of the material of the six-voice version, rather than the other way round.
The service began with a versicle and response, followed by five Psalms, each prefaced and followed by an antiphon appropriate to the feast day, the texts of which provided a specifically Christian frame for the Old Testament Psalm.
The Psalms were followed by a short Bible reading, a Hymn, a further versicle and response, the Magnificat the canticle of the Virgin Mary, which was sung at all celebrations of Vespers , and concluding prayers. Monteverdi provides settings of all the major items; the remainder of the service would have been sung to plainsong. The elaborate treatment of the Magnificat reflects its place as the climax though not the end of Vespers, during which the altar would have been censed.
In his publication Monteverdi provided four motets, three of which have clear Marian associations, and one which is of a more general devotional nature. This is the unforgettable Duo Seraphim, which paints a picture of seraphs singing across the vastness of heaven in a manner which, appropriately for angels, represents the most elaborate singing style of the early seventeenth century.
We do not know to what extent Monteverdi was involved in producing church music for Mantua before , though as early as he had acted as choirmaster to Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga during a military expedition against the Turks, providing both secular and sacred music for the duke and his followers. He probably continued to produce church music thereafter for use in the smaller chapels of the palace at Mantua, or for occasions when the court worshipped elsewhere; he was, however, never in charge of the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara, which had its own musical establishment.
All his publications before were of secular music—madrigals and the opera Orfeo—and he had built a formidable reputation as a member of the musical avant-garde.
By about , however, we know that he was growing dissatisfied with his employment at Mantua, in particular with the relentless demands placed upon him to produce entertainment music, and that he was looking round for a new post. It is possible, therefore, that he prepared the publication specifically to demonstrate that he was worthy of employment in a major church, rather than as a court musician.
In this respect it is significant that he dedicated the volume to the pope and went to Rome in person to present a copy, taking the opportunity while there to mix in the company of well-placed music-loving cardinals. Even the Vespers settings, characterized by virtuosity and opulence, have a learned aspect in being based upon plainsongs. It is likely, then, that Monteverdi intended his book to be admired and read as a whole, and this provides us with an historical justification for recording the music of the publication in its entirety and, indeed, for performing the Vespers music as a concert work.
The chief justification, though, lies in the music itself, which speaks to us directly and powerfully across the four centuries since it was created. Synopsis The priest intones the words Deus in adiutorium meum intende and the choir and instruments respond, providing an exceptionally grand opening to Vespers. By re-using material that had heralded a royal occasion in , Monteverdi both paid a compliment to his patrons, the Gonzagas, and implied that his Vespers setting was worthy of performance in the greatest churches and on the greatest occasions.
When Vespers was performed in plainsong only, the first half of verse 1 of Dixit Dominus was sung by soloists, to set the pitch, with the choir joining in the second half. Subsequent verses were sung alternately by each half of the choir. Monteverdi plays with this idea, setting the first half of verse 1 in imitative lines based on a rhythmicized version of the plainsong Psalm tone and the second half for full choir.
Subsequent verses are set alternately, first to a free form of chanting with elaborate endings based on the sort of exercises used by professional singers, and secondly for solo voices over the plainsong in the organ line and bass voice, amongst which are interspersed elegant string ritornellos.
In the Renaissance, texts from the Song of Songs Song of Solomon —love poems often cast in the feminine voice—were widely used for Marian devotions. Nigra sum is one such, though Monteverdi, writing in a period in which mixed choirs were not permitted in church, decided to set it for tenor rather than castrato soprano. His setting uses various rhetorical devices, ranging from repeated phrases to full-blown passionate operatic recitative to convey the meaning of the text to the listener.
The whole movement is ardent, even ecstatic, in tone—a glorious piece of religious opera. For the rest, he uses a series of devices to match music to text: virtuoso singing worthy of praising God, rising and falling lines depicting upward and downward motion, triple time to express the pleasure of the barren woman who bears children. Pulchra es sets another text from the Song of Songs, this time as a duet and, like Nigra sum, in a mixture of lyrical and declamatory styles virtually identical to those used for contemporary secular love-songs.
All three basses can be used to harmonize the Psalm tone, though Monteverdi teases the listener by sometimes including the plainsong as at the beginning and sometimes leaving it out altogether as in verses 2 and 3.
The Gloria is splendidly grand. The text of Duo Seraphim is the only one in the Vespers not linked to Marian devotions and it is likely that Monteverdi included the motet simply because he was particularly proud of it. It opens with a picture of two seraphs—angels of the highest rank—calling to each other across the heavens.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Vesper Psalms were often set for double choir, and in the thrilling setting of Nisi Dominus Monteverdi utilizes two five-part choirs, with the Psalm tone embedded in the tenor part.