Gesualdo’s Second Book

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Program: #13-12   Air Date: Mar 18, 2013

Continuing with new discoveries appropriate for the Holy season, the Vocal Consort of Berlin gives us the almost-unknown sacred settings of Gesualdo in time for the 400th anniversary of the composer's death.

Gesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones Liber secundus

NOTE: All of the music on this program is from the recent release of sacred motets by Don Carlo Gesualdo from the Vocalconsort Berlin directed by James Wood. The recording is on the Harmonia Mundi label and is HMC 902123. For more information:

Andrew Clements in The Guardian:

Though it's his six books of madrigals, not to mention his spectacularly eventful private life, that have defined Carlo Gesualdo's reputation as one of the greatest and most radical of late-Renaissance composers, many Gesualdo specialists regard his sacred music, all of it published in the last decade of his life, as the real pinnacle of his achievement. There were two collections of motets, the first and second books of Sacrae Cantiones, dating from 1603, and a set of Responsories for Holy Week, which appeared eight years later. Yet until now only the first book of Sacrae Cantiones and the Responsories have been performable; two of the partbooks (those containing the music for the Sextus and Bassus lines) for the second collection have not survived.

In the late 1950s, Stravinsky added extra parts to three of the incomplete motets in his Tres Sacrae Cantiones, a 400th-anniversary tribute to Gesualdo; but before conductor-composer James Wood, no one had attempted to fill in the missing lines in a way that remained entirely faithful to the style of the Gesualdo motets that have survived intact. It took Wood three years to add the missing parts to the 20 settings in the second book, and he explains his methods in a detailed article on his website, likening the task to "a massive crossword puzzle, where each point of imitation must follow a set of 'rules' in order to make grammatical sense"

Ultimately, the acid test of his hard work must be in performance, and this recording of the complete second book with the superb Vocalconsort Berlin, who ensure that not a single detail of the music is overlooked, demonstrates how convincing it is. With two of the 1611 Responsories as a frame, Wood groups the motets thematically, beginning with Prayers for Salvation, moving through Despair and Weeping, then Peace and Hope, to a final Praise and Thanks. It's all beautifully rendered, and creates the perfect showcase for what is by any standards some of the most astonishing music of the late Renaissance, which no one has been able to hear for 400 years.

Don CARLO GESUALDO (1566-1613):antiones - Liber secundus (a6 e a7) (1603)

I. Virgo benedicta  ("Blessed Virgin, help me as I am")             2:47

V. O oriens  ("O rising sun")

XVI. O beata Mater ("O Blessed mother")

XIII. Verba mea ("Hear my words, O Lord")

VIII. Veni Creator Spiritus ("Come, Creator Spirit")

IV. Ave sanctissima Maria ("Hail, most blessed Mary")

III. Sana me Domine ("Heal me, O Lord")                                2:39

VI. Discedite a me omnes ("Depart from me, all evildoers")      2:27

XIX. O anima sanctissima ("O most Holy Spirit")                      3:04

XIV. Ardens est cor meum ("My heart burns to see My Lord")

II. Da pacem Domine ("Grant peace, O Lord")                         3:19

XV. Ne derelinquas me ("Do not forsake me, O Lord my God") 2:29

XVIII. Franciscus humilis et pauper ("Francis, humble and poor")                                  

VII. Gaudeamus omnes  ("Let us all rejoice")                         2:12

X. Adoramus te Christe ("We adore and bless Thee, O Christ") 2:04

IX. O sacrum convivium ("O Holy Feast!")                               3:53

XVII. Ad te levavi  ("I have raised my spirit to Thee")

XII. Assumpta est Maria ("Mary has ascended into heaven")

XI. Veni sponsa Christi ("Come Bride of Christ")

Composer Info

Don CARLO GESUALDO (1566-1613)

CD Info

HMC 902123