Millennium Easter

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Program: #14-17   Air Date: Apr 21, 2014

On this, the 35th anniversary of our first program, we continue with recent recording of music for the season, including works by Guerrero, Mouton, and Hieronymous Praetorius.

I. San Marco in Hamburg: Motets by Hieronymous Praetorius (1560-1629) (Weser-Renaissance/Manfred Cordes). CPO CD 777 245-2.

Image result for San Marco in Hamburg: Motets by Hieronymous Praetorius (1560-1629) (Weser-Renaissance/Manfred Cordes). CPO CD 777 245-2

From Steven Plank: The city of Hamburg spawned an unusually rich organ culture, with Jacob Praetorius, the younger, and Heinrich Scheidemann both pupils of the famous Dutch organist, Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck, as leading figures.

A subsequent generation would be led by players such as Matthias Weckmann and Johann Adam Reinken, this latter a figure to whom J. S. Bach would bend the knee in his well-chronicled trip to Hamburg in 1720. At the earlier end of the spectrum stands the figure of Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-29), father of Jacob, the younger, and himself successor to his father, Jacob the elder, at the famed Jakobikirche.

This organ culture was bred by the prominence of the city’s churches, of which the Petrikirche, Jakobikirche, Catharinenkirche, and Nikolaikirche were especially significant. And in this environment some of the organists provided not only organ music, but also notable liturgical music in the form of motet and canticle. Such is the case with Hieronymus Praetorius, featured here in the CD anthology “San Marco in Hamburg.” The reference to “San Marco” acknowledges the strong influence of the Venetian school of Giovanni Gabrieli. The path from Germany to Venice was reasonably well worn, with the travels of composers like Heinrich Schütz and Hans Leo Hassler often cited examples, but the rich sonorities of Venice captivated other composers who had never heard the music of San Marco in situ. This was the case with Hieronymus Praetorius (and also with the better known Michael Praetorius—no family relation), but if learned from afar, it is a musical style they assimilated with fluency.

In “San Marco in Hamburg” the ensemble Weser-Renaissance Bremen under the direction of Manfred Cordes explores the Italian-influenced motets of Hieronymus, and does so with a recording of distinction. Though some of the pieces are large-scale, Cordes compellingly takes them on with only 15 musicians—six singers singing one-to-a-part and 9 instrumentalists combining winds, strings, and continuo. The result is that in the sumptuous 12-voice “Jubilate Deo” that opens the recording, the sonic richness is a subtler taste to savor rather than a full-belted blast of power that overwhelms. And this holds true for the large number of 8-voice works, as well. Performed in this way, the clarity of motive, the unflagging attention to purity of intonation—such wonderful final chords in the sections of the “Magnificat”!—and general buoyance of the sound can come to the fore with very satisfying results.

01. Jubilate Deo
02. Ecce Dominus veniet
03. Hodie Christus natus est
04. Ab oriente venerunt Magi
05. Nunc dimittis
06. O bone Jesu
07. Magnificat quarti toni
08. Wie lang, O Gott
09. Surrexit pastor bonus
10. Ascendo ad patrem meum
11. Hodie completi sunt
12. Adesto unus Deus
13. Cantate Domino

II. Melchior Franck: Gehet hin in alle Welt (North German Chamber Choir/Maria Jürgensen). MD + G CD MDG 902 1829-6.

Image result for Melchior Franck: Gehet hin in alle Welt (North German Chamber Choir/Maria Jürgensen). MD + G CD MDG 902 1829-6.

from Steven Ritter: Melchior Franck (1579-1639) was greatly influenced by the Venetian school, and imported many of their innovations into his considerable body of Protestant motets. He was born in the southeastern potion of Germany in Zittau, and skirting the beginnings of the Baroque era, learned the Venetian Polychoral style from Hassler.

His music was quite popular its day and his 40 books of motets— over 600—surely set a standard for any time period. All of them are of varying styles and degrees of difficulty, in German, and range from polyphonically-oriented Lassus-style writing to simpler homophonic works with great emphasis on the texts, something that effectively saved polyphony for the Catholic Church during the counter-Reformation.

Franck spent the majority of his life employed in Coburn, which is fortunate, as that area was hard-hit by the Thirty-Year’s War, and was not a happy time for anyone. Yet Franck’s music is anything but morose—cheery, forthright, communicative, and ably-constructed, it would be a model for future generations looking to the religious chorale as a bedrock of church composition, and the same composer would even give us some of the earliest examples of fugal writing.

Maria Jürgensen and her forces present this music admirably, with obvious love and fine singing, in a gracious surround acoustic that is warm and detailed.

No. 1 Hosianna dem Sohne Davids
No. 3 Gehet hin und saget Johanni wieder
No. 5/6 Fürchtet euch nicht
No. 8 Das alte Jahr vergangen ist
No. 9 Steh auf und nimm das Kindlein
No. 11 Mein Sohn, warum hast du uns das getan
No. 12 Jedermann gibt zum ersten guten Wein
No. 14 Die Menschen aber verwunderten sich
No. 16 Sammelt zuvor das Unkraut
No. 21 Heb dich weg von mir, Satan
No. 22 Es ist nicht fein, daß man den Kindern ihr Brot nehme
No. 24 Fürchte dich nicht, Maria, du hast Gnade bei Gott funden
No. 27 Fürwahr, er trug unsre Krankheit
No. 31 Ich bin ein guter Hirte
No. 32 Wahrlich, ich sage euch: Ihr werdet weinen
No. 35 Gehet hin in alle Welt und prediget das Evangelium
No. 37 Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
No. 41 Geh aus auf die Landstraßen und an die Zäune
No. 45 Meister, wir haben die ganze Nacht gearbeitet
No. 46 Woher kommt mir das, daß die Mutter
No. 50 Machet euch Freunde mit dem ungerechten Mammon
No. 52 Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der wird erniedriget werden
No. 56 Trachtet am ersten nach dem Reich Gottes
No. 58 Wenn du geladen wirst, so gehe hin
No. 60 Und ich hörte eine große Stimm
No. 62 Saget den Gästen: Siehe, meine Mahlzeit hab ich bereitet
No. 66 Herr, meine Tochter ist jetzt gestorben
No. 67 Gleichwie der Blitz ausgehet
No. 68 Kommt her, ihr Gesegneten meines Vaters

III. Guerrero: Missa Congratulamini mihi (The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood). Hyperion CD CDA67836.

Image result for Guerrero: Missa Congratulamini mihi (The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood). Hyperion CD CDA67836.

The award-winning Cardinall’s Musick have finally completed their Byrd series, and now look outside the British isles to a composer who had to wait for a long time for his genius to be fully recognised, although he was well known to his contemporaries, and produced a considerable output. Guerrero was born in 1528 in Seville, the city that was to remain at the centre of his entire life. His early training came from his brother Pedro and it is thought that he was a chorister at the magnificent Cathedral in Seville with its sumptuous music foundation. Guerrero himself states that he studied with Morales, and it was Morales who recommended the young musician for the post of maestro de capilla at Jaén Cathedral in 1546 – a short-lived appointment.

The main work on this disc is the gloriously sunny and joyful Missa Congratulamini mihi. Based on an Easter motet by Crecquillon (also recorded here), it is full of the voluptuous exuberance of the Paschal season. The five-part texture, with two treble parts, adds to the shining sound.

Also included are a number of Easter motets. Maria Magdalena et altera Maria and Post dies octo are highly descriptive, narrative works, highly contrasted in mood and texture. The four other pieces on this disc show various facets of Guerrero’s mastery. Dum esset rex (in honour of Mary Magdalene) is similar to a spiritual madrigal whilst the eight-part Ave Maria is a sonorous double-choir plea to the Virgin. The two settings of Regina caeli (the Marian antiphon to be sung during Eastertide) both use a plainsong cantus firmus as their starting point. The older sounding, four-part version uses a minor-mode motif whilst the eight-part setting uses the more traditional plainsong melody woven into an exuberant and joyful Easter statement.

Missa Congratulamini mihi

1. Kyrie [4'15]

2. Gloria [6'03]

3. Credo [9'14]

4. Sanctus [2'53]

5. Benedictus [3'01]

6. Agnus Dei [6'39]

7. THOMAS CRECQUILLON (c1505–c1557) Congratulamini mihi [6’57]

8. Dum esset rex [3'00]

9. Maria Magdalena et altera Maria [6'33]

10. Post dies octo [5'23]

11. Regina caeli a 4 [2'37]

12. Ave Maria [4'24]

13. Regina caeli a 8 [4'05]

IV. John Tavener: IKON OF LIGHT (The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips). Gimell CD 404.

Image result for John Tavener: IKON OF LIGHT (The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips). Gimell CD 404.

The turning towards the spiritual and musical sources of the Orthodox Church that took place in the work of John Tavener (1944-2013) during the late 1970s and early 1980s was to be part of a series of changes in the composer's stylistic trajectory over the years that, though dramatic, never left the attentive listener in doubt as to the singular purpose of this particular creative imagination.
Born in London in 1944, Tavener had created a reputation for himself as both prodigy and something of an agent provocateur with regard to the status quo in contemporary music with large-scale, unconventional works such as In Alium (1968), Celtic Requiem (1969), Últimos Ritos (1969-72) and the opera Thérèse (1973-76). His conversion to the Orthodox Church (either in 1976 or 1977; the date varies according to source) meant that he ceased in most respects even to operate within the framework of the concert-going avant-garde. Indeed, Tavener wrote:

I'd left the world of Western music altogether during this period. This music was like Ithaka; she had given me a marvellous journey and without her I would not have set out, but now, it seemed, she had nothing left to give me. (John Tavener, The Music of Silence, London: Faber, 1999, 46)

Instead, his concerns came to centre on the liturgical and mystical texts of the millennial Orthodox Christian tradition and the music that corresponded to them.

The results of this transition are apparent in all four of the works on this recording, and are profoundly connected with Tavener's extended collaboration with The Tallis Scholars at this time. Funeral Ikos and the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete were both written in 1981, and their first performances by The Tallis Scholars took place in Keble College, Oxford, as part of a programme that also included Russian medieval chant and which would shortly lead to a remarkable recording (‘Russian Orthodox Music', Gimell CDGIM 002). The Lamb dates from 1982 and Ikon of Light, written specifically for The Tallis Scholars, from 1983.

Funeral Ikos is a setting, both beautiful and austere, of words from the Orthodox service for the burial of priests, in the magnificent translation by Isabel Hapgood. The words are consolatory in tone, though they do not minimize the reality of death, the gateway to Paradise. Tavener's music has its origins in Russian chant, though the harmonic progression for the ‘Alleluia' refrain is distinctively his, particularly the penultimate chord.

That chord also appears as an essential part of the harmony of The Lamb, a short carol to the famous poem by William Blake, that was composed in a rush of inspiration and sent immediately to the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, for inclusion in the annual service of Nine Lessons and Carols, as well as to Martin Neary, the director at the time of the Choir of Winchester Cathedral, who gave the first performance on 22 December 1982. The music is built on a simple melodic idea and its inversion; the simple but ambiguous chord (in ascending order, the notes A, C, G, B), symbolizing for the composer the simultaneity of joy and sorrow, would appear again and again in his later music.

The highly penitential Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete is in fact a setting of only the first ode of the very long Great Canon. The Irmos (the model verse providing the metre for the subsequent verses) is set first as a unison choral chant and then in a harmonized version reflecting the vocabulary of medieval Russian polyphony. The subsequent troparia, or verses, of the ode are set for solo bass chanter, with the full choir responding with the refrain ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me' alternating between English, Greek and Slavonic. In fact the piece is a very slow chromatic descent, a musical prostration; Tavener has noted that the work was inspired by his feelings of penitence during the Lenten season.

Ikon of Light was given its premiere by The Tallis Scholars and the Leda String Trio at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1984. It is a work that encapsulates in many ways, and in monumental style, the composer's espousal of an astounding simplicity to convey highly complex theological concepts. Tavener has recourse in Ikon of Light to the mystical texts of St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022). It is symmetrically structured, centred on an extended, radiant setting of St Symeon's Mystic Prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Come, true light. Come, life eternal. Come, hidden mystery. Come, treasure without name. Come, reality beyond all words. Come, person beyond all understanding. Come, rejoicing without end. Come, light that knows no evening. Come, unfailing expectation of the saved. Come, raising of the fallen. Come, resurrection of the dead.

St Symeon's writings are suffused with the idea of God as light. He received a vision of the Divine Light when aged about twenty, and seven years later became a monk. Tavener's setting of this invocation allows him to give full rein to his melodic gifts, over a range of four octaves, and the gradual increase in intensity and the sense of movement-within-stasis create an extraordinary and intense luminosity fully expressive of St Symeon's vision. The melodic material is essentially derived from a descending scalic figure (G to C), with subsequent melodic extensions, passed between each voice and accompanied by a drone. This figure builds to a sustained, luminous full-choir drone on a C major chord (actually ending on a first inversion). There is then an interlude for string trio, and at the choir's re-entry, the thematic scale returns in inversion, built now on a minor scale and melodically different. As in the first section, the drone builds to a full chord, this time G minor. Another interlude follows, built on the inverted scale, and then choir and trio come radiantly together, with the original melodic continuation of the scale stated in stretto.

The shorter movements on either side are related to each other symmetrically - I to VI, II to VII and III to V. They amplify and comment on the central idea of light: Tavener simply sets, in Greek, the words phos (light), dhoxa (glory) and epiphania (shining forth), and the Trisagion (‘Holy God, Holy mighty, Holy immortal, have mercy upon us'). The four outer movements, ‘Phos I', ‘Dhoxa', ‘Phos II' and ‘Epiphania', are apparently static sonic blocks, but in fact they have recourse to the composer's frequently employed techniques of canon and palindrome, often resulting in considerable dissonance, and are organized around very precisely indicated silences (parts of the above discussion are drawn from the chapter on Tavener's music in my forthcoming book, Modernism and Orthodox Spirituality in Contemporary Music).

Silence is naturally an eminently mystical (pre-)condition. Indeed, Tavener, in interview with Paul Griffiths in 1985, said:

If one sees music as a spiritual journey, as I do, then it must always go forward, and I think it must eventually end in silence. I never understood that with Stockhausen: why it didn't end in silence. Perhaps it will [...] I think it must end in silence, and go on to prayer, which is a higher form of creativity. (Paul Griffiths, New Sounds, New Personalities. British Composers of the 1980s, London: Faber, 1985, 111)

In fact, right up to the moment of his untimely passing in November 2013, a little over two months before his 70th birthday, Sir John Tavener had not fallen silent, even though the remarkable Towards Silence, from 2007, explored this idea very directly. Indeed, the fluidity and still-imperative nature of his creative gifts to the last seemed to contradict the very idea, and it was certainly extremely difficult to imagine such a singular and profoundly creative voice not requiring an outlet in musical composition. That voice will continue to resound in the extraordinary musical legacy he has left behind.

Ivan Moody © 2014


Ikon of Light

Digital recording made in Merton College Chapel, Oxford, on January 10th & 11th, 1984

with members of the Chilingirian String Quartet

Funeral Ikos

Digital recording made in Merton College Chapel, Oxford, on January 10th & 11th, 1984

The Lamb

Digital recording made in Merton College Chapel, Oxford, on January 10th & 11th, 1984

Sir John Tavener

Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

Analogue recording made in Charterhouse Chapel, Godalming, on January 4th and 5th, 1982

Jeremy White (soloist)

Composer Info

Hieronymous Praetorius (1560-1629), Melchior Franck (1579-1639), Guerrero, John Tavener (1944-2013)

CD Info

CPO CD 777 245-2, MD + G CD MDG 902 1829-6, Hyperion CD CDA67836, Gimell CD 404