The Kings of Tharsis

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Program: #12-01, Air Date: 12/26/11

The latest from the Schola Antiqua of Chicago takes us on the Christmastide journey through Epiphany.

NOTE: All of the music on this program features the Schola Antiqua of Chicago directed by Michael Alan Anderson.

The recording is CD Discantus 1003. For more information:

www.chicagochant.org

Reges Tharsis John Sheppard (d. 1558)

Salvator Mundi Sheppard

Omnes de Saba Leonin (d. 1201)

Epiphaniam Domino Guillaume Du Fay (d. 1474)

Hostis herodes impie Orlande de Lassus (d. 1594)

Hostis herodes impie Tomás Luis de Victoria (d. 1611)

Hodie celesti sponso with Magnificat Plainchant

Mi fe, vengo de Belén Francesco Guerrero (1528-1599)

Los Reyes siguen la’strella Guerrero

A un niño llorando Guerrero

Epiphany (from the Greek meaning “manifestation” or “appearance”) is the traditional Christian feast that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus. Christians in the West mark the feast with the story of the biblical Magi, the “three kings” that followed the star and brought the famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the baby Jesus. Although the feast pales in comparison with the commemoration of Christmas in today’s church, Epiphany was a major feast of the liturgical year centuries ago and, as such, demanded special attention in the realm of liturgical music. This album features pieces written expressly for the season of Epiphany, chiefly by sixteenth-century composers who fashioned ornate polyphonic choral works to commemorate the feast.

The most compositionally ambitious pieces in this collection are two motets by the English composer John Sheppard, Reges Tharsis (Track 1) and Salvator mundi (Track 2). Little is known about Sheppard, except that he served the Chapel Royal in the 1550s until his death in 1558. His surviving works suggest the prevalence of the Latin rite, dating to the reign of Mary Queen of Scots. Most of his music is incomplete, but it is often restorable (with addition of plainchant to the tenor). Sheppard wrote more than sixty motets for all seasons of the liturgical year, and his most outstanding compositions feature vigorous counterpoint around a plainchant for a many-voiced choir. The two motets on this recording are both rooted in plainchant and scored for six voices. Reges Tharsis means “The Kings of Tharsis,” which we take for the title of our recording. The placename is a biblical reference to some distant realm, possibly as far west as modern-day Spain. The musical basis of the motet is a responsory chant of the same name sung on the feast of Epiphany, with text drawn from Psalm 72. Sheppard situated the plainchant in the tenor voice in long, sustained notes, as was customary in his motets. The composer’s Salvator mundi is a hymn that was used during the brief evening service of Compline specifically from Christmas until the week after Epiphany. The tenor again unfolds the notes of the chant, which are elongated in the texture and decorated by the more active surrounding voice parts. It is an example of praxis alternatim, in which strophes in plainchant alternate with those in polyphony.

Michael Alan Anderson

Composer Info

John Sheppard (d. 1558), Leonin (d. 1201), Guillaume Du Fay (d. 1474), Orlande de Lassus (d. 1594), Tomás Luis de Victoria (d. 1611), Francesco Guerrero (1528-1599)

CD Info

CD Discantus 1003.