The Sixteenth Century

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Program: #14-42   Air Date: Oct 13, 2014

Three new releases give us different perspectives on late 16th century music: from the motif of the earth trembling, to Freiburg Cathedral in 1594, to the always arresting Don Carlo Gesualdo.

NOTE: All of the releases on this program are from recent recordings of material from the 16th and early 17th centuries.


I. Terra Tremuit: The Earth Trembled (Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montreal/Christopher Jackson). Atma CD ACD2 2653.

From The Whole Note: Several Renaissance composers dwell on the subject of world catastrophe – the cataclysms, floods, epidemics that will lead to humanity’s end. On this disc Christopher Jackson’s studio (40 years old this year) interprets doom-laden compositions by six such composers.
An all-too-short one-minute motet Terra tremuit by William Byrd, with its sometimes clashing parts, sets the scene. Antoine Brumel’s five-movement Earthquake Mass for 12 voices follows, starting with a serene “Kyrie eleison” and a “Gloria” initially gentle but where the discordant music finally reflects the sinister nature of this compilation. It is certainly the case during Brumel’s “Sanctus, Benedictus”; his demands on the vocal abilities of the singers to change from high to low, and to perform melodic leaps must surely be intended to reflect the events of an earthquake.

Then there are the composers who followed in the footsteps of Brumel. Vaet and Crecquillon, as employees at the court of the emperor Charles V, saw first hand the terrors of absolute power; not surprisingly they bring a mellow and melancholy richness to their compositions – both are terrified as they look to the last day and their judgment. More formal is Palestrina’s Terra tremuit. This depicts the aftermath of the earth’s trembling and the quiet that pertains as God rises in judgment.

And if the sky does fall in, at least you will have been warned well in advance by some of the greatest early composers.

Terra Tremuit: Music for Easter
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Motet Terra tremuit for 5 voices [1:05]
Antoine BRUMEL (c.1460-c.1520)
Missa: Et ecce terræ motus for 12 voices (c.1497) [38:00]
Roland de LASSUS (v.1532-1594)
Motet Timor et tremor for 6 voices [3:45]
Jacobus VAET (c.1529-1567)
Motet Quoties diem illum for 4 voices [4:44]
Thomas CRÉCQUILLON (c.1505-1557)
Motet Heu mihi, Domine for 5 voices [4:55]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (c.1525-1594)
Motet Terra tremuit for 5 voices [2:21]


II. Te Deum laudamus—Music from Freiberg Cathedral (Chordae Freybergensis/Ensemble Freiberger Dom-Music/Albrect Koch). CPO CD 777.928-2.

Te Deum laudamus - Music on the Freiberg Cathedral Angel Instruments from 1594
Albinus FABRICIUS (1570-1635)
Cantate Domino [3:49]
Philippe DE MONTE (1521-1603)
Ad te levavi [4:16]
Missa super Mon coeur se recommande:
Kyrie [2:41]
Leonhard LECHNER (1553-1606)
Si bona suscepimus [6:19]
Philippe DE MONTE
Missa super Mon coeur se recommande:
Gloria [3:21]
Rogier MICHAEL (1552/54-1619)
Te Deum laudamus sex vocibus [13:45]
Philippe DE MONTE
Missa super Mon coeur se recommande:
Credo [6:42]
Alfonso FERRABOSCO d.Ä. (1543?-1588)
O lux beata Trinitas [4:44]
Philippe DE MONTE
Missa super Mon coeur se recommande:
Sanctus [3:10]
O sacrum convivium [2:56]
Philippe DE MONTE
Missa super Mon coeur se recommande:
Agnus Dei [4:02]

From Johann van Ween, Music-Web: The German city of Freiberg in Saxony, southwest of Dresden, is well known for its organ, built in the cathedral between 1711 and 1714 by the famous organ maker Gottfried Silbermann. This disc sheds light on another interesting aspect of Freiberg's music history, the repertoire which is preserved in the library of the Latin School which was closely connected to the cathedral.

Freiberg was a major city in the Middle Ages, and it comes as no surprise that early in its history a school system was established there. In 1515 the town school turned into a Latin School and in 1537 merged with other educational institutions. The number of pupils increased considerably and for some time even exceeded a thousand. The boys who had the task of singing in the liturgy alongside adult members of the clergy received an extensive musical education. The library of the Latin School gives some insight into the repertoire which was sung in the cathedral and also the way it was performed.

The Reformation had been introduced in Freiberg as early as 1537. This had an influence on the liturgy in that pieces setting German texts were added to the repertoire. At the same time Latin was still very much part of the liturgy. The programme of this disc shows that pieces by Catholic composers were not banned from the church, as long as the texts were not incompatible with Lutheran doctrine. An interesting piece is the setting of the Te Deum by Rogier Michael. He was from the Netherlands and entered the service of the court in Dresden in 1574. Here he became Hofkapellmeister in 1587; in 1619 he was succeeded by Heinrich Schütz. In this setting every line of Luther's translation of the Te Deum is followed by a homophonic six-part setting of the corresponding lines in Latin.

The main work on this disc is the Missa super Mon coeur se recommande by Philippe de Monte, another composer of Flemish birth who was in the service of members of the Habsburg dynasty for most of his life. The title refers to the chanson by Lassus which Monte chose as cantus firmus for his mass. Like most of the pieces in the Freiberg library this is a copy of a printed edition, but it is interesting for its adaptations. The text underlay is different from the printed version which is part of a collection of masses printed in Nuremberg. Apparently the singers in Freiberg considered the original text underlay as less convenient and didn't bother to change it. The indication of the upper voice is changed from cantus to discantus. "Might this be an indication that the work, scored in a high-clef position and therefore to be transposed down, was in fact sung in a higher register in order to do justice to the tenderness of the voices of the little schoolboys?", Christa Maria Richter asks in the liner-notes. She probably makes too much of this. It could well be just an adaptation to a term which was generally used for the upper voice in Freiberg. As far as I know the two words were interchangeable and tell us nothing about the identity of the singers who were to sing those parts. Moreover, transposition was mostly done a prima vista, and not written out.

The least-known name in the programme is Albinus Fabricius, a German composer who after two years in Denmark spent his career in Austria, and became an exponent of the Counter-Reformation. It is telling that this fact was no obstacle to his music being sung in Lutheran Freiberg. The texts of the two motets recorded here are not contradictory to Lutheran convictions. Leonhard Lechner is the only truly Lutheran composer in the programme. His motet Si bona suscepimus is a compilation of passages from the Book of Job. To this he adds the text "fiat voluntas Domini" (The will of the Lord be done) which is repeated a number of times by one of the upper voices as a kind of cantus firmus. In this performance the soprano is supported by a cornett.

That is not indicated in the booklet: the track-list says that this piece is sung by voices alone. All the other pieces are performed by voices and instruments, mostly playing colla voce and sometimes replacing some of the voices. This was common practice at the time, depending on the possibilities in a cathedral or at a court. In this case there is a special reason to make use of instruments, and in particular renaissance violins. At the end of the 16th century thirty instruments were placed in the hands of golden angels in the funeral chapel. These have survived virtually unchanged and have been measured and copied. These copies are played by the members of chordae freybergensis which has performed in festivals and at conferences across Europe. They are joined by instruments commonly played in sacred music: one cornett and two sackbuts, plus organ.

The mass is interspersed with motets, which is rather odd: such a procedure only makes sense in case of a liturgical reconstruction. There is nothing like that here. All the pieces are performed with one voice per part. That is certainly a legitimate option but considering the involvement of the boys from the Latin School in the 16th century a larger line-up would have been historically more likely. That said, the performances are very good and singers and players deliver stylish interpretations. The balance between voices and instruments is just right and they also blend beautifully.


III. Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa—Sacrarum Cantionum Quinque Vocibus (Odhecaton/Ensemble Mare Nostrum/Paolo da Col). Ricercar CD RIC 343.

Although the madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa constitute the best-known part of his oeuvre, his religious music is no less important, revealing a completely different facet of the composer. Aside from the Responsoria (1611), of which Philippe Herreweghe recently made a magnificent recording (LPH 010), most of Gesulado’s religious music was published in 1603 under the title Sacrarum cantionum. Unlike the Responsoria, intended for Holy Week services, the motets of 1603 are settings of texts for all circumstances of the liturgical year. For this recording, made in the Santa Trinità abbey church in Venosa, ODHECATON has enriched the sound palette of its men’s voices with a few instruments, including an ensemble of violas da gamba. Liuwe Tamminga counterpoints this programme with selected pieces by Giovanni Maria Trabaci and Giovanni de Macque on an historical organ of the Venosa region.

1. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: O vos omnes, W viii, 40 02:46

2. GIOVANNI MARIA TRABACCI: Ricercate, canzone francese, capricci, canti fermi, gagliarde, partite diverse, toccate, durezze, ligature, consonanze stravaganti, et un madrigale passeggiato nel fine [...], Libro Primo: Consonanze stravaganti 02:07

3. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Domine, ne despicias deprecationem meam, W viii, 28 02:15

4. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Sancti Spiritus, Domine, corda nostra, W viii, 26 01:44

5. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Exaudi, Deus, deprecationem meam, W viii, 42 02:30

6. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Venit lumen tuum, W viii, 14 02:29

7. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Illumina faciem tuam, W viii, 60 02:58

8. GIOVANNI de MACQUE: Intrata d'organo 02:57

9. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Maria, Mater gratiae, W viii, 63 03:01

10. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Precibus et meritis, beatae Mariae, W viii, 45 02:21

11. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Ave, dulcissima Maria, W viii, 17 03:50

12. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Dignare me, laudare te, W viii, 24 01:46

13. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Ave, regina cœlorum, W viii, 11 03:02

14. LUZZASCHO LUZZASCHI: Ave Maris stella 01:53

15. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Hei mihi, Domine, W viii, 30 02:57

16. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Tribulationem et dolorem inveni, W viii, 57 03:10

17. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Peccantem me quotidie, W viii, 36 03:53

18. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Reminiscere miserationum tuarum, W viii, 21 03:14

19. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Tribularer si nescirem, W viii, 51 03:26

20. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Laboravi in gemitu meo, W viii, 33 03:11

21. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: Deus, refugium et virtus, W viii, 54 02:36

22. GIOVANNI de MACQUE: stravaganti per l’organo, W 37 02:19

23. Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocibus, Liber primus: O Crux benedicta, W viii, 48

Composer Info

Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, Alfonso FERRABOSCO d.Ä. (1543?-1588), Rogier MICHAEL (1552/54-1619), Philippe Leonhard LECHNER (1553-1606), DE MONTE (1521-1603), Albinus FABRICIUS (1570-1635), William BYRD (1543-1623), Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (c.1525-1594), Thomas CRÉCQUILLON (c.1505-1557), Jacobus VAET (c.1529-1567), Roland de LASSUS (v.1532-1594), Antoine BRUMEL (c.1460-c.1520),

CD Info

Ricercar CD RIC 343, Atma CD ACD2 2653, CPO CD 777.928-2,