Friday, 14 December 2007

29. John Dowland - Lachrimae or Seaven Teares (published 1604)

















Recording

Title: Lachrimae
Performer: The Parley Of Instruments Renaissance Violin Consort
Director: Peter Holman
Year: 1994
Length: 28 minutes

Review

This work consists of a set of seven variations on Lachrimae by Dowland, we had heard this theme before on his lute songs and it was actually my favourite lute song by Dowland, Flow My Tears.

In this context the work presents a single problem, as the theme track is repeated at the beginning of each quite short variation it can become quite repetitive, but then it is difficult to fault it because the song is just so completely lovely.

Dowland's variations on the song show themselves slowly as the track progresses from the theme onward and these subtle shifts eventually turn it into a completely different Lachrima. It is beautiful music indeed. The rest of the CD contains the rest of the publication of music by Dowland in 1604, and is equally worth listening to. Highly Recommended.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Flow my tears is a lute song (specifically, an "ayre") by the accomplished lutenist and composer John Dowland. Flow my tears is Dowland's most famous ayre, and became his signature song, literally as well as metaphorically: he would occasionally sign his name "Jo. Dolandi de Lachrimae". Like others of Dowland's lute songs, Flow my tears' form and style are based on a dance, in this case the pavan. It was first published in The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres of 2, 4. and 5. parts (London, 1600). The song begins with a falling tear motif, starting on an A and descending to an E by step on the text "Flow my tears". This may have been borrowed from an Orlande de Lassus motet or Luca Marenzio madrigal, in addition to other borrowings in the piece. Anthony Boden calls the song "probably the most widely known English song of the early 17th century."

Jordi Savall's version of Lachrimae Antiquae:

Thursday, 13 December 2007

28. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck - Organ Works (c.1600 - 21)

















Recording

Title: Psalms From Geneva
Performer: Masaaki Suzuki
Year: 2006
Length: 1 hour 9 minutes

Review

So this is a collection of Organ Works by Sweelinck and even though I am not a particular fan of Organ pieces I can definitely tell why his inclusion is important here. There is a thread going from Sweelinck to Bach and the way Sweelinck's music sounds is very much an underdeveloped form of what the great baroque composers would do with the instrument.

The music is overall bright and airy with an almost Christmassy feel to it, possibly because most organ airy and bright music feels like that. Still, it is remarkably restrained and the flights of fancy never last too long, as would befit a good Calvinist.

The lack of exuberance does not mean that it is simple music, the pieces sound very demanding indeed and Masaaki Suzuki does a great job in this recording, playing Sweelinck on a 17th century Dutch Organ in Kobe. An important piece of music which is more fascinating by what it hints at in the future than really for the excitement of the music itself.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Sweelinck's influence spread as far as Sweden and England. It was carried to the former by Andreas Düben, and to the latter by various English composers such as Peter Phillips, who knew Sweelinck personally. The close connection Sweelinck and Dutch composers in general must have had with the English school of composition is highlighted by a number of facts. For instance, Sweelinck's music appears in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, which otherwise mainly contains the work of English composers. Also, Sweelinck wrote variations on John Dowland's internationally famous Lachrimae Pavane, and John Bull, who was probably a personal friend, wrote a set of variations on a theme by Sweelinck after the latter's death.

Glenn Gould plays the Fantasia Chromatica in D Minor on a piano:

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

27. Orlando Gibbons - Anthems (1600s)
















Recording

Title: Anthems by Orlando Gibbons
Performer: The Choir Of Winchester
Director: David Hill
Year: 1989
Length: 1 hour 12 minutes

Review

Gibbons presents us with an interesting collection of Anthems, firstly, reflecting the reformation they are all in English, popish Latin is gone also he shows an extreme control of the anthemic form. There are artists which distinguish themselves due to originality and others through refinement. Gibbons is definitely of the latter category, he is not particularly innovative but he has great command of the musical form.

These anthems are beautiful and the Winchester Choir does contribute to it especially, the voices are as always beautiful and both their diction and interplay is great.

Gibbons is one of the few authors of his era to have stood the test of time, in such a way that some of the anthems in this collection are still regularly used in church. Truly beautiful music even if not particularly innovative... I am about ready for some instrumentals.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

His choral music is distinguished by his complete mastery of counterpoint, combined with his wonderful gift for melody. Perhaps his most well-known verse anthem is 'This is the record of John', which sets an Advent text for solo countertenor or tenor, alternating with full chorus. The soloist is required to demonstrate considerable technical facility at points, and the work at once expresses the rhetorical force of the text, whilst never being demonstrative or bombastic. He also produced two major settings of Evensong, the Second, and the 'Short' service. The former is an extended composition, combining verse and full sections, and the latter possesses a beautifully expressive Nunc Dimittis. Gibbons' full anthems include the expressive 'O Lord in thy wrath', and the Palm Sunday setting of 'O clap your hands together' for 8 voices. He contributed six pieces to the first printed collection of music in England, Parthenia (of which he was by far the youngest of the three contributors), published circa 1611.

O clap your hands:

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

26. John Wilbye - Madrigals (1598 - 1609)

















Recording

Title: The Silver Swan
Performer: Consort of Musicke
Director: Anthony Rooley
Year: 1998
Length: 53 minutes

Review

This is coming from a recording of English Madrigals only a part of it consists of Wilbye's work and that is what I am reviewing. There are some inclusion on this list, particularly in the early music section that I suppose can only be here because it is an English composer.

Wilbye is not that impressive or important in the greater scheme of things actually, his music is a bit of a throwback in the very dispersed polyphonies, and he does not hold a candle to the madrigals of Gesualdo or Monteverdi or to the lute songs of Dowland.

Basically it is some more interesting music mainly because of the somewhat funny lyrics which are almost unintelligible because of the polyphonic quality of the work. But frankly I wouldn't go out of my way to hear it again.

Final Grade

7/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Wilbye is probably the most famous of all the English madrigalists; his pieces have long been favourites and are often included in modern collections. His madrigals include Weep, weep o mine eyes and Draw on, sweet night. His style is characterized by delicate writing for the voice, acute sensitivity to the text and the use of "false relations" between the major and minor modes.

Adieu Sweet Amaryllis, although this is a particularly bad performance:

Monday, 10 December 2007

25. Giovanni Gabrieli - Sacrae Symphoniae (published 1597, 1615)
















Recording

Title: Music For San Rocco
Performer: Gabrieli Consort and Players
Director: Paul McCreesh
Year: 1995
Length: 1 hour 18 minutes

Review

Only a part of this album consists of the Sacrae Symphoniae, but the whole album works so well as it is that I just listened to all of it. This is a huge leap forward in church music, it is epic in scale and the whole aesthetic of baroque is rearing it's head right on top of it.

This is just one powerful collection of music, with the addition of intrumentation, mainly brass to the loud and powerful choirs this is joyous and beautiful music indeed. And it is pretty complex, the interplay of the instruments, voices and choirs makes it pretty interesting to listen to carefully, particularly in the In Eccelsis and the Magnificat.

This is Renaissance music at its most developed and beautiful, and also church music at its most powerful, this is the kind of music that really deserves to be listened to in its original setting, in this case at the Church of San Rocco in Venice. But the impact on you coming from the CD player is good enough to merit an inclusion in your music library.

Final Grade


9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Like composers before and after him, he would use the unusual layout of the San Marco church, with its two choir lofts facing each other, to create striking spatial effects. Most of his pieces are written so that a choir or instrumental group will first be heard from the left, followed by a response from the musicians to the right (antiphon). While this polychoral style had been extant for decades— Adrian Willaert may have made use of it first, at least in Venice—Gabrieli pioneered the use of carefully specified groups of instruments and singers, with precise directions for instrumentation, and in more than two groups. The acoustics were such in the church—and they have changed little in four hundred years—that instruments, correctly positioned, could be heard with perfect clarity at distant points. Thus instrumentation which looks strange on paper, for instance a single string player set against a large group of brass instruments, can be made to sound, in San Marco, in perfect balance.

In particular, one of his best-known pieces, In Ecclesiis, is a showcase of such polychoral techniques, making use of four separate groups of instrumental and singing performers, underpinned by the omnipresent organ and continuo.

Magnificat for 33 voices:

Sunday, 9 December 2007

24. John Dowland - Lute Songs (1597- 1612)





















Recording


Title: "Sweet Stay Awhile" - Songs And Lute Pieces by John Dowland
Performers: Charles Daniels (tenor), David Miller Miller (lute)
Year: 1997
Length: 1 hour 4 minutes

Review

Hey nonny nonny indeed. Well this is not so much like 'Hey nonny nonny' but more like "nonny will die". The lute songs are in their great majority pretty depressing, obsessed with death and hurt. Actually this reminds me of Carlo Gesualdo who Dowland actually met.

This is not to say that this isn't beautiful music because it is. The lute never impinges on the voice playing more of a supporting role, the voice in the recording is perfect for the songs and the lute pieces are so delicate they seem like they might vanish.

This is ghostly beautiful Elizabethan music, so if you have any interest in the period at all it is an essential recording, beautiful and dark Dowland is the Emo king of his days. Essential.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The science fiction author Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was a fan of Dowland's and his lute music is a recurring theme in Dick's fiction. Dick sometimes assumed the pen-name Jack Dowland. Dick also based the title of the novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said on one of Dowland's best-known compositions. In his novels, Dick envisioned a future America in which Dowland songs would be covered by a pop singer named Linda Fox (a thinly disguised proxy for Linda Ronstadt).

In the 1996 movie Sense and Sensibility, Marianne (Kate Winslet) sings "Weep you no more sad fountains" when Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) first sees her.

Rose Tremain's 1999 novel Music and Silence is set at the court of Christian IV of Denmark some years after Dowland's departure and contains several references to the composer's music and temperament: in the opening chapter, Christian remarks that "the man was all ambition and hatred, yet his ayres were as delicate as rain".

I Saw My Lady Weep:

Thursday, 6 December 2007

23. Carlo Gesualdo - Madrigals (1594 - 1611)



















Recording

Title: Gesualdo - Quarto Libro di Madrigali
Performer: La Venexiana
Director: Claudio Cavina
Year: 2000
Length: 1 hour 7 minutes

Review

Comparing these Madrigals to those by Monteverdi you can see a tremendous difference, like the difference between the day and the night. While Monteverdi's were light airy and very fun, Gesualdo's are a Renaissance Goth's wet dream. This is some really down beat stuff, Gesualdo was a tormented guy.

The good thing about them is the fact that they sound like nothing else at the time, these are love songs obsessed with death, parting, depression and the music reflects it tremendously, it is at times ghostly, mournful, momentarily happy only for soaring voices to break down.

This is clearly music made by a man racked with grief and guilt, a guy who not long before writing this had killed his wife and her lover, dressed her lover in her clothes to humiliate him before killing him and according to legend killed his son in his crib because he doubted his parentage and then killed his father in law because he had come to avenge his daughter. Now he is in hiding writing love songs about death. The music sounds truly sad, tormented and beautiful.

The recording a a beautiful thing from Book 4 of Madrigals, with a couple of other Gesualdo Madrigals in the middle.

Murdering fuck-heads what wonderful noises they make.

Final Grade


9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

In 1586 Gesualdo married his first cousin, Donna Maria d'Avalos, the daughter of the Marquis of Pescara. Two years later she began to have a love affair with Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria; evidently she was able to keep it secret from her husband for almost two years, even though the existence of the affair was well-known elsewhere. Finally, on October 16, 1590, at the Palazzo San Severo in Naples, when Gesualdo had allegedly gone away on a hunting trip, the two lovers took insufficient precaution at last (Gesualdo had arranged with his servants to have the locks of his palace copied in wood so that he could gain entrance if locked), and he returned to the palace, caught them in flagrante delicto and brutally murdered them both in their bed; afterwards he left their mutilated bodies in front of the palace for all to see. Being a nobleman he was immune to prosecution, but not to revenge, so he fled to his castle at Gesualdo where he would be safe from any of the relatives of either his wife or her lover.

Details on the murders are not lacking, because the depositions of witnesses to the magistrates have survived in full. While they disagree on some details, they agree on the principal points, and it is apparent that Gesualdo had help from his servants, who may have done most of the killing; however Gesualdo certainly stabbed Maria multiple times, shouting as he did, "she's not dead yet!" The Duke of Andria was found slaughtered by numerous deep sword wounds, as well as by a shot through the head; when he was found, he was dressed in women's clothing (specifically, Maria's night dress). His own clothing was found piled up by the bedside, unbloodied. One suggested explanation for this is that Gesualdo first murdered his wife, and after this turned his attentions to the Duke, forcing him to don his lover's clothing, most probably to humiliate him.

The murders were widely publicized, including in verse by poets such as Tasso and an entire flock of Neapolitan poets, eager to capitalize on the sensation; the salacious details of the murders were broadcast in print; but nothing was done to apprehend the Prince of Venosa. The police report from the scene makes for shocking reading even after more than 400 years.

Accounts on events after the murders differ. According to some contemporary sources, Gesualdo also murdered his second son by Maria, who was an infant, after looking into his eyes and doubting his paternity (according to contemporary sources he "swung the infant around in his cradle until the breath left his body"); another source indicates that he murdered his father-in-law as well, after the man had come seeking revenge. Gesualdo had employed a company of men-at-arms to ward off just such an event. However, contemporary documentation from official sources for either of these alleged murders is lacking.

Deh, Come Invan Sospiro from Book 6:

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

22. William Byrd - Masses (1592-1595)
















Recording

Title: The Byrd Edition: The Masses
Performer: The Cardinall's Musick
Director: Andrew Carwood
Year: 1999
Length: 1 hour 5 minutes

Review

This is a neat little recording of the Byrd masses, they are three "free" masses, not really based on a song like most we had here, and they all consist of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Each mass is quite small consisting of something around 20 minutes. The performances are excellent and there is a little organ interlude which is extraneous to the masses between them just to mark the end of one mass and the beginning of another one (because it can be hard to tell them apart if you are not paying particular attention).

The Byrd masses more than interesting by themselves show how the composition of choral music has changed since Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli, the voices are much more focused here, than even in Palestrina, but as a natural evolution from that. The polyphony embellishes rather than distracts from the text which frankly is as much a musical movement as a counter-reformation attitude, even though Byrd was a Catholic and writing for Catholics he would be perfectly aware of Protestant criticisms of the lack of respect for the scripture by the part of the Catholic Church. It was in reply to this that the Council of Trent frowned upon Polyphonic masses and the reason that Masses that respected the text and made it intelligible like Palestrina's and Byrds became the more popular ones.

Again, these are interesting pieces of beautiful music but not dissimilar to Palestrina's enough to deserve adding to my personal collection. Still, if you are really into Masses, get it. By the way I am stopping the Track Highlights thing on this blog, because it is not only hard to do in the context of a larger work, but often damaging to the work itself to single out pieces of it. Each Mass here is a unity by itself. If I find it suitable I will point out some highlights in the review itself, so here I think the Mass for four voices, which is the first one in the recording is the best one, and if you have limited time dedicate 20 minutes to that one.

Final Grade


8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The three Masses and the two books of Gradualia, published over fifteen years, were Byrd's major contribution to the Roman rite. These were written for the intimate, even secretive, atmosphere of domestic worship, to be performed for a small group of skilled amateurs (which included women, according to contemporary accounts) and heard by a small congregation. Although such worship could be dangerous—even a capital offense in some cases—Byrd went further than merely providing music. There are many records of his participation in illegal services. A Jesuit missionary describes a country house in Berkshire in 1586:

The gentleman was also a skilled musician, and had an organ and other musical instruments and choristers, male and female, members of his household. During these days it was just as if we were celebrating an uninterrupted Octave of some great feast. Mr. Byrd, the very famous English musician and organist, was among the company....

The very short Kyrie of the Mass for 3 voices, the version on the album reviewed here is superior however:

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

21. William Byrd - My Ladye Nevells Booke (1591)
















Recording

Title: My Ladye Nevells Booke
Performer/Director: Christopher Hogwood
Year: 1974-75
Length: 3 hours 12 minutes

Review

Sorry for the slight delay, but as you can imagine listening to a three hour recording at least three times takes at least nine hours, and I have other things to do with my life... like the albums project. But I digress.

This is a welcome change, there is not a word of singing in the whole three hours, just lovely keyboard music, no "ahh ahh ahhs" at all! The whole recording is pretty amazing, Hogwood moves from the virginal to the Flemish and Italian Harpsichords and to the Organ while being perfectly brilliant in all of them.

As you might have understood by now my knowledge of the nuts and bolts of classical music composition is pretty rudimentary, so it is one of those annoying "I know what I like" but ask me to name what key something is in and I'm at a loss. Here, however you have some pretty amazing music and what fascinates me more is right on the first of the three CD's. The Battell track and the Marche before the Battell are two pretty amazing pieces of Virginal fireworks. And I love that. Harpsichord music always sounds extremely complex to my ears, kind of like a very fine bit of intricate lace, and the whole recording here is like that. When you go into the longest bit of the album with the Pavians and their respective Galliardes is also great.

This might however be the downfall of the recording, but the fault is Byrds really, because the Booke is top-heavy in musical terms, so is the recording, the first CD and the first half of the second are superior to the second half in my opinion. I should also not here that this is pretty much coming up to Baroque music even if it is not quite there yet... it is just around the corner.

Track Highlights


1. The Battell
2. Marche Before The Battell
3. Galliarde to the Third Paivan
4. All In a Garden Grine

Final Grade


9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

My Ladye Nevells Booke consists of 42 pieces for keyboard by William Byrd, probably the greatest English composer at that time. Although the music was copied by John Baldwin, one of the most famous musical scribes and calligraphers of the day, the pieces seem to have been selected, organized and even edited and corrected by Byrd himself.

A heavy, oblong folio volume, it retains its original elaborately tooled Morocco binding, stamped with the title, on top of a nineteenth century repair. The illuminated coat-of-arms of the Nevill family is on the title page, with the initials "H.N." in the lower left-hand corner. There are 192 folios each consisting of four six-line staves with large, diamond-shaped notes. At the end is a table of contents.

Lady Nevells Grownde:

Sunday, 2 December 2007

20. Claudio Monteverdi - Madrigals (1587 - 1651)

















Recording

Title: Madrigali Concertati
Performer: Tragicomedia
Director Stephen Stubbs
Year: 1993
Length: 1 hour 13 minutes

Review

This is a really beautiful and actually quite fun recording. It is the sconed fun one on the list after Carmina Burana, and it is also the most expressive piece of music until now.

Monteverdi is well known for his respect for the text and in his Madrigals this is completely obvious, the voices are telling a story or making a declaration of love, whatever. And the music serves the supporting role of enhancing the lyrics, the instruments accentuate what is being said, give further emotional colour to the music and make it more enjoyable.

This is the first of 6 albums by Monteverdi that we will have on this list and they will all show this immense respect for text, this is not like the polyphonic kaleidoscopes of voice, this is completely intelligible (if you know Italian). This is also the nearest to pop that we've come to, secular love songs around 3 minutes each. Great Stuff

Track Highlights

1. Cor Mio (sesta parte)
2. Amor (seconda parte)
3. Augelin, que la voce
4. Echo vicine, o bella tigre

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia


From Wikipedia:

1613 Monteverdi was appointed as conductor at San Marco in Venice. There he soon restored the musical standards of both the choir and instrumentalists, which had withered under the financial mismanagement of his predecessor, Giulio Cesare Martinengo. The managers of the basilica were relieved to have such a distinguished musician to take the post, where music had been in decline since the death of Giovanni Croce in 1609.

While in Venice, Monteverdi also finished his sixth, seventh and eighth books of madrigals. The eighth is the largest, containing works written over a thirty-year period, including the dramatic scene Tancredi e Clorinda (1624), in which the orchestra and voices form two separate entities; they act as counterparts. Most likely Monteverdi was inspired to try this arrangement because of the two opposite balconies in San Marco, which had inspired much similar music from composers there, such as Gabrieli. What made this composition also stand out is the first-time use of string tremolo (fast repetition of the same tone) and pizzicato (plucking strings with fingers) for special effect in dramatic scenes.

Some one has made a film of the fourth book of Madrigals:

19. Francisco Guerrero - Battle Mass (1582)














Recording

Title: Battle Mass - Missa de La Batalla Escoutez
Performer: Westminster Cathedral Choir/ His Majesty's Sagbutts and Coronetts
Director: James O'Donnell
Year: 1998
Length: 29 minutes

Review

We are going through a phase of some innovation right now, after all of those motets. Here we have a Mass, based on a secular song, this isn't a first as we saw with Taverner's Western Wynde Mass, but this one is much more focused, more like Palestrina than other polyphonists.

This particular recording also has some instrumentation to it, there is an historical bass for this and it does make the music more interesting. It is however, extremely subdued instrumentation, more like a bass line than a part of the main melody. Nevertheless it does add texture.

In the and however it isn't particularly flabbergasting, it is pretty and all but sounds much like what you would hear at church on Easter Sunday. This in itself might be a sign of how intemporal the music is.

Track Highlights


1. Agnus Dei
2. Gloria
3. Benedictus
4. Credo

Final Grade

7/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

After several decades of working and traveling throughout Spain and Portugal, sometimes in the employ of emperor Maximilian II, he went to Italy for a year (1581-1582) where he published two books of his music. After returning to Spain for several years, he decided to travel to the Holy Land, which he finally was able to do in 1589. His adventure included visits to Damascus, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem; on the return trip his ship was twice attacked by pirates, who threatened his life, stole his money, and held him for ransom. His ransom must have been paid, for he was able to return to Spain; unfortunately he had no money, and endured a series of misfortunes including some time spent in debtor's prison; at last his old employer at Seville Cathedral extricated him, and he resumed working for them. His book on his adventurous visit to the Holy Land was published in 1590 and was a popular success (it is reasonable to suppose that Cervantes knew it). At the end of the decade he planned one more trip to the Holy Land but unfortunately he died in the plague of 1599 in Seville, before he was able to depart.

Music from Guerrero's Requiem:

Saturday, 1 December 2007

18. Tomas Luis De Victoria - O Magnum Mysterium (1572)
















Recording

Title: Tomas Luis de Victoria - Motets
Performer: Victoria Voices and Viols
Director: Andrew Hope
Year: 2001
Length: 30 minutes 30 seconds.

Review

This is a tiny little jewel of music, it sounds actually pretty ahead of its time, although it is still a motet. The use of instruments might help, giving a whole depth of texture to the piece that would not be present otherwise.

The instrumentation although subdued, fleshed out the voices to a grand effect. But the quality of this track goes beyond the choice of the performers to use instruments. The music is beautiful in its own terms, Victoria makes a truly gentle and beautiful piece. A pity it was only three minutes. Look particularly for the beginning when they are singing O Magnum Mysterium and the Alleluia at the end. The sense of drama and emotion is amazing.

Track Highlight:


1. O Magnum Mysterium

Final Grade


10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Victoria is the most significant composer of the Counter-Reformation in Spain, and one of the best-regarded composers of sacred music in the late Renaissance, a genre to which he devoted himself exclusively. His works have undergone a revival in the 20th century, with numerous recent recordings. Many commentators hear in his music a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal, qualities considered by some to be lacking in the arguably more rhythmically and harmonically placid music of Palestrina.

Here's a version without instruments:

17. Thomas Tallis - Spem In Alium (c.1569)
















Recording

Title: Spem In Alium - The 40 Part Motet and Other Music
Performer: Choir Of Winchester Cathedral
Director: David Hill
Year: 1989
Length: 11 minutes

Review

This is a pretty impressive piece of music, imagine a motet, an now imagine that instead of the usual 4 to 8 parts you have 40. Now imagine the Winchester Cathedral Choir gives a bunch of voices to each part, add to this the echo of a church and you got an incredible cacophony.

Well it is a beautiful cacophony, it is just a massive wall of sound that disperses and comes together at different parts, like something straight out of heaven, but a pretty oppressive and chaotic heaven. It is beautiful but confusing like a kaleidoscope.

This is definitely the most impressive bit of music that we have had here. It is only one track in 11 minutes but it is a damn impressive one. And more than worth getting. The theatricality of it is quite impressive and it is something I would really love to see done live. Get it.

Track Highlights

1. Spem In Alium

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

A 1611 letter written by the law student Thomas Wateridge contains the following anecdote:

In Queene Elizabeths time there was a songe sent into England of 30 parts (whence the Italians obteyned the name to be called the Apices of the world) which beeinge songe mad[e] a heavenly Harmony. The Duke of — bearing a great love to Musicke asked whether none of our English men could sett as good a songe, & Tallice beinge very skillfull was felt to try whether he would undertake the Matter, which he did and mad[e] one of 40 p[ar]ts which was songe in the longe gallery at Arundell house which so farre surpassed the other th[a]t the Duke hearinge of the songe tooke his chayne of gold from of his necke & putt yt about Tallice his necke & gave yt him

Version by the Tallis Scholars:

Friday, 30 November 2007

16. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina - Missa Papae Marcelli (1567)
















Recording


Title: Allegri Miserere
Performer: The Sixteen
Director: Harry Christophers
Year: 1990
Length: 32 minutes

Review


Now we are still in the realm of the vocal performances but it is interestingly some quite different music. Palestrina really comes to revolutionise the polyphonic mass with this. This is polyphony which is actually very intelligible!

Palestrina give us just one line of music to which embellishments are added with the other voices, this makes the text much more understandable. If you imagine motets as a forest of bamboo sticks, each corresponding to a voice, this is more like one big trunk with a lot of saplings growing from it.

So there is a very distinct sound here, and it is no surprise that this is one of those compositions that is still studied today by students at universities. It is a very beautiful composition and actually quite touching in this very powerful interpretation by the sixteen.

Track Highlights

1. Gloria
2. Credo
3. Sanctus Et Benedictus
4. Agnus Dei I

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

In 1607, the composer Agostino Agazzari wrote:

Music of the older kind is no longer in use, both because of the confusion and babel of the words, arising from the long and intricate imitations, and because it has no grace, for with all the voices singing, one hears neither period nor sense, these being interfered with and covered up by imitations...And on this account music would have come very near to being banished from the Holy Church by a sovereign pontiff [Pius IV], had not Giovanni Palestrina founded the remedy, showing that the fault and error lay, not with the music, but with the composers, and composing in confirmation of this the Mass entitled Missa Papae Marcelli.

– Quoted in Taruskin, Richard, and Weiss, Piero. Music in the Western World:A History in Documents. Schirmer, 1984, p. 141.

The Gloria, by some other ensemble:

Thursday, 29 November 2007

15. Orlande de Lassus - Motets (c. 1555-1604)
















Recording

Title: Lassus - Missa Surge Propera
Performer: The Cardinall's Musick
Director: Andrew Carwood
Year: 2004
Length: 37 minutes

Review

As you can see by the title it is another bunch of Motets. More unaccompanied motets... but they are quite good, Lassus is definitely in a different league than the average composer, his compositions show a lot more focus in terms of the music. The music is dramatic and the voices aren't as spread out as in most polyphony, Lassus is able to converge and disperse them at will for great dramatic effect.

That being said the whole format of the motet is pretty rigid and therefore it is not as great a departure as one might expect. And for music that was composed in a space of 50 years the diferences between the pieces are minimal. If we think about the evolution of music in the last 50 years of the 20th century we get a more telling contrast.

We will really have to wait for the 17th century, particularly the second half of it, to start getting quite different music but it is thankfully around the corner. In the meantime Lassus makes some more lovely motets to add to this list.

Track Highlights


1. Quam Pulchra Es
2. Tota Pulchra Es
3. Magnificat Quatri Toni
4. Surge Propera Amica Mea

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

One of the most prolific, versatile, and universal composers of the late Renaissance, Lassus wrote over 2000 works in all Latin, French, Italian and German vocal genres known in his time. These include 530 motets, 175 Italian madrigals and villanellas, 150 French chansons, and 90 German lieder. No strictly instrumental music by Lassus is known to survive, or ever to have existed: an interesting omission for a composer otherwise so wide-ranging and prolific, during an age when instrumental music was becoming an ever-more prominent means of expression, all over Europe.

Vene Dilecte Mi:

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

14. Thomas Tallis - Lamentations Of Jeremiah (1565)

















Recording

Title: The Lamentations Of Jeremiah
Performer: Hilliard Ensemble
Director: Hilliard Ensemble
Year: 1986
Length: 22 minutes

Review

Well this is an altogether gloomier piece of polyphony, there is none of the joy of most motets, it is a thoroughly haunting affair. This is not a criticism, however, I am not here to be made happy but to appreciate music.

And this is quite an effective piece of music, it is infused with a quite beautiful sadness, at the same time ethereal and deep. Again the recording is faultless, and seeing as this list chooses the best recording of pieces which have many times been recorded time and time again, like this one, it is only natural that there isn't much to point at in the performances, even if I was an expert.

Again, I liked this, but all this polyphony is slowly kind of melting together into one big pot. I need something different to come soon. Save me St. Baroque.

Track Highlights


1. De Lamentatione
2. Incipit Lamentatio

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Thomas Tallis made two famous sets of the Lamentations. Scored for five voices (either one on a part or in a choral context), they show a sophisticated use of imitation, and are noted for their expressiveness. The settings are of the first two lessons for Maundy Thursday. As many other composers do, Tallis also sets the announcements ('Incipit Lamentatio...', and 'De Lamentatione...') the Hebrew letters that headed each verse (Aleph, Beth for the first set, Gimel, Daleth, Heth for the second), and the concluding refrain 'Ierusalem, Ierusalem... (Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn again to the Lord thy God)—thus emphasising the sombre and melancholy effect of the pieces. Tallis's two settings happen to use successive verses, but the pieces are in fact independent even though performers generally sing both settings together. Composers have been free to use whatever verses they wish, since the liturgical role of the text is somewhat loose; this accounts for the wide variety of texts that appear in these pieces.

A version of the incipit:

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

13. Antonio de Cabezon - Diferencias (c. 1560's)
















Recording

Title: Tientos y Glosados
Performer: Ensemble Accentus
Director: Thomas Wimmer
Year: 2001
Length: 12 minutes

Review

It is a pity that this recording is so short, because this is some sublime music. This recording consists of four Diferencias by Cabezon, Diferencias are basically the equivalent of Variations. There is a main theme which is then embelished or otherwise improved by the composer.

The themes are all of quite well known songs by the time the composer made the variations on them. The third diferencia is particularly well known being based on the song, Belle qui tiens ma vie/Captive dans tes yeux. That one is particularly beautiful but the other ones are not far behind.

Thankfully this is a fully instrumental recording of chamber music, and a good break from all the vocals lately on the list. This freshness might have something to do with how much I loved this album, but it isn't the only reason these are some genuinely beautiful tracks. Highly Recommended.

Track Highlights

1. Diferencias sobre el canto de La Dama le Demanda
2. Diferencias sobre Guarda me las vacas
3. Diferencias sobre el canto del Cauallero
4. Diferencias sobre la Gallarda Milanesa

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Antonio de Cabezón (1510–March 26, 1566) was a Spanish composer and organist of the Renaissance. He was blind from early childhood.

He is best known for his Tientos—short, intense, liturgical and polyphonic works for organ.

Many of his compositions have survived and are still readily accessible today, in sheet music and recorded form. He produced some of the earliest extant music for solo organ.

The song on which Diferencias sobre el canto de La Dama le Demanda is based on:

Sunday, 25 November 2007

12. Cristobal de Morales - Motets (1545-47)
















Recording

Title: Morales en Toledo - Polifonia inédita del Codice 25
Performer: Ensemble Plus Ultra
Director: Michael Noone
Year: 2004
Length: 1 hour 17 minutes

Review


Yet another polyphonic vocal recording, frankly I am becoming more of an expert on this than I ever had an interest in becoming. It has certainly been informative if sometimes somewhat dull due to a certain sameness of the recordings. Fortunately the next album is something different.

Okay now to the recording at hand, as we have come to expect the recording itself is flawless, and the music is quite lovely. Morales seems to have a more focused style of composing in the sense that the polyphony is not as dispersed as in some of the things we have been listening to. It has a more dramatic sense than most works of its kind in the way the voices come together to express certain important points of the text, most other Motet composers did the same but in Morales it is somehow more apparent. Another thing which this recording makes great use of is the plainchant embedded in the tracks themselves.

This said I could do with a break from Motets, motet-like masses or motet-like settings of texts. That is maybe why this album hasn't fascinated me that much. Good enough but not different enough to grab me.

Track Highlights

1. Asperges me
2. Eripe me
3. Ave Maris Stella
4. Et factum est postquam

Final Grade


8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Morales was the first Spanish composer of international renown. His works were widely distributed in Europe, and many copies made the journey to the New World. Many music writers and theorists in the hundred years after his death considered his music to be among the most perfect of the time.

Requiem Aeternam from Missa Pro Defunctis by Cristobal de Morales:

Saturday, 24 November 2007

11. Nicolas Gombert - Motets (1530-1550)
















Recording

Title: Gombert, Eight-Part Credo - Media Vita - Haec Dies - Vae, Vae, Babylon - Salve Regina 'Diversi Diversa Orant' - Lugebat David Absalon and other motets.
Performer: Henry's Eight
Director: Jonathan Brown
Year: 1996
Length: 1 hour 10 minutes

Review

I could honestly start listening to something else other than motets or associated polyphonic church music at the moment, but no such luck for your indefatigable reviewer. Motets it is.

Again this is a very nice recording, it does the same thing that the recording of Des Prez's Mass did in the sense that it includes the plainchants where it is applicable just before the Gombert motets. This is always a good thing because it truly gives you a sense of contrast at how different polyphony was and it always gives you a sesne of the song 'kicking in' when ti gets to the polyphony making it that more exciting.

So is this an indispensable addition to your library? Not really unless you went motet mad, you could do much worse than this lovely collection although the best Motets are still Dufay's for my money. But there are still more to come, YAY! So I might be proven wrong.

The Credo here is particularly good, a relentless piece ofm usic with little breathing space, so if you must get only one Motet by Gombert get that one.

Track Highlights

1. Credo
2. O beata Maria
3. Lugebat David Absalon
4. Media vita in morte sumus

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

According to contemporary physician and mathematician Girolamo Cardano, writing in Theonoston (1560), in 1540 Gombert was convicted of gross indecency with a boy in his care and was sentenced to hard labor in the galleys. The exact duration of his service in the galleys is not known, but he was able to continue composing for at least part of the time. Most likely he was pardoned sometime in or before 1547, the date he sent a letter along with a motet from Tournai. The Magnificat settings preserved uniquely in manuscript in Madrid are often held to have been the "swansongs" that according to Cardano won his pardon, though an alternative hypothesis (Lewis 1994) is that Cardano was referring to the highly penitential First Book of four-part motets. It is unclear how long Gombert lived after his pardon or what positions, if any, he held; his career faded into relative obscurity after being freed. He may have retired to Tournai, and spent his last years as a canon at the cathedral there. In 1556, Hermann Finck mentioned that he was still living, and in 1561 Cardano wrote that he was dead.

No youtubing for you today.

10. John Taverner -The Western Wynde Mass (1530s)
















Recording

Title: Western Wind Masses
Performer: Tallis Scholars
Director: Peter Phillips
Year: 2001
Length: 32 mins.

Review

Here we go, another mass, this time by John Taverner, this is yet another quite good bit of polyphony, but nothing too spectacular or two new. In fact as I have in some t-shirt somewhere 'Taverner was no Des Prez'.

So this another Mass, pretty enough but lacking in any particular innovation or individual qualities. We have heard it before and better done. I should, however not that the Tallis Scholars recording is particularly good, the Cd contains two other Western Wind Masses, based on this one, so if you have a particular interest in it, it is the thing to check out.

The performance is flawless again, and this is the third Tallis Scholars recording in a row for a reason, so nothing to complain about there, but I would have liked Taverner to do something more for me.

Track Highlights


1. Credo
2. Agnus Dei

Final Grade

7/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Taverner was the first Organist and Master of the Choristers at Christ Church, Oxford, appointed by Thomas Cardinal Wolsey in 1526. The college had been founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey, and was then known as Cardinal College. Immediately before this, Taverner had been a clerk fellow at the Collegiate Church of Tattershall, Lincolnshire. In 1528 he was reprimanded for his (probably minor) involvement with Lutherans, but escaped punishment for being "but a musician". Wolsey fell from favour in 1529, and in 1530 Taverner left the college.

Here you go, a Sanctus from another Taverner Mass, Gloria Tibi Trinitas:

Friday, 23 November 2007

9. Josquin Des Prez - Missa Pange Lingua (c. 1514)
















Recording

Title: Josquin - Masses
Performer: Tallis Scholars
Director: Peter Phillips
Year: 1986
Length: 35 minutes

Review

This is a particularly interesting album, because before the mass proper you have the plainchant of Pange Lingua and so you can see where Josquin is coming from in his mass. The plainchant track is actually quite dull, as is most Gregorian chanting, but it is in Josquin's polyphonic adaptation of it that the music shines.

It is a pretty great insight into the genius of Des Prez, and the great thing that polyphony in general is when compared to the dullness of plainchant. The mass itself is beautiful, with some of the same sense of drama of the Browne Stabat Mater that we had here yesterday.

This is also the first of many masses that we will have in this list. And it is definitely a good start to them. Josquin was one of the superstars of the early renaissance and it is easy to see the why. Listen to this.

Track Highlights


1. Gloria
2. Credo
3. Agnus Dei
4. Sanctus & Benedictus

Final Grade


8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The Missa Pange lingua is considered to be Josquin's last mass. It was not available to Ottaviano Petrucci for his 1514 collection of Josquin's masses, the third and last of the set; additionally, the mass contains references to other late works such as the Missa de Beata Virgine and the Missa Sine nomine. It was not formally published until 1539 (by Hans Ott, in Nuremberg), although manuscript sources dating from Josquin's lifetime contain the work. Famous copyist Pierre Alamire included this mass at the beginning of one of his two compilations of masses by Josquin.

The Kyrie by the Westminster Cathedral Choir:

Thursday, 22 November 2007

8. John Browne - Stabat Mater (copied c. 1490 - 1502)
















Recording

Title: Music From The Eaton Choirbook
Performer: Tallis Scholars
Director: Peter Phillips
Year: 2005
Length: 16 minutes

Review

This is the first of what will be many iterations of the same text in this list, there are more Stabat Maters than you can shake a stick at, and they have inspired many of the best pieces of liturgical music. This is the first one on the list and it is quite a nifty one.

If there is one thing to distinguish here it is the way in which although it is still a polyphonic piece of music with some similarities to the Motets thatwe have been listening to, it is also a piece of drama, recounting the suffering of the Virgin during the passion of Christ.

This dramatic level of the piece leads to some interesting vocal play where parts of the text have clearly a greater inflection and the music follows this by making parts more dramatic than others. For example when the cry of the people 'Crucifige' comes on it is very clear, asking for Christ to be crucified.

Another interesting aspect of this track is how some of the voices clearly stand out above the other to make some point, in a very clear and beautiful way. The text works organically like some kind of beautiful kaleidoscope.

Track Highlights

1. Stabat Mater

Final Grade


8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

John Browne stands apart from the other Eton composers in his exceptionally varied choice of vocal forces - no two surviving works employ exactly the same - and in some predilection for very sombre texts. He stands apart from Lambe and the older composers in his greater liking for imitation and his somewhat less rigid handling of it (with for example more entries at intervals other than the unison or octave, notably at the fifth). Like Davy he is less inclined to use the old 'under-third' or 'Landini sixth' progression at a cadence (with leading-note falling by step before rising to its tonic) so beloved of John Dunstaple and Guillaume Dufay.

No youtube for you today...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

7. Jean de Ockeghem - Alma Redemptioris Mater (Late 15th Century)

















Recording

Title: Missa Mi-Mi, Salve Regina & Alma Redemptoris Mater.
Performer: The Clerk's Group
Director: Edward Wickham
Year: 1994
Length: 5 minutes.

Review

This is an even shorter piece of music than the last one, lasting little more than 5 minutes, Alma Redemptoris Mater is one of the very few remaining Motets by Ockeghem, and it is a very beautiful one.

This is a motet at four voices, mixing male and female voices in the recording with a particularly impressive vocal interplay and a fullness of sound not present in people like Busnoys. Ockeghem still falls behind Dufay in the Motet l33t skillz, but not very far, and unfortunately there are not enough motets around to give us a fuller impression.

I am sorry this is quite a short review, but it is based on 5 minutes of music.

Track Highlights

You are joking Right? I think I'll go for Alma Redemptoris Mater.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

A strong influence on Josquin Des Prez, Ockeghem was famous throughout Europe for his expressive music and his technical mastery. His technical prowess is demonstrated most clearly in the astonishing Missa prolationum, which consists entirely of mensuration canons, and the 'Missa cuiusvis', to be performed in different modes, but even these technique-oriented masterpieces demonstrate his insightful use of vocal ranges and uniquely expressive tonal language. Being a renowned bass singer himself, his use of wide-ranging and rhythmically active bass lines sets him apart from many of the other composers in the Netherlandish Schools.

Here is a quite interesting Deo Gratias by Ockeghem: