On these holy days - in the Continuo Studio - we welcomed Mick Swithinbank, tenor and leader of The Art of Music vocal Ensemble, to present the latest CD edition «Fammi cantar» and to comment (podcast) a selection of some Renaissance pieces, as shown here:
Tomas Luis de Victoria: Amicus meus
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Vinea mea electa
Christian Hollander: Dum transisset Sabbatum
Lauda (from Italy): Benedicti e llaudati
Plainchant (medieval English): Ave regina celorum
Plainchant: Te lucis ante terminum.
The following LINER NOTES give a complete overlook over the new CD:
The concert recordings featured here date from 2017, 2018 and early 2019. During this period, the Art of Music gradually increased its membership from seven singers to nine, and in one concert which features heavily in this compilation, the alto Raluca Jorz also sang with the group.
Franco-Flemish composers played a key role in developing Renaissance polyphony, to which much of this CD is devoted. Many found work in Italy, propagating the latest style there. One who did so in the generation after Josquin was Lhéritier, represented here by a motet (#2) which draws its text from two penitential psalms. Palestrina (#12), Victoria (#7, 10, 14) and others took the baton from them.
However, this CD begins with music of a different genre, which originated in the Middle Ages: the lauda. This was indeed indigenous to Italy, comprising religious songs not intended for church use. The texts were in Italian rather than Latin and the music was very simple: at first just a single melody line, although later three voice parts, moving largely in step, became common. #8 is an example of an unadorned melody of the original lauda type. #1 and 5 were composed in the same style, but the performances here are less purist: accompanying voice parts have been added in a more modern, sometimes dissonant, style, either to obtain a drone effect or else moving more freely, in both cases inspired by the performances of the Scandinavian women’s group Trio Medieval. Laude were commonly written in adoration of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, but Benedicti (#5) is in praise of the Apostles. Also medieval is #3, a three-part setting of a conductus, a Latin poem whose text was not part of the liturgy but which – like a motet – would, or at least could, have been sung in church.
#4, a prayer addressed to Jesus, comes from a manuscript of continental origin that was presented to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon around 1516 and which contained largely anonymous polyphony. The works by Victoria and Palestrina comprise music for Holy Week, some of the texts containing dramatic accounts of the events leading up to the Crucifixion. Particularly striking is the way in which Victoria brings Amicus meus (#10) to an abrupt close with the words ‘se suspendit’, relating how Judas hanged himself. In a resonant acoustic, the last two notes, a semitone apart, are left hanging in the air as a dissonance after the work ends – an effect that must surely have been intended by the composer.
Devotion to the Virgin Mary was always popular, as witness #1, 3, 13 (which in addition alludes to Mary’s suffering at the Crucifixion), 15 and 17-19.
Many settings of Dum transisset sabbatum (#16) exist. It relates how the three Marys went to Jesus’s tomb to anoint his body just as the sun was rising. Settings of the text are often quite euphoric in tone, being filled with an awareness of what happened next, when the women met an angel and learned of the Resurrection. The motet would probably have been sung at or before daybreak on Easter Day.
The death of the composer Adriaen Willaert is lamented in light-hearted vein in Andrea Gabrieli’s Sassi, Palae, Sabbion (#20), which is a kind of extended joke. Bizarrely, the text is in a mixture of Greek and Venetian dialect. Before ever coming to the point, it largely consists of a deliberately lengthy list not only of creatures but even of inanimate objects in the Adriatic Sea which are apostrophised and invited to lament the composer’s death. Gabrieli set it in suitably frivolous fashion, as if it were a madrigal.