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Hyperion Records

CDH55213 - Anerio: Requiem
(Originally issued on CDA66417)

Recording details: February 1990
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: March 2006
Total duration: 71 minutes 5 seconds

'Westminster's is yet another of their supreme performances' (The Musical Times)

Anerio: Requiem
Kyrie  [1'57] GreekEnglish
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Famous composers can cast long shadows. The attention paid to Palestrina in the four centuries since his death has meant the neglect of a substantial group of composers who were his contemporaries, or part of the following generation. If noted at all, they are lumped together as the ‘Roman School’ and assumed—though very little of their music has actually been heard—to have continued to write in the conservative style of Palestrina’s Masses. And yet the forty or so years between 1580 and 1620 saw a huge expansion in Roman musical activity and a consequent explosion of composition by native Italians attracted to the city. Each of these composers was an individual and, while much of their music did continue to develop the style of the later Palestrina, they also began to explore the new ground opened up, for example, by the advent of the basso continuo. This is certainly true of the Anerio brothers, Felice and Giovanni Francesco, born in the 1560s into a Roman musical family—their father, Maurizio, was a trombone player—and the music presented here, some of it being heard for the first time since the seventeenth century, should help make listeners aware of the riches waiting to be discovered in the works of these composers.

A corollary to this adumbration of the generation of composers is what might be called the ‘Pachelbel Canon’ syndrome—the identification of a minor composer in the popular mind with a single piece. Thus, many people will have heard of (and perhaps heard) Anerio’s Christus factus est without knowing which of the two composer brothers wrote it—or even that there were two composers of that name. In fact there are three settings of this text, two attributed to Felice and one to Giovanni Francesco, though none is found in sources before the nineteenth century. The version included here is the popular one, found over and over again in anthologies, both with its original Latin text and with the English text ‘Jesus once for our salvation’. What accounts for the popularity of this and a handful of similar pieces by other composers from the period? It is basically a very simple homophonic setting which relies on the effective use of suspensions as its main expressive device. Its harmonies are more tonally directed than is usual at this time—which may explain its immediate appeal to later audiences—while the suspensions in the opening ‘Christus’ bring to mind those in the popular version of Allegri’s Miserere.

Christus factus est aside, Giovanni Francesco Anerio is probably the better known of the two brothers, particularly for his Masses, which include a Missa La battaglia and a rearrangement for four voices of Palestrina’s six-voice Missa Papae Marcelli as well as the Missa Pro defunctis recorded here. He was born in Rome in about 1567 and, after a musical education, took minor orders. He was active as a singer and maestro in various Roman churches, culminating at Santa Maria dei Monti from 1613 to 1620, during which period he was ordained to the priesthood in 1616, his first Mass at the church of the Gesù being a very grand occasion, with music for eight choirs, in which many of Rome’s singers and musicians took part. In about 1624 he left Rome for Poland where he was one of a number of Italians to serve as maestro to King Sigismund III. He died on his way back to Rome in 1630.

His Missa Pro defunctis, published in 1614, is one of an increasing number of such settings found in late sixteenth-century Rome and Spain. Each sets a different combination of movements from the Ordinary and Proper, but Anerio is unusual in including the sequence ‘Dies irae’, where he sets the even verses in polyphony, alternating with plainsong assigned to different voices in turn. This movement, describing the Last Judgement, is the centrepiece of the work and Anerio takes every opportunity to match his music to the words: for example, the use of chromatic alteration on ‘Quaerens me’ and ‘Ingemisco’. The solo sections for various groupings in this and other movements are particularly effective, both in themselves and in providing overall contrast and balance. This same sense of balance causes Anerio to end the work not with the hellfire of the ‘Libera me’, but with a calm and beautifully judged setting of the plea for mercy, ‘Kyrie eleison’. Plainsong pervades the work, both as cantus firmus and paraphrase, but often in very subtle ways. The setting of the third ‘Agnus Dei’ is especially poignant.

Felice Anerio, the elder of the two brothers, was born in about 1560. He was successively a choirboy at Santa Maria Maggiore and at St Peter’s (under Palestrina), continuing in the latter after his voice broke. Service at various Roman churches followed, including spells as maestro at the Spanish Santa Maria di Monserrato and the English College, before he was appointed composer to the Papal Chapel on the death of Palestrina in 1594. This appointment was engineered by his patron, the papal nephew Cardinal Aldobrandini, and was not entirely welcomed by the members of the Papal Chapel, which at that period included a number of composers such as Giovanni Maria Nanino who would have regarded themselves as being of equal standing with Anerio. In the early 1600s he acted as maestro to Duke Giovanni Angelo Altemps, who maintained an important private chapel in the city, and while in his service he too, like his younger brother, began to explore the new styles of writing for small numbers of voices with basso continuo. His very large output in this area has remained completely unedited and ignored, leading to his being somewhat unjustly regarded as more conservative than his younger brother. That said, his larger-scale sacred music remains close in style to that of the late Palestrina. He too was ordained a priest in 1607.

Most of the music by Felice presented here is for double choir, a medium of great popularity in post-Tridentine Rome; indeed Rome far outstripped Venice in the production of polychoral music in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This music was usually accompanied by organ and other instruments, though not in the Sistine chapel, for which the Magnificat setting sung here was written. It is through-composed and loosely based on the fifth reciting tone which is quoted at intervals during the piece. The verses are divided between the choirs, with important words and phrases being highlighted by antiphonal exchange, by the use of eight voices together, or by changes in texture from homophony to polyphony or vice versa.

Vidi speciosam sets a text from the Song of Songs, a source of erotic verse which, because of its biblical pedigree, was a safe and therefore popular quarry for late sixteenth-century composers. The beautiful imagery of the text draws from Anerio some of his finest and most expressive writing for double choir, with constant changes of texture to match the text and rising phrases painting the words ‘ascendentem’ and ‘ascendit’. The piece is attributed to Victoria in one late manuscript source, though Anerio himself published it in 1602; stylistically the misattribution is not so far-fetched as the motet comes close to the Spanish composer’s expressiveness. Both Anerio brothers were madrigalists and brought to their sacred music something of the late sixteenth-century madrigalist’s care in matching text to music.

Ad te levavi sets Psalm 122 (123) whose penitential text would have made it suitable for singing in Roman oratories during Lent. This is also an expressive setting with care taken over the words: for example, the piece opens with a rising figure reflecting the text (‘Unto thee lift I up mine eyes’), which is introduced in imitation by each voice in the first choir. The second choir answers with slow homophonic chords which well illustrate the longing as the ‘eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters’.

The four-voice Christmas Hymn Christe redemptor omnium comes from a complete cycle of alternatim Vesper Hymns and represents Anerio in his most traditional vein; he writes expansive imitative polyphony which keeps close to the plainsong with which it alternates, and—apart from the word ‘caelum’—eschews word-painting.

Salve regina is the Marian antiphon sung at the end of Compline or Vespers between Pentecost and Advent. It contrasts a high choir with a low one, something unusual in Roman double-choir music. The restrained setting matches well the imploring mood of the text while Anerio relies for expression on the sharpening of thirds and the juxtaposition of major and minor harmonies, something which underlines the poignancy of the words. It is perhaps in this setting that Felice Anerio’s individual voice can be most clearly heard.

Noel O'Regan © 1990

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