'Another distinguished release from the Westminster stable' (Classic CD)
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'Glorious' (BBC Music Magazine)
'A superb disc' (Hi-Fi News)
'A fascinating programme' (Goldberg)
Agnus Dei [4'11]
After successes with recordings of music by Frank Martin, Ildebrando Pizzetti and Francisco Guerrero, The Choir of Westminster Cathedral now turns to music associated with Philip II of Spain, the fourth centenary of whose death falls this year. Philip was regarded as something of a patron of the arts, and each of the works recorded here was either dedicated to him or composed to honour an event during his reign.
The centrepiece of the recording is Escobedo's mighty Missa Philippus Rex Hispaniae. It is written for six voices in a strong contrapuntal style rooted in the Franco-Flemish traditions of the contemporary Papal chapel, owing much to the generation of Josquin des Prez and successors like Morales, a senior colleague of Escobedo in the choir of the Sistine Chapel (where records show that Escobedo was frequently 'booked' for bad behaviour!). This is the first recording of Anthony Fiumara's pioneering transcription of the Mass—it survives in just one manuscript which is in such bad condition (largely due to ink corrosion) that several of the pages are virtually black.
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Philip II of Spain died at San Lorenzo de El Escorial as dawn broke on Sunday 13 September 1598. The boys of the monastery school had begun to sing the first Mass of the day. Philip had been able to see the High Altar of his basilica directly from his sick-bed in the chamber where he had spent his agonized last months. As he held his father’s crucifix until the last moment, his great wish to be fully conscious to the end was granted. So passed away the most powerful monarch of his time. Vilified by some, feared (with distant respect) by others, he had been totally convinced of the rightness of his causes: the defence of the Catholic faith against the Protestant North, and the triumph of Spain over the infidel and the heretic, his empire a bastion against the twin evils of Islam and Luther’s progeny. So he saw it.
Philip has had a reputation as a great patron of music and the visual arts. This view has been questioned, certainly in respect of music, by scholars such as Luis Robledo and Michael Noone who have found very little evidence that he was particularly musical or that he took any special interest in composers or their work. It has been assumed too easily that he was a great patron because of the many dedications made to him by numerous composers, including Guerrero, Palestrina, Infantas and Victoria. But Philip was immensely powerful and inordinately concerned with detail, not only in secular matters of government and good order in the affairs of his subjects, but also in the most minute matters of church liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline and the appointments of even quite minor clerics and priest-musicians.
Philip’s personal tastes in music seem to have been austere, but it may have been for reasons of strict orthodoxy of monastic observance that his ordinances for the liturgy’s conduct by his chosen monks at the Escorial, the Jeronymites, seem to exclude polyphony. More concerned with orthodoxy than aesthetics, the king was determined to the point of obsession on correct liturgical practice, keeping to the letter of rules and definitions from the Council of Trent. Yet, there is abundant evidence of his acceptance of elaborate polyphony and the use of instruments in his capilla real in Madrid and during visits to the Escorial. There were occasions when his monks (one hundred of them) plainchanted and his chapel singers combined in polyphony with the choir of Toledo Cathedral, with ministriles (wind players) and virtuoso organists, in ceremonies so splendid that witnesses were overwhelmed.
Whatever the truth of his musicality, we have the good fortune to have inherited some very fine music which was either dedicated to him or directed towards his person and family. The fourth centenary of Philip’s passing is an occasion to bring together notable works associated with his life and death. We have made a frame of funeral music around two works that date from the beginning of Philip’s reign and from the triumphant middle years. The setting of the Mass by Escobedo is the subject of great interest to scholars and performers alike. Despite discussion and speculation it has only recently been satisfactorily transcribed. It was thought almost indecipherable: now it can be heard.
At the time of King Philip’s death Ambrosio Cotes was maestro de capilla at Valencia Cathedral. His grand motet for seven voices, surviving in part-books kept at the Royal College of Corpus Christi (familiarly ‘The Patriarca’) in Valencia, bears the superscription ‘In exequiis Catholici Regis Philippi ij’. There can be little doubt that it was composed for a memorial service celebrated at the cathedral soon after the royal exequies had taken place in Madrid on 18 and 19 October 1598, some five weeks after Philip’s death and prompt burial at the Escorial.
Vivanco was maestro at Ávila in 1598; later he occupied the twin positions of university professor and maestro at Salamanca. We cannot determine when he wrote Versa est in luctum. It survives in a manuscript copied long after his time and may have been among the pages now missing from the damaged copies that survive of his motet book, printed in 1610. His vocal scoring is exactly the same as that used by Lobo and Victoria for their settings of the same words. This text is one re-arranged from the Book of Job into a liturgical responsorium. Peñalosa (around 1500) had composed music for the full responsory and its verse. A century later Lobo, Victoria and Vivanco used just the responsory without the verse, clearly as a motet for para-liturgical or extra-liturgical use. During the seventeenth century, Spanish, Portuguese and New World composers set these emotive words. José de Torres published a succinct and punchy version in 1703.
A number of occasional pieces were written specifically to celebrate events during Philip’s reign. Instances include the Victory of Lepanto (1571) and the Holy Year declared by the Pope in 1575. There are also works that were directed more personally to the king himself. The composer responsible for many of these was Don Fernando de las Infantas who dedicated more books of music to Philip than any other composer. Born in Córdoba, a member of the lesser nobility, he was well trained in music and became a contrapuntal expert. He never held a professional position and seems to have lived comfortably on his family inheritance. He lived a great part of his life in Italy where he abandoned composition after publishing a great deal in four sets of part-books printed in 1578 and 1579. Just a few years earlier Infantas arranged to have two handsome choirbooks of his music copied by the famous Papal scribe Johannes Parvus. These books—surviving, it seems, from Philip’s library—are now in the safe-keeping of the library of the Abbey of Monserrat (MSS774 and 775). Most of the works were later published in Infantas’ printed collections, but of the few that were not Quasi stella matutina is unique in being directed, in its specially adapted text, to the persons of the royal family.
It is likely that this lively motet for six voices was written for an occasion at San Jerónimo el Real in Madrid when the king and queen with their children were present on a Feast Day of St Jerome (9 May or 30 September). It is addressed to St Jerome, patron of the monastic order of Jeronymites (an exclusively Iberian order founded in 1373). The hymn-like text breaks off its praise for the renowned and learned Doctor of the Church and describes the Saint as ‘helper to Philip II, our true Catholic King, in his troubles’. It goes on to intercede for the queen and the royal children. It has been misunderstood as ending with sad thoughts of death, but both the music and the final words indicate joyful praise to St Jerome in a song for all present. The swinging triple rhythms to the words ‘Melos laeti canimus’ bring this unusual piece to a resounding finish. It cannot have been composed until a year or two after Philip’s marriage to Anne in 1570, and it cannot have been written into the choirbook later than 1575 because Parvus, the copyist, died in 1576. Queen Anne died in 1580.
It would be very pleasing if we could say that Escobedo’s ‘homage Mass’ was sung at Philip’s coronation. Despite extravagant claims, there is absolutely no evidence for this. Philip did not have a coronation (in our sense); he was in the Spanish Netherlands when, between late 1555 and March 1556, his father Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King (as Charles I) of Spain, abdicated from his various realms. Philip was again in the Low Countries when Charles died in 1558. What we know of the ceremonies of accession in 1559 is lacking musical information. The most that can be determined is that Escobedo’s Mass cannot date from earlier than 1556 nor later than 1563 when Parvus, the copyist, signed and dated his work on the choirbook, now Vatican Library Manuscript Capp.Sist.39. Escobedo died in 1563; we must suppose his Mass belongs to the period 1556 to 1559. The Sistine manuscript is the only source we have for Escobedo’s magnum opus; no copy is known in Spain, nor is there any mention of the work.
Bartolomé de Escobedo, a native of Zamora, spent two long periods as a singer in the Papal choir of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. He and Cristóbal de Morales would have known each other well; Escobedo joined the choir in 1536, the year after Morales. With one extended leave of absence, he remained in Rome until 1554. He is mentioned several times in the diaries of the Cappella Sistina, sometimes for bad-tempered behaviour. When he retired to Spain he maintained contact with the Sistine choir and advised on recruitment. The great theorist Salinas, university professor and cathedral maestro at Salamanca, was a friend and called Escobedo ‘an extremely learned musician’.
Escobedo held a benefice at Segovia and may have wished to supplement his retirement with additional beneficial rewards. This could have been a motive for paying honour to the new king with a splendid Mass, replete with symbols of homage and learned devices. The ‘Philippus’ Mass is written for six voices in a strong contrapuntal style rooted in the recent Franco-Flemish traditions of the Papal chapel. It owes much to the generation of Josquin Desprez and successors like Morales, a senior colleague of Escobedo.
The structure of the work shows that Escobedo was thoroughly familiar with Josquin’s famous Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae. The syllables for Escobedo’s musical motto theme (soggetto cavato) are Mi Mi Ut Re Mi Fa Mi Re of the hexachord (modal scale) representing Philippus Rex Hispanie.
This is the cantus firmus that runs throughout the Mass in various tempos, its note values sometimes at odds with the prevailing time signature of the other voices, usually slower than their busy movement, occasionally matching them. Finally, in the Agnus Dei it is slowed down to become a series of internal pedal points round which the five free voices run up and down like tendrils and foliage of plants around a great pillar. Here the debt to Josquin is most apparent. The ‘Philippus’ theme is also subjected to presentations at different pitches, usually buried deep in the musical fabric. But there are notable moments when it emerges to dominate and to be heard above all else. This happens at ‘Et incarnatus est …’ when it is presented eight times in the top voice of a quartet.
Escobedo’s music for this act of homage is vigorous and, at times, impressively grand. It has its awkward moments and Palestrina, no doubt, would have winced at some infelicities. It has character and rhythmic drive; it certainly sheds new light upon the generation of Morales and Spanish music before Guerrero, who was surely the most ‘hispanic’ of all.
The Missa Philippus Rex Hispaniae has been transcribed, published and now recorded so that it is ‘in the light of day’ at an appropriate time. ‘Transcription’ is too mild a word to use for what became a task of expert decipherment of the sole surviving source.
The reconstruction of Escobedo’s Missa Philippus Rex Hispaniae
A major factor in the editing of Escobedo’s Mass is the deplorable condition of its only source—choirbook No 39 of the Sistine Chapel, kept in the Vatican Library, Rome. It was produced between 1558 and 1563 by Johannes Parvus, Papal copyist and composer. Many parts of this manuscript are in a state of severe deterioration due to ink corrosion. Making a modern edition involved deducing and reconstructing the music in the many places where the corrosion had eaten away the parchment surface and sometimes gone through it. Thus a number of visual and musical problems had to be dealt with to achieve restoration for publication and performance.
The decay of the manuscript is at its worst where there is such penetration to the other side of a page that black and white microfilm was no help. Visits to the Vatican Library, high quality colour photography, prolonged study and experimentation were all necessary, but the task was greatly helped by the regular hand-writing of Parvus, the justly famed copyist. Using empirical transcribing techniques, it was found that the complete Mass could be restored with 99 per cent certainty, leaving a few notes, usually just one or two, rarely more in a group, to be supplied editorially on purely musical grounds.
A ‘visual technique’ was applied to distinguish notes on a page from those that had bled through from its reverse side. Parvus had a very regular hand; his pen produced lines of differing thickness according to the angle of stroke. This was found to be very consistent, as were the proportions of his note-shapes where the relationship of note-head to stem-length was a regular ratio of 1:2. Thus, by analysis of these features, what was on one side or the other of a page could be determined. The regularity of spacing and the constancy of layout within straight margins helped the editor use the technique of transcribing backwards as well as forwards towards illegible places, isolating them until their meaning became clear.
The ‘musical technique’, of course, worked with the visual one. This involved harmonic and melodic assessment of the composer’s contrapuntal style. Indipensable was the mapping out of the cantus firmus in its various guises of note-lengths and the pitches of its statements.
This structural girder or spine of the whole composition presented the editor with a problem: how to apply text to this recurrent theme. The words ‘Philippus Rex Hispanie’ are underlaid only once, to the tenor of Kyrie I. This is actually the only place in which the work’s title appears. When the theme recurs it is accompanied by brief cues, not carefully underlaid, giving a few words of text that usually coincide with some of what is being sung by the other voices. These cues do not fit well. It was probably intended by Escobedo that its early performances would honour the king with constant repetitions of his name and title. The editors and publisher decided to give performers the choice of the ‘Philippus’ motto or appropriate portions of the Mass text at each appearance. Westminster Cathedral Choir uses the former solution on this recording.
Other aspects of the restored modern edition include the resolution of the canons (verbal instructions) which Escobedo employed. Instances include ‘Et incarnatus est …’, where one voice seems to be notated for a symbolic purpose only; it is not to be sung. It is a purely visual symbol drawing attention to Philip’s mission of royalty ensuring God’s Kingdom on earth.
At ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ there is an imitative canon for four voices which may be supplemented by two more si placet (‘if you wish’); the six-part version has been used on this recording.
The motto-bearing tenor part in the Agnus Dei carries the canon ‘clama ne cesses’ in which Escobedo follows the famous precedent in Josquin’s Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales. It is a quotation from Isaiah 58:1: ‘Clama ne cesses, quasi tuba exalta vocem tuam’ (‘Cry out, cease not, lift up your voice like a trumpet’). As in Josquin’s Mass, Escobedo’s instruction requires the elimination of all notated rests and the stretching of the duration of the notes so that, literally, the voices sing the ‘Philippus’ theme without stopping.
Alonso Lobo’s elegiac masterpiece Versa est in luctum was written for Philip’s memorial at Toledo Cathedral. It was published in the composer’s Liber primus missarum (Madrid, 1602) and is headed ‘Ad exequias Philip. II Cathol. Regis Hisp.’. It is one of a group of seven motets which follow six of Lobo’s Masses and they are described as ‘for devout singing at solemn Mass’. It is possible that Versa est in luctum was sung at the Missa pro defunctis which concluded the agenda mortuorum held at San Jerónimo el Real, the church, monastery and palace favoured by Philip in Madrid. There, on 19 October, the Archbishop of Toledo was the presiding celebrant of the final Requiem Mass. The proposed order of service (which survives) allowed for a motet to be sung at the Elevation of the Host, between the Sanctus and Benedictus. If Lobo was there with his singers, part of the Archbishop’s customary entourage, his motet may well have been sung. That is to speculate: what is certain is that this beautiful work has now become a much performed and frequently recorded favourite of choirs, professional and amateur.
Our presentation of memorial music for Philip II ends with a reconstruction of the full responsorium that follows the ninth lesson at Matins of the Dead, also used as the responsory at the Absolution after the Mass for the Dead. Such a rendition after Requiem Mass would have been performed next to the catafalque after the customary homily, a panegyric for the departed, had been delivered by the celebrant.
Lobo’s polyphonic settings of appropriate sections of the responsorial chant and its verses survive in a manuscript still in the Toledo Cathedral archives (Libro de coro No 24). To revive it, one needs plainchant of the period. Fortunately, we have these sections in the margin of a manuscript, originally from Lerma in the province of Burgos, now in the library of the Hispanic Society of America. This states that it follows the canto llano (plainchant) of El Escorial according to the Use of Toledo. Lobo was master of the music at Toledo from 1593 to 1604. Our reconstruction has the chant and polyphony put together in responsorial form, with its verses and repeats. There are many injunctions to be found in musical and liturgical documents of this period in Spain which demand slow singing of chant in the Office of the Dead and other solemn occasions. Here we try to present the unhurried ceremony of the Catholic way of death, set in music by a composer who is now being recognized as a worthy contemporary of Victoria.
Bruno Turner © 1998