The inspiring and uplifting sacred music of the late 16th century defines ‘Europe's Golden Age', and Magnificat captures that spirit with its very special golden choral sound. There are contributions from the great polyphonists Josquin, Lassus and Victoria, as well as a selection of other exquisite works by Guerrero and Rebelo. Familiar gems such as Palestrina's Stabat mater and Allegri's Miserere, with appropriate vocal ornamentation and great sensitivity to the texts, complete Magnificat's stunning debut.
Evolving gradually from the single flowing lines of Gregorian chant, the polyphonic music of the great composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries continues to draw us into its atmosphere of timeless contemplation. Influenced no doubt by the great buildings for which they were composed and the liturgies and occasions which they adorned and beautified, these great works speak to us today as powerfully as when they were written. This recording begins an exploration of European church music from this period, known as the Golden Age.
Spanish composers contributed enormously to the polyphonic repertory of this period and amongst them were the great masters Francisco Guerrero and Tomás Luis de Victoria. Victoria was a choirboy in the cathedral at Avila and after his voice broke, he went to study in Rome, quite possibly as a pupil of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. He became a priest and was chaplain to King Philip II’s sister, the Dowager Empress Maria, for many years. He is hailed as the greatest Spanish Renaissance composer and his output comprises exclusively Latin sacred music. Famed for the smooth lines of his polyphony, Victoria’s music is nonetheless imbued with great fervour and emotional intensity. Guerrero, too, was renowned for the simple beauty of his music; a pupil of Morales, he visited Rome, Venice and the Holy Land, and his music flourished in Spain and Spanish-America for more than two centuries.
Gregorio Allegri was composer, singer and maestro di cappella at the Sistine Chapel and his Miserere has appealed to countless listeners over the centuries. It was for many years a musical secret guarded jealously by the Sistine Chapel until, as the story goes, the young Mozart heard the work and sat down and wrote it all out from memory, unleashing a host of copies. It is a simple piece of music and its effect is made in the alternation of verses sung in plainchant with verses sung by the full choir and by a quartet. The latter includes the soprano high Cs and true to the performance practice of the Sistine Chapel Choir at the time, ornaments are added in this performance.
Regarded by many as one of Palestrina’s finest works, this setting of Jacopone da Todi’s devotional poem Stabat mater dolorosa is for eight voices and dates from 1589-90. It was performed for many years exclusively by the Papal Choir and, like Allegri’s Miserere, was also a closely safeguarded musical possession. It is a simple setting but very moving. In the nineteenth century, Wagner heard the work and described the experience as ‘full of unspeakable emotion’. The work has continued to move audiences to the present day.
The Portuguese composer João Lourenço Rebelo became a favourite of King John IV who knighted him and appointed him in charge of the music of the Chapel Royal. Panis angelicus is a seven-part motet and one of sadly very few of Rebelo’s works which survived the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755.
As colourful stories about musicians go, Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, is high on the list: he was a nobleman and an amateur musician, notorious for the murder of his adulterous wife. His works are full of unexpected dissonance and striking chromaticism, usually in response to the strong emotions of the texts which he set, as amply demonstrated in this Passiontide work O vos omnes.
Josquin Des Prez may well have written Absalon fili mi in memory of Duke Juan Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, who was murdered in 1497. The text takes three laments from the Old Testament—those of David, Job and Jacob mourning for their sons—in which the sombre effect is enhanced by very sonorous writing for the lower voices only.
The most famous musician of his day and the most-published composer in Europe, Orlandus Lassus wrote in almost every style available and in many languages. Timor et tremor is a highly evocative piece full of daring harmonies and rhythmic devices responding to every detail of the text. Iustorum animae dates from 1582 and is a gentler work, radiating peace and fulfilment. Tristis est anima mea, a Passiontide work, was included in Selectissimae Cantiones of 1568 and shows Lassus’ style at his most suave and mellifluous, especially in his treatment of the highly descriptive phrase ‘vos fugam capietis‘ (‘you shall take flight’) where the voices follow each other in an evocative passage of descending imitative phrases.
Linn Records © 1996