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This celebratory recording by Magnificat showcases the rich, contrapuntal Renaissance style of Philippe Rogier's music and is bursting with lush textures and colours. Joining Magnificat in this performance is the instrumental group His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts with organ and harp, keeping with the Spanish liturgical music tradition of the 16th century. This full ensemble creates a kaleidoscope of sound and complements Rogier's intricate compositional techniques which includes up to twelve chordal parts in some of the movements. This recording truly demonstrates Rogier's position as one of the last great Renaissance composers.
Directed by Philip Cave, Magnificat specializes in the restoration and performance of neglected choral masterpieces of the 16th and 17th centuries. The choir, which ranges from four to forty voices, is composed of young professional singers, many of whom are former Oxford and Cambridge choral scholars or were trained at the country's leading music conservatories. His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts is a group of virtuoso wind players who specialise in playing Renaissance and Baroque music on original instruments in an effort to create a historically accurate performance. The inclusion of cornetts and sackbuts adds a noble and grandious sound to the performance and were an important tool for composers in creating a colourful timbre in the 16th and 17th centuries.
A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.
During his short career Rogier composed over 250 works, including Mass-settings, motets, chansons and villançicos (Spanish-texted religious works with secular origins). Only about a fifth of Rogier’s compositions has survived: many of his works were lost in the fire at the royal palace in Madrid in 1734; and 243 compositions listed in the library of King João IV of Portugal were destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Fortunately, Rogier had published a collection of motets in 1595 and assembled several mass settings ready for printing at the time of his death; these, and his other extant works, reveal an extraordinarily talented and versatile young composer. For someone who died at such an early age, and about whose life very little is known, we are left to speculate how Rogier managed to achieve a comprehensive grasp of two very different musical styles: one characterised by the flowing counterpoint of his Flemish predecessors, and the other demonstrating familiarity with the polychoral idiom popular in Italy at this time.
Polychoral Music in the Spanish Golden Age
The new compositional styles emanating from Italy during the latter part of the 16th century represented a dramatic shift from the idioms of the Renaissance, with an increased emphasis on polychoral scoring, antiphonal techniques, and instrumental accompaniment. Although it has traditionally been regarded as an essentially Italianate style, there is ample evidence of a vibrant Spanish tradition of polychoral writing. Rogier’s celebrated contemporaries Francisco Guerrero and Tomás Luis de Victoria, and later generations including Sebastián de Vivanco and Juan Bautista Comes, all wrote significant quantities of polychoral music. Furthermore, the participation of instrumentalists in Spanish liturgical music was well established by the late 16th century, and many cathedrals vied with each other for the best singers and players.
Monastic foundations tended to be more conservative in this regard, and it is less clear what role instrumentalists and polyphonic music played in the day-to-day liturgical life of Philip II’s grand structure at El Escorial. The combined monastery, basilica, library, royal palace, seminary and mausoleum took over twenty-one years to build and was consecrated on the Feast of St. Lawrence, 10 August 1586. The King spent lavishly on all aspects of El Escorial, including the installation of three large organs and provision of splendid choir books, yet the founding statutes forbade instrumental participation and polyphonic music, and no professional musicians were employed there during Philip II’s reign. There are, however, accounts of grand liturgies referring to the joint participation of several musical bodies: for example, the two musical components of the royal chapel, the capilla flamenca and the capilla española, were joined by choirs from the cathedrals of Ávila and Toledo for major ceremonies. There are also references to the use of cornetas y bajones y sacabuches (cornetts, bassoons and sackbuts) on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1588. To celebrate the patronal festival of St Lawrence, the monks were joined by the singers and instrumentalists of the royal chapel and ‘the sound of instruments and the organs filled the church’. In 1586, Rogier’s contemporary, Francisco Guerrero, chapelmaster at Seville Cathedral, wrote guidelines about ornamentation for his players. Such evidence suggests that this was a well-established practice, which the performers on this recording have followed, especially in the repeated refrains of the responsories, which provide opportunities for some splendidly festal flourishes.
Rogier’s Polychoral Music
As demonstrated in Magnificat’s previous recording of the Missa Ego sum qui sum, Rogier was clearly at ease writing works in the rich, contrapuntal Renaissance style of his native Flemish predecessors, such as Jacobus Clemens and Nicolas Gombert. What is newly revealed by the works recorded here is not only Rogier’s mastery of the more transparent style of the Roman School, typified by the music of Palestrina, but also of the forward-looking, Baroque writing typical of Venetian composers such as Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. Contemporaneous documents refer to several polychoral pieces by Rogier: for example, the court music copyist, Isaac Bertout, made copies of a twelve-part Magnificat by Rogier, complete with instrumental parts para los menestrilles (for the minstrels), in 1591. Rogier was certainly familiar with the works of the elder Gabrieli, for amongst the items bequeathed in his will to his student Géry de Ghersem were doze libros de motetes y madrigales italianos de Andrea Gabrieli (twelve books of motets and Italian madrigals by Andrea Gabrieli).
That Rogier was attracted by the new musical ideas emanating from Italy is further demonstrated by his setting of the Eastertide Marian antiphon Regina caeli. This motet for double choir perfectly sums up Rogier’s synthesis of the estilo antiguo—the ‘old’ imitative style of the Renaissance—and the nuevo estile—the emerging Baroque ideas of contrasting groups, shorter phrases, more rhythmical writing, and a more vertical, harmonically conceived style. The work opens with a single voice from Choir I intoning what first sounds like a plainsong incipit, but which becomes part of a polyphonic, freely imitative section (‘Regina caeli laetare, alleluia’). The second choir begins the next phrase (‘Quia quem meruisti’) until its alleluia, where Rogier alternates then expands the setting, culminating with all eight voices singing together. This leads to an exuberant treatment of ‘Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia’ where Rogier chooses rhythmical, fanfare-like figures, alternating rapidly between the two choirs. ‘Ora pro nobis’ follows in a more reflective style, before triple-metre alleluias lead the music to a sonorous close. Rogier’s setting of Psalm 150, Laudate Dominum, is similar in many ways to Regina caeli: the Psalm-setting opens in a rather retrospective, imitative style, then there is an almost irresistible response to the text as the Psalmist’s trumpets, harps, drums and cymbals make their appearance in short antiphonal phrases framed by full, eight-part writing.
The Missa Domine Dominus noster exists in two versions: the twelve-part setting recorded here, and one for eight voices, both preserved in the library at El Escorial. It was clearly a popular work as copies are found in Valencia; a reduction for five voices is held in the cathedral library at Valladolid; and a continuo part exists in the cathedral library at Palma. Its style is distinctly Baroque, with vigorous rhythms, antiphonal contrasts and shifting duple and triple metres. The first Kyrie opens in a rather serious mood, but this is soon dispelled by the more jaunty Christe eleison and second Kyrie. As is the case in several of Rogier’s masses, the Gloria and Credo receive expansive settings – both have especially luxurious final Amens. Rogier’s ability to keep the music ‘spinning’ is nowhere more evident than in these longer-texted movements, which are almost symphonic in their conception. The Gloria and Credo certainly possess a narrative character, and Rogier makes particularly effective use of contrast, both in scoring and texture, to propel the dramatic exposition of the text. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei are more concise: Rogier does not set the Benedictus, and provides only two clauses of the Agnus, but both movements have a stately quality that present Rogier’s mastery of the Italian, polychoral style.
It is tempting to view the Missa Domine Dominus noster as a parody mass, based on Rogier’s recently discovered twelve-voice motet Domine Dominus noster. This substantial three-choir work is not included in Rogier’s collected works (in Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 61, edited by Lavern Wagner) and exists only in a handwritten score with perfunctory textual underlay (Valladolid Cathedral MS 70/331). Although the motet lacks clear melodic evidence to prove itself as the model for Rogier’s mass, the polychoral writing is very similar. Following substantial editorial work, the motet is receiving its first recording here since its discovery in the Cathedral Archive at Valladolid.
‘Dominus’ can be construed with the double meaning of a temporal or spiritual Lord, and Rogier’s motet Domine Dominus noster, which sets verses from Psalm 8, may serve the dual function of addressing both God and the king. From the outset, Domine Dominus noster occupies the three choirs in busy alternation—a skilful effect that acoustically encompasses ‘universo mundo’. Rogier’s word-painting continues with devices such as rising triadic figures for ‘elevata est’ and battle-like cries for ‘ut destruas’. Changes in and out of duple and triple metre maintain the rhythmic interest, and Rogier builds to a dramatic final tutti for the words ‘Et constituisti eum super opera manuum tuarum’. Rogier, a master of the seamless, complex polyphonic style of his Flemish predecessors, is here creating something very different, demonstrating a keen awareness of spatial drama, and an intriguing use of modern musical language. He uses the same principle of sequential repetition that plays such a significant role in his Flemish Masses, yet in this motet he does so with the addition of strikingly harmonic juxtapositions which accentuate the antiphonal effects. This substantial and forward-looking work adds considerably to the corpus of Rogier’s music, and to our appreciation of his status as a composer.
The responsories Verbum caro factum est and Videntes stellam magi, composed for Christmas Day and Epiphany respectively, are both scored for twelve voices. They follow a similar pattern, making much of antiphonal effects between the three choirs, and contrasted with thrilling tutti passages. In both pieces, a harp is specified as continuo instrument for the first choir, and some parts are untexted in the original, suggesting instrumental participation. The construction of the three magnificent organs in the Basilica at El Escorial was completed in 1590, and perhaps these grand triple-choir pieces may have featured all three instruments. Both works share a similar layout: Choir 1 begins with a rather gentle statement in slow notes, then Choirs 2 and 3 enter with more lively material. Thereafter, short phrases are exchanged in rhythmical, chordal blocks—a technique that was to continue to develop in 17th-century Spanish music.
Rogier’s Missa Domine in virtute tua is clearly a parody Mass, based upon the eight-part motet Domine in virtute tua by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Although Palestrina’s reputation rests very considerably on his flowing contrapuntal style, many of his large-scale works are more vertically conceived, using alternating antiphonal choirs. Domine in virtute tua is a substantial work in two partes, setting the first seven verses of Psalm 21 and featuring frequent changes of texture and scoring. By contrast, Rogier’s Mass contains a considerable amount of solid eight-part writing. The material borrowed from Palestrina is limited, consisting of the opening of both halves of the motet. The melody of the opening Kyrie is used quite extensively throughout the mass as a head motif beginning each movement; the opening of the second half of the motet is heard in the Credo at ‘et incarnatus est’.
The performances on this recording present a variety of scorings, which serve to emphasise the scope of Rogier’s compositional styles. The Missa Domine in virtute tua is accompanied by dulcian and organ, and its model, Palestrina’s motet, is performed a cappella. The twelve-part Missa Domine Dominus noster and other polychoral motets feature a wide range of instrumental timbres, including brass, harp, lute, organ and dulcian.
Philip Cave © 2010