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Lagrime di San Pietro

composer
7vv; 1595
author of text

 
The architecture of the Lagrime reveals a series of devotional musical gestures which, woven together, lend the whole work a spiritual symmetry worthy of Bach himself. At the heart of it all lies the number seven: There are seven voices in the score, the work employs seven of the eight church modes, many of the movements are divisible into seven sections, and the total number of movements is 21—or seven times the number of the Trinity. Of course the number has a profound significance for one engaged in the act of penitence—there are seven deadly sins, seven penitential psalms, and seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Seven is also the number of times Peter suggests to Christ (Matthew:18) that his sinful brothers be forgiven, only to be rebuked by the answer that even ‘seventy times seven’ acts of mercy would not suffice.

No doubt then, that the elderly Lassus would have identified with the anguish of Peter; but it seems likely too that his selection of texts by Luigi Tansillo was carefully considered. One of the great inheritors of the Petrarchan school, Tansillo wrote the 42 stanzas of his Lagrime towards the end of a career which had seen notoriety and Papal censorship of his more licentious work. The text of the Lagrime was itself an act of penitence, and it won the explicit approval of the Pope—the same approval that Lassus sought in setting the first 20 stanzas of the work three decades later. Read consecutively, the stanzas present the stages of remorse experienced by Peter after his threefold denial of Christ. In the first few movements the focus lingers on the eyes of Christ, which in Tansillo’s hand become weapons to pierce Peter’s soul, later transformed to mirrors in which Peter witnesses his great crime with unbearable clarity. In the seventh and eighth madrigals Peter imagines the voice of Christ chastising him for his betrayal. The next twelve madrigals form a sequence of self-recriminations which begin with depictions of the tears of Peter (madrigals 9 to 13) and conclude with his desire to receive the punishment of death (madrigals 14 to 20).

By deliberate design, the 21st and final movement lies outside the harmonic plan of the cycle: The first 20 madrigals chart a tonal arc through modes I to VII, but the final motet Vide Homo, quae pro te patior is based upon the tonus peregrinus (‘wandering tone’), which perhaps reflects a shift in perspective from the worldly to the celestial. This release does not bring consolation—in fact, we witness the crucified Christ bitterly rebuking his audience, demanding witness to his suffering which, though painful, does not compare to the agony of man’s ingratitude for his sacrifice. Appropriately for the voice of Christ, this 13th-century text by Philippe de Grève is delivered in Latin, not Italian—though the anguish depicted in Lassus’ music is every bit as searing as before.

Lassus treasures every syllable of Tansillo’s poetry and goes to great lengths to see that we hear the lines as he does. The musical phrases echo the natural rhythms of speech, with no room for florid embellishment or melisma. Lines of text are repeated for emphasis where necessary, and are set antiphonally (between alternating smaller groups of singers) where some sense of dialogue is appropriate. Each madrigal has its own emotional arc, and the points of climax are set with both text and music in mind. Every phrase has its own colour, and though gloom and anguish surely dominate, there is the occasional moment of reprieve or a glimpse of the humour of the old days—witness the earthy song of the cockerel in the 11th madrigal, or the limping of the lame in the 18th. As a model for the fruitful union of music and poetry the Lagrime di San Pietro sits at the pinnacle of the sacred madrigal cycles of the late 16th century, and is one of the great musical achievements ‘comparable in its artistry, its dimensions, its asceticism,’ wrote Alfred Einstein in 1949, ‘to the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue.’

from notes by Gabriel Crouch © 2013

Recordings

Lassus: Lagrime di San Petro
Studio Master: SIGCD339Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Lassus: Lamentations & Requiem
Studio Master: SIGCD076Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

No 01: Il magnanimo Pietro
Track 1 on SIGCD339 [2'12] Download only
No 02: Ma gli archi
Track 2 on SIGCD339 [2'25] Download only
No 03: Tre volte haveva a l'importuna
Track 3 on SIGCD339 [2'21] Download only
No 04: Qual a l'incontro di quegli occhi santi
Track 4 on SIGCD339 [2'44] Download only
No 05: Giovane donna il suo bel volto in specchio
Track 5 on SIGCD339 [2'15] Download only
No 06: Così talhor
Track 6 on SIGCD339 [2'00] Download only
No 07: Ogni occhio del Signór lingua veloce
Track 7 on SIGCD339 [2'12] Download only
No 08: Nessún fedél trovai, nessún cortese
Track 8 on SIGCD339 [2'44] Download only
No 09: Chi ad una ad una raccontár potesse
Track 9 on SIGCD339 [2'18] Download only
No 10: Come falda di neve
Track 10 on SIGCD339 [2'54] Download only
No 11: È non fu il pianto suo rivo
Track 11 on SIGCD339 [2'19] Download only
No 12: Quel volto, ch'era poco inanzi stato
Track 12 on SIGCD339 [2'35] Download only
No 13: Veduto il míser quanto differente
Track 13 on SIGCD339 [3'09] Download only
No 14: E vago d'incontrár chi giusta pena
Track 14 on SIGCD339 [2'40] Download only
No 15: Váttene, vita, va
Track 15 on SIGCD339 [2'31] Download only
No 16: O vita troppo rea
Track 16 on SIGCD339 [2'35] Download only
No 17: A quanti, già felici in giovanezza
Track 17 on SIGCD339 [2'25] Download only
No 18: Non trovava mia fé si duro intoppo
Track 18 on SIGCD339 [2'31] Download only
No 19: Queste opre e più
Track 19 on SIGCD339 [2'14] Download only
No 20: Negando il mio Signór
Track 20 on SIGCD339 [2'27] Download only
No 21: Vide homo, quae pro te patior
Track 13 on SIGCD076 [3'21] Download only
Track 21 on SIGCD339 [3'47] Download only

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