PLEASE NOTE: Tickets for this performance, at $63, $48 and $32 (students & seniors $3 discount) including HST are only available at the Chan Centre Ticket Office, or through Ticketmaster: 1-855-985-ARTS (2787) or www.ticketmaster.ca. (Note: Surcharges apply to orders made through Ticketmaster).
Rush Seats for Students with valid ID on sale for $10, at the door only, from 7:00 pm on the evening of the concert.
This concert is included in our “Bring a Youth for Free” programme.
William Cornysh (1465-1623):
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625):
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585):
Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611):
i n t e r v a l
John Taverner (1490-1545):
This programme presents a varied musical exploration of texts inspired by the events of Holy Week and Easter. Two settings of Woefully arrayed provide a particular focal point, one by the early renaissance English composer William Cornysh (1465-1523), and the other a recent setting written especially for Stile Antico by John McCabe (b.1939). The remaining repertoire represents a varied cross-section of Renaissance composers from England and the European continent, taking us from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, the Crucifixion on Good Friday to the resurrection on Easter day.
The English musical tradition from the late 15th century to the early 17th was an insular one. While in the 1420s and 30s it was in fact an Englishman (John Dunstaple) who had laid the stylistic foundations of the Renaissance style on both sides of the Channel, by the end of the fifteenth century English music had developed a strikingly distinctive voice. While there was an important ‘drip-feed’ of continental influences over the course of the next 120 years, this unmistakable individuality was retained. This is in stark contrast to the constant cross-fertilization seen amongst composers on the European mainland during this period. This fact can be attributed largely to the fact that, for obvious geographical reasons, English composers were comparatively less-travelled than their continental counterparts, many of whom spent time working in at least two different countries. In sixteenth-century England, political and religious upheaval also had a large part to play in the development of new styles.
One of the leading English composers around the turn of the sixteenth century was William Cornysh, some of whose church music survives in the Eton Choirbook. Woefully arrayed, however, is not church music, but rather a ‘devotional’ piece intended for domestic performance, and as such is more economical in word-setting, simpler in texture and less ornate than Cornysh’s large-scale church antiphons. What is striking, however, is the care shown in conveying the text; although the ‘word-painting’ has by no means reached baroque levels of sophistication, this piece is laden with affective gestures which illustrate the meaning of the text with particular vividness. The church style, by contrast, is here better represented by John Taverner (1490-1545), whose serene Easter respond Dum transisset, though not the most ornate work of its time, displays the characteristic soaring melismatic lines and predominance of the high treble part characteristic of the period. This piece is in fact a rare early example of the sort of large-scale polyphonic respond of which John Sheppard was later to become the chief exponent, whereby, in the polyphonic passages, the text’s original plainchant is stated in slow notes as a cantus firmus in the tenor part while the polyphony weaves around it.
The long-lived Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585) worked in the Chapel Royal under the reign of four monarchs, and as a result was obliged to compose both elaborate polyphony in the old style for the Catholic liturgy – for Henry VIII and Mary I – as well as short pieces in English to suit the tastes of the two Protestant monarchs, Edward VI and Elizabeth. That said, during Elizabeth’s reign the use of Latin was not deemed inappropriate for domestic devotional use, nor in such places (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, the Chapel Royal) where it was understood. O sacrum convivium comes from the collection Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, published in 1575 by Tallis and his younger colleague William Byrd (c.1540-1623), having been granted an exclusive license to print music by the queen. We may imagine that Elizabeth hoped Cantiones Sacrae would get some European circulation and serve to raise England’s musical profile abroad, for which the choice of Latin texts would be essential. Yet even considering these factors, O sacrum confronts us as a strikingly catholic piece, with its use of a Thomas Aquinas text from the liturgy of Corpus Christi (a feast outlawed by the English Prayer book) with strong, if not explicit, overtones of transubstantiation. We may never know how this piece was received by the churchmen of 1575, but what is not in doubt is that musically it is one of Tallis’s finest creations. That it is also known to have existed in contemporary instrumental and English-texted versions is strong evidence that it was as admired then as it remains now. The genius of this piece is in the carefully-paced way in which Tallis spins his motivic ideas into longer phrases, with masterful control of harmonic colour. After Tallis’s death, Byrd continued to make use of their shared music-printing monopoly, publishing four more musical collections in quick succession, of which the two books of Cantiones sacrae (1589 and 1591) are particularly notable for their subversively Catholic content. The Easter motet In resurrectione tua is the shortest piece in the 1589 collection, but is hardly the less impressive for that; indeed it can be counted amongst Byrd’s most virtuosic. The complex syncopated rhythms in the ‘alleluia’ sections in particular create a supremely uplifting sense of excitement and elation.
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was the natural successor to Tallis and Byrd in the Chapel Royal, and no less a compositional genius. Indeed, the eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould once said of him that ‘his music has moved me more deeply than any other sound experience I can think of’ – high praise from someone who spent much of his working life recording the keyboard music of J. S. Bach! That Gibbons’s work has tended to be overlooked can be ascribed partly to his relatively short life combined with the fact that his music – though innovative, harmonically daring and rhythmically ingenious in a wholly unique and unsurpassed way – was hardly ‘cutting edge’ when compared to the new baroque fashions which were quickly taking over Europe at the hands of Monteverdi and his contemporaries. His Easter anthem ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ (a setting of Jesus’ words from John’s Gospel) finds him in surprisingly austere mood. It is a backward-looking piece, although not without charm and nobility; the style is comparable in many ways with Tallis’ music of the 1560s – with stylistic elements creeping in from Byrd’s English anthems. The celebrated anthem Hosanna to the Son of David is ‘vintage Gibbons’ – a flurry of six-part contrapuntal wizardry.
All four Flemish composers represented here exported their talents further afield. Jean Lhéritier (c.1480-c.1551) spent a good deal of his career in Italy, and the significant influence his music had on the evolution of the sixteenth-century musical language is often neglected. His sublime melodic writing, masterly counterpoint, sonorous textures and harmonic confidence were to have no small effect on the works of the Italian masters of the next generation. His bold Easter motet Surrexit Pastor bonus is a testament to the quality and originality of his musicianship – a work of dazzling intensity and spiritual fervour.
Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505-c.1557), like so many notable Flemish composers, was involved in the Spanish court, as a priest and musician in the grand chapel of Emperor Charles V. His setting of Congratulamini mihi is less concentrated in its harmonic language than Lhéritier’s motet but, by contrast, more overtly joyful in tone, its florid lines exuding a vivid sense of elation, even when setting the more sombre text of the second part. Another Netherlander who ended up in Charles’s imperial chapel was Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-c.1560). It is perhaps inevitable that the one thing that is most often remembered about him is the most unsavoury – that he was convicted of violating a young boy and sent to the galleys. Yet it was in fact through his exceptional skills as a composer that he was able to earn a pardon from the Emperor and returned to his service; indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that his was the most original musical voice of his generation. Tulerunt Dominum is a work of astonishing emotional depth, yet conjured up out of minimal musical material which is constantly repeated and re-worked in an astonishingly affecting way. It was clearly recognized as a masterpiece at the time, as it exists in a number of different versions with both sacred and secular texts (perhaps the most famous is Lugebat David Absalon – another text about weeping).
Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) received only his earliest training in his native Low Countries; by his early teens he had already moved with his patron Ferrante Gonzaga to Mantua, then on to Milan, Naples and Rome. In 1556 he moved to Munich and was to stay for the rest of his life. In monte oliveti is a relatively early work, published in a motet collection of 1568; it relates Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Lassus portrays the emotional force of the text through the use of some bold harmonic shifts and occasional homophony, though these traits – though hallmarks of the composer - are not used as adventurously here as in his later work.
Like the Flemish, the leading Spanish composers of the period were also well-travelled, yet the Spanish music of the period seems to have maintained a unique intensity which is distinct from the rich harmonic colour of the Flemish school. Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553) spent ten years of his life as a singer in the Papal Chapel, which involved a significant amount of travel around Europe. The intensity of his style is evident in his devotional motet O crux, ave, where he uses long, evolving phrases to build up the emotional intensity as the work progresses. One of Morales’ pupils was Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), who spent most of his life at Seville Cathedral, although he spent some time travelling in the service of the Cardinal of Seville, Rodrigo de Castro. Maria Magdalene is a work of sunny complexion which tells of the arrival of the women at the tomb on Easter morning; here Guerrero uses a slowing of the rhythmic and harmonic pace combined with a turn to the minor as the crucifixion of Jesus is recalled, before an arrestingly energetic new point is introduced at the word ‘surrexit’ (‘he is risen’). The youngest and most famous of the Spaniards, Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) spent a significant portion of his career in Rome, gaining a reputation as one of the finest composers of his day. The intimacy and luminous harmonic qualities of his work are often remarked upon, and the striking motet O vos omnes is no exception – his carefully-paced control of dissonance and the compelling quality of his close-knit four-part texture results in a work of unusually remarkable poignancy.
A note from John McCabe on his setting of “Woefully arrayed”:
Woefully arrayed is a supreme choral setting by William Cornysh, Junior, who died in 1523, of a text usually regarded as of anonymous composition, though there have been some attributions to John Skelton. It is a thoughtful, powerful meditation on Christ on the Cross, and though Cornysh’s setting has remarkable intensity and contrapuntal artistry, I felt a strong wish to add my own response to this fine text. The different versions of it have different verses – that used by Cornysh has three verses (plus the refrain), while there are others with four or even five (one attributed to Skelton has five). I have chosen to restrict myself to the three used by Cornysh, using my own adaptation of the modernised words which yet incorporates some archaisms – a deliberate choice for reasons of rhythm and verbal sound.
This setting was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival 2009, for Stile Antico, to whom it is dedicated.
Stile Antico is an ensemble of young British singers, now established as one of the most original and exciting voices in its field. Much in demand in concert, the group performs regularly throughout Europe and North America. Their recordings on the Harmonia Mundi label have enjoyed great success, winning awards including the Diapason d’or de l’année and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and have twice attracted GRAMMY nominations. Their recent release Song of Songs won the 2009 Gramophone Award for Early Music and reached the top of the US Classical Chart.
Working without a conductor, the members of Stile Antico rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing artistically to the musical result. Their performances have repeatedly been praised for their vitality and commitment, expressive lucidity and imaginative response to text. Stile Antico’s repertoire ranges from the glorious legacy of the English Tudor composers to the works of the Flemish and Spanish schools and the music of the early Baroque. They are regularly invited to lead courses at Dartington International Summer School, and their commitment to educational work has been recognised through generous funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Stile Antico’s recent engagements include debuts at the BBC Proms, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, early music festivals in Boston, Bruges, Barcelona and Utrecht, and at the Cervantino Festival in Mexico. The group has toured extensively with Sting, appearing across Europe, Australia and the Far East as part of his Dowland project Songs from the Labyrinth. During 2011, Stile Antico makes its debut at London’s Wigmore Hall, appears at leading festivals throughout Europe and twice tours the United States.
Web site: www.stileantico.co.uk
The Singers of Stile Antico: