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29 tracks 138 minClick here to preview CD1 trk 13
2 CD set in an elegant, book-like package.
Sacred choral music from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance sung by Magdala directed by David Skinner.
Music from both manuscript and printed sources of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; a mix of English and Italian polyphony with music from all corners of the Holy Roman Empire, including Robert Fayrfax's splendid Mass Tecum principium.
1 Introit: Gaudeamus omnes Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 4.22
2 Gloria: Missa tecum principium Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521) 11.34
3 Communion: Ecce virgo concipiet Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 0.57
4 O beata et gloriosa trinitas Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594) 6.34
5 Sicut lilium Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 5.27
6 Ave maris stella Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) 5.52
7 Nigra sum sed formosa Tomas Luis de Victoria 3.37
8 Credo: Missa tecum principium Robert Fayrfax 13.36
9 Offertory: Ave Maria / Felix namque Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 3.25
10 O nata lux Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585) 1.52
11 Te lucis ante terminum Thomas Tallis 2.15
12 O Wilhelme, pastor bone John Taverner (c.1490-1545) 3.13
13 Christe, qui lux es et dies Robert White (c.1535-c.1574) 5.48
14 Communion: Benedicta filio tuo Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 0.38
Total time: 70.15
1 Introit: Puer natus est nobis Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 4.03
2 Sanctus: Missa tecum principium Robert Fayrfax 13.04
4 Kyrie: Deus creator omnium Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 2.37
5 Gradual: Viderunt omnes Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 2.27
6 Alleluia: Dies sanctificatus Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 2.16
7 Da pacem Orlandus Lassus (1532-1594) 2.56
8 Audi benigne conditor Orlandus Lassus 3.31
9 Ave virgo sanctissima Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) 3.50
10 Circumdederunt me Aires Fernandez (fl 16th century) 3.18
11 Ave Maria Francois Dulot (fl. early 16th century) 2.11
12 Magnificat (tone iv) Claude Sermisy (c.1490-1562) 6.28
13 Nunc dimittis Josquin Desprez (c.1440/55-1521) 4.39
14 Offertory: Tui sunt celi Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 1.44
15 Agnus Dei: Missa tecum principium Robert Fayrfax 11.57
16 Communion: Viderunt omnes Sherborne Missal/Crowland Gradual 0.40
Total time 67.36
Directed by David Skinner
Recorded in the chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, May 2005
Produced by David Skinner and Martin Souter
Cover image: Altar cross from a London mission Brass and copper - designed by James Brooks, English 1868-1873. V&A Images/Victoria & Albert Museum
Programme notes by David Skinner
CD207-1&2 This compilation p & c 2003 Classical Communications Ltd
Made in Great Britain
Sacred choral music from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance
Complex musical composition in the Western World could be said to have its beginnings with Guido of Arezzo, the 11th-century theorist and music teacher, and his invention of the stave. Arezzo's notation meant that composers could plot notes on to a 'graph' and distinguish the tones and semi-tones, although a precise system of rhythmic expression would not come until the Ars Nova (the 'New Art') movement of the early 14th century, when a musical notation was devised that is very akin to our own modern system of notation: a system of 'measured' music. From this point musical composition rapidly evolved from the rustic 'medieval' sound-world (an art laden with rhythmic organization and experimentation) of the 14th and 15th centuries, to more 'humanistic' approaches of the later 15th century and 16th century, when musical expression of the words and human passions was paramount. Thus we enter the golden age of polyphonic composition.
Sacred polyphony throughout this time served primarily one purpose: to embellish the liturgy, and especially the Mass. Sanctus is a celebration of the many strands of musical endeavour that flourished in renaissance England and on the European continent. Two sets of plainchant propers (Mass music for a particular liturgical season - in this case Christmas and the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) have been transcribed by Dr Anna Parsons from the Crowland Gradual, a 15th-century Benedictine manuscript now in the British Library. These plainchant melodies here serve as a framework (although not in strict liturgical order) upon which the glories of 16th-century polyphony are set. The centrepiece of the programming is a Christmas Mass (Tecum principium) by the great early Tudor composer Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal under both Henry VII and Henry VIII, and widely regarded as the finest English composer of his age. Five masses by Fayrfax have survived, and Tecum principium is thought to be among his last compositions. It is an excellent example of the 'role' of polyphonic music in pre-Reformation England, which may be said to serve simply as an aural tapestry and meditative backdrop during the service itself. Clarity of the text is not a primary concern here, but the long, sustained melodies, and the dramatic changes in texture provide the emotional stimulus for prayer.
Fayrfax's masses are from an age of true 'fan vaulted' polyphony, but religious reform was soon to fundamentally change the way composers approached their art. This can be seen most clearly in the English school of composition, where each change of monarch, and, thus, religious preference, placed great demands on musicians of the time. Such musical responses to politics and government can be found in the music of John Taverner, of a generation or two later than Fayrfax and who is known to have had Protestant leanings. Taverner's earliest compositions follow the style of Fayrfax, but in his later works, such as O Wilhelme, pastor bone, a greater concern for the clarity of the text (a great bugbear of the reformers) is evident. Here, rather than massive textures and long melismas, there are short pithy sections where bursts of imitation, antiphony, and syllabic writing serve to help define the literary text. Such care in text setting is all the more apparent after the Protestant reign of Edward VI (1547-1552), during which composers wrote in the vernacular, and, as the reformer archbishop Thomas Cranmer preferred, 'for every syllable a note', so much so that, when Edward's half-sister Mary came to the throne, composers did not return to the older style of Latin composition which had flourished under Henry VIII, but completely reworked their art. This can be heard in the compositions of Thomas Tallis and Robert White, both of whom lived throughout these religious and politically turbulent times. Both were largely responsible for developing new musical forms, whether mostly homophonic (Te lucis ante terminum and O nata lux) or more polyphonic, though still text driven (Christe qui lux es et dies).
The Continental school was another entity and based on a fundamentally different approach to composition and text setting. Josquin Desprez, who died in 1521, the same year as Fayrfax, set the standard, and later composers from all over Europe were to follow his example even to the end of the 16th century. The Nunc dimittis is a good example of his artistry, where strict imitation pervades and, unlike the earlier English school, one voice is as crucial to the compositional structure as the next (compare Josquin with the earlier Frenchman Francois Dulot); this was the birth of the refined imitative contrapuntal writing that was to define Western composition from the Renaissance to the time of J. S. Bach. Josquin's reputation after his death was certainly greater than during his life. Everyone seemed to want to emulate him, and the foundations of his style can be identified in the works of composers throughout the 16th century and from one country to another. Mid-century exponents included Claude Sermisy in France, who, in his Magnificat settings (one survives for each of the eight plainchant tones), explored different techniques of homophony and imitative polyphony; Aires Fernandez of Portugal, whose setting of Circumdederunt me (edited on this album by Dr Bernadette Nelson) is among the most beautiful settings for the Office of the Dead; and, from Spain, Francisco Guerrero, whose setting of Ave virgo sanctissima was so popular that he was regarded as 'the quintessential composer of the perfect Marian motet'.
Imitative polyphony on the Continent was to reach its peak in the later 16th century with the works of the three great masters Orlandus Lassus, Tomas Luis da Victoria and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Both Lassus and Victoria spent time in Rome, where Palestrina was based for much of his adult life. All, as Catholic composers, were subjected to the musical reforms put forward by the Council of Trent and the so-called Counter-Reformation. Again, the concern was clarity of text; and each composer, a master in his own right, provided a unique musical solution to the required changes. Lassus, the most versatile of late 16th-century musicians, is admired for his inventive use of textures, while Victoria is often put forward as the most passionate of the three, as is testified in the electric Nigra sum sed formosa. The great Palestrina, whose technical mastery was such that he is today still held as the model for late Renaissance counterpoint, is often criticized for the functional blandness that is sometimes apparent in his smaller scale works; still, few could argue that pure genius cannot be found in works such as O beata et gloriosa trinitas, or in the suave and intimately profound setting of Sicut lilium, which stands as one of his most beautiful compositions.
This collection of plainchant and polyphony is of necessity but a minimal sampling of the great quantity of music that has come down to us, but the assembled compositions are a testament to the emotional charge, inventiveness and ingenuity so clearly apparent in this rich period of composition - an art that transcended both generations and national boundaries, and one that was to shape the future of Western art music as we know it today.
MAGDALA was formed in 2002 as the first professional mixed-voice choir based at Magdalen College, Oxford. The choir is currently one of the finest ensembles of its type in Oxford and Cambridge, and specializes in music of the 15th and 16th centuries. Choral Vespers is performed by Magdala on Tuesdays in Magdalen College Chapel during term time. Magdala was ensemble in residence at the Victoria & Albert Museum 'Gothic' exhibition, and frequently gives concerts at home and abroad.
Paul de Cates