Mark Powell: A Passion for Pärt

Mark Powell and Arvo Part May 2016
Mark Powell and Arvo Part May 2016

Arvo Pärt and Mark Powell, Walt Disney Concert Hall, May 2016
Videmus nunc per speculum in ænigmate: tunc autem facie ad faciem. Nunc cognosco ex parte: tunc autem cognoscam sicut et cognitus sum. I Cor. XIII.xii

I was in college in 1988. At some point that year I made one of my reasonably frequent visits to the Tower Records near the Space Needle in Seattle. In the Classical Room (remember those!?) there was some amazing music playing, and I stood in silence not really knowing what I was hearing, but intuitively knowing that it was music that I wanted to know more. It was the Passio by Arvo Pärt.

I instantly bought the CD, among the first CDs I ever purchased, from Rob Weltzien, one of the most knowledgeable persons on the planet when it comes to classical recordings. We’re still friends, and he’s still in Seattle and a subscriber to Cappella Romana.

Opening the simple grey package with the words PASSIO printed in blood red and putting the silver disc in the player, I discovered that Pärt’s Passio was presented as a single track of 71 minutes and 40 seconds, which in those days was about as much as you could fit on a single CD. Manfred Eicher at ECM and Arvo himself clearly wanted the listener to experience this piece as its composite whole, and not in sections. I listened and followed the Latin text as it unfolded. When Jesus sings “Consumatum est” I unexpectedly wept. …

Continue reading Mark Powell’s post on ThirdAngle.org

Björk Guðmundsdóttir interviews Arvo Pärt

Icelandic artist Björk Guðmundsdóttir (also known simply as Björk) interviewed Arvo Pärt for a 1997 BBC documentary about musical minimalists.

“In art, all things are possible, but not all things are necessary” –Arvo Pärt

 

I can’t help but think about St. Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians when it comes to why Pärt’s music is the way it is: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (I Cor. 10.13).

It’s also worth noting that Björk has worked extensively on a number of recordings and projects with Arvo’s son, Michael Pärt, who is also a musician. A film composer and producer, he has worked on both independent and blockbuster films. He and his wife (also from Iceland) live in Estonia, where he is chairman of the board of the Arvo Pärt Centre.

 

Mark Powell
Executive Director, Cappella Romana
Producer, Arvo Pärt Festival

The Arvo Pärt Festival

The first-ever festival in North America dedicated to the music of Estonian Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt will take place February 5 – 12, 2017 in Portland, Oregon, presented by the Northwest’s leading professional chamber choir, Cappella Romana. Arvo Pärt is the most performed living composer in the world. Full information.

The Arvo Pärt Festival features eight (8) live performances of music by Arvo Pärt with chamber music (including Spiegel im Spiegel), the complete organ works, a cappella choral works (including selections of the Kanon Pokajanen), a late-night performance of the Passio by candlelight, the Missa Syllabica sung in a Latin mass, and a festival finale featuring Pärt’s Te Deum for three choirs, strings, and prepared piano, Da Pacem Domine (commissioned by Jordi Savall in memory of the victims of the Madrid terrorist bombings in 2004), and the US premiere of Alleluia-Tropus celebrating St. Nicholas.

The live events of the festival will be preceded with a screening of the new film “Arvo Pärt: Even if I lose everything” at Whitsell Auditorium, NW Film Center.

The Arvo Pärt Festival also features two free public lectures, including “The Words Write My Music,” by Peter Bouteneff, professor of theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York and author of the new book Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence.

Lead Sponsor: Ronni Lacroute.

ALL-ACCESS PASSES AVAILABLE SINGLE TICKETS

Behind the Arvo Pärt Festival Logo

Arvo Pärt Festival by Cappella Romana

Arvo Pärt Festival by Cappella Romana

The logo for Cappella Romana’s Arvo Pärt Festival, which begins on Sunday, has some hidden meanings we’d like you to notice.

First, the P in Pärt and the T in Festival are aligned in order to form a Staurogram, a ligature in ancient Christian manuscripts for the noun “cross” or its verb form “crucify.”

The V, Ä, and V are also aligned in order to form the early Christian “fish” or ichthys symbol. The ichthys made its first appearances as early as the 2nd century.

The final embedded element in the logo is the vertical word “ora,” which is the imperative form of the verb “pray” in Latin.

The music of Arvo Pärt is also embedded with initially hidden meanings and structures – which we hope you will discover during the festival!

 

The Arvo Pärt Festival

The first-ever festival in North America dedicated to the music of Estonian Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt will take place February 5 – 12, 2017 in Portland, Oregon, presented by the Northwest’s leading professional chamber choir, Cappella Romana. Arvo Pärt is the most performed living composer in the world. Full information.

The Arvo Pärt Festival features eight (8) live performances of music by Arvo Pärt with chamber music (including Spiegel im Spiegel), the complete organ works, a cappella choral works (including selections of the Kanon Pokajanen), a late-night performance of the Passio by candlelight, the Missa Syllabica sung in a Latin mass, and a festival finale featuring Pärt’s Te Deum for three choirs, strings, and prepared piano, Da Pacem Domine (commissioned by Jordi Savall in memory of the victims of the Madrid terrorist bombings in 2004), and the US premiere of Alleluia-Tropus celebrating St. Nicholas.

The live events of the festival will be preceded with a screening of the new film “Arvo Pärt: Even if I lose everything” at Whitsell Auditorium, NW Film Center.

The Arvo Pärt Festival also features two free public lectures, including “The Words Write My Music,” by Peter Bouteneff, professor of theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York and author of the new book Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence.

Lead Sponsor: Ronni Lacroute.

ALL-ACCESS PASSES AVAILABLE SINGLE TICKETS

Director Update – Associate Music Director John Michael Boyer to conduct Rautavaara All-Night Vigil in Portland and Seattle

John Michael Boyer will conduct Cappella Romana in this week’s performances of the All-Night Vigil by Einojuhani Rautavaara, replacing Timo Nuoranne. Nuoranne’s visa has been held up at the US Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, in part due to a State Department delay in the days leading to the inauguration.

Film: John Michael Boyer in rehearsal with Cappella Romana

John Michael Boyer

Boyer has been well known to Cappella Romana audiences since 1999, as a regular member of the ensemble, soloist, and guest director. Boyer makes his Cappella Romana début as the ensemble’s new Associate Music Director with this program, having been appointed to that position on January 1, 2017 by Music Director and Founder Alexander Lingas.

Known for his expertise in Byzantine Chant and Orthodox music and liturgy, he lectures at conferences, workshops, and seminars on Eastern Orthodox liturgical music across the United States and abroad. He has served as specialty coach for both Chanticleer and the Minnesota Symphony for world première performances and recordings of works by John Tavener, including Chanticleer’s Grammy-winning recording Lamentations and Praises.

He has conducted operas, chamber music, and orchestral works as associate director of Bay Area Classical Harmonies (BACH), and was artistic director of the vocal chamber ensembles the Josquin Singers and the Metropolis Ensemble of Liturgical Orthodox Singers (MELOS).

John Michael Boyer is Protopsaltis (First Cantor) of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis (Diocese) of San Francisco, and studied Byzantine Chant with Alexander Lingas, Ioannis Arvanitis, and the late Lycourgos Angelopoulos (+2014).  He holds a Master in Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a graduate in music from University of California, Berkeley, where he studied choral, orchestral, and operatic conducting with Marika Kuzma and David Milnes.

His latest projects include the CD recording All Creation Trembled from Holy Cross School of Theology, in which he is featured both as composer and as soloist. He is one of six composers who collaborated on the forthcoming release by the St. John of Damascus Society, Psalm 103, a setting of the full text of the Psalm as translated by the late Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) (+2016), featuring multiple Orthodox musical idioms. In the forthcoming recording, Sun of Justice, John Michael Boyer collaborates with Arab cantor Rassem El Massih, Protopsaltis of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; the recording features Byzantine chant for Christmastide in English, Greek, and Arabic. Boyer’s book Byzantine Chant: the Received Tradition – A Lesson Book is slated to be published in 2017.

 

All-Night Vigil by Einojuhani Rautavaara:

Seattle
Friday 27 January, 7:30pm
St. Mark’s Cathedral

TICKETS

Portland
Saturday 28 January, 8:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

TICKETS

Sunday 29 January, 3:00pm
St. Stephen’s Catholic Church

TICKETS

 

All-Night Vigil by Rautavaara

Cappella Romana presents Einojuhani Rautavaara’s spectacular and rarely heard All-Night Vigil, featuring legendary Grammy-award winning basso profundo Glenn Miller.

“Be ready for goosebumps around your earlobes.” —The Oregonian

These performances are supported by the Finlandia Foundation & Nordic Northwest.

The All-Night Vigil by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) is unlike any Orthodox music you’ve ever heard, combining ancient and modern modes to create a vast, beautiful mosaic in sound. Glittering with Byzantine-inspired chanting, thick colorful harmonies, and spectacular vocal effects, this Vigil features solo passages for very low bass performed here by Grammy winner basso profundo Glenn Miller.

Like Rachmaninoff’s Vigil (“Vespers”) in Church Slavonic, Rautavaara’s setting in Finnish (inspired by childhood visits to Valaam monastery) cuts a spiritual path that transcends its original context with universal, irresistible power.

Sung in memory of the composer.

SWR2 Broadcasts Konstanz Performance

Cappella Romana Men

Germany’s SWR2 will broadcast our performance of The Fall of Constantinople in Konstanz this past September. The live broadcast is set for Saturday, January 14th at 7:05pm (GMT+1). You can also listen on demand via the player below:

Cappella Romana presents: The Arvo Pärt Festival

Arvo Pärt Festival by Cappella Romana

Arvo Pärt Festival by Cappella Romana

The first-ever festival in North America dedicated to the music of Estonian Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt will take place February 5 – 12, 2017 in Portland, Oregon, presented by the Northwest’s leading professional chamber choir, Cappella Romana. Arvo Pärt is the most performed living composer in the world. Full information.

The Arvo Pärt Festival features eight (8) live performances of music by Arvo Pärt with chamber music (including Spiegel im Spiegel), the complete organ works, a cappella choral works (including selections of the Kanon Pokajanen), a late-night performance of the Passio by candlelight, the Missa Syllabica sung in a Latin mass, and a festival finale featuring Pärt’s Te Deum for three choirs, strings, and prepared piano, Da Pacem Domine (commissioned by Jordi Savall in memory of the victims of the Madrid terrorist bombings in 2004), and the US premiere of Alleluia-Tropus celebrating St. Nicholas.

The live events of the festival will be preceded with a screening of the new film “Arvo Pärt: Even if I lose everything” at Whitsell Auditorium, NW Film Center.

The Arvo Pärt Festival also features two free public lectures, including “The Words Write My Music,” by Peter Bouteneff, professor of theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York and author of the new book Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence.

Lead Sponsor: Ronni Lacroute
SINGLE TICKETS

Festival Schedule

Sunday February 5

4:30pm Screening of film “Arvo Pärt: Even if I lose everything”

Whitsell Auditorium, NW Film Center.

Dorian Supin’s intimate film of minimalist Estonian composer Arvo Pärt provides a warm and delicate portrait of the maestro’s philosophy of life and interactions with his family and friends, shedding light on the composers’ process as he seeks his creative path. Co-presented with The Northwest Film Center as part of “Reel Music 34,” a showcase of new films exploring the intersection of sound and image, and music and culture. Schedule at nwfilm.org

Thursday February 9

7:30pm Pärt & Pärcel: Music of Arvo Pärt & the New Estonia, Third Angle New Music (SOLD OUT)
Studio 2 @ N.E.W., 810 SE Belmont, Portland

  • PÄRT: Spiegel im spiegel
  • PÄRT: Fratres
  • PÄRT: Mozart-Adagio
  • TÕNU KÕRVITS: Head ööd (“Good Night”)
  • MARIANNA LIIK: Kulgemine

9:00pm Pärt & Pärcel: Music of Arvo Pärt & the New Estonia, Third Angle New Music
Studio 2 @ N.E.W., 810 SE Belmont, Portland

Friday February 10

7:30pm Pärt & Pärcel (SOLD OUT)
Studio 2 @ N.E.W., 810 SE Belmont, Portland

7:30pm Pärt Complete Organ Works, Bruce Neswick
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, NW 19th and Everett, 147 NW 19th Ave.,  Portland

Co-sponsored by Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Virtuoso organist Bruce Neswick performs the complete organ works by Pärt, including a recent arrangement of Spiegel im Spiegel by Giovanni Battista Mazza for organ, approved by the composer in his official catalogue.

  • Pari Intervallo (1976/1981)
  • Annum per annum (1980)
  • Trivium (1988)
  • Mein Weg hat Gipfel und Wellentäler (1989)
  • Spiegel im Spiegel (1978, arr. 2010)

9:00pm Pärt & Pärcel (ADDED PERFORMANCE.  NEW VENUE!!!)
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, NW 19th and Everett, 147 NW 19th Ave., Portland

Saturday February 11

11:00am Public Lecture: “The Words Write My Music,” by Peter Bouteneff
Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse, 620 SW Main St at Broadway, Portland

Renowned Pärt scholar and theologian Dr. Peter Bouteneff directs the Arvo Pärt Project at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, an in-depth endeavor involving concerts, lectures and publications. His most recent book is Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence, which has been hailed as “a triumph,” “a game-changer for Pärt scholarship,” and “a must-read for any listener or performer of Pärt’s music.” He will give a one-hour talk with time for Q&A, and will be available to sign copies of his new book after the lecture.

2:30pm Pärt Choral Works: Odes of Repentance, Cappella Romana, Conducted by Alexander Lingas
St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th and Couch, 1716 NW Couch St., Portland

Patterned after an Orthodox service of supplication (Paraklesis or Moleben), this concert offers a selection of Pärt’s English and Slavonic works including Triodion and excerpts of his monumental Kanon Pokajanen, the Kanon of Repentance.

Triodion [in English]

  • “Ode 1”: Apolytikion for the Holy Icons
  • “Ode 2”: Apolytikion for the Mother of God
  • “Ode 3”: Apolytikion for St. Nicholas

From the Kanon Pokajanen [in Slavonic]

  • Kanon Ode 6
  • Kontakion
  • Oikos
  • Kanon Ode 8
  • Kanon Ode 9
  • Prayer after the Kanon

The Woman with the Alabaster Box [in English]

9:00pm Pärt: Passio, by candlelight
Cappella Romana, Third Angle New Music, Lewis and Clark College Cappella Nova Chamber Choir. Directed by Alexander Lingas. Evangelist quartet: Vakare Marshall, Laura Beckel Thoreson, Leslie Green, John Michael Boyer. Jesus: Aaron Cain. Pilate: Joseph Michael Muir.
St. Mary’s Cathedral, NW 18th and Couch, 1716 NW Couch St., Portland

A late-night production of Pärt’s iconic masterpiece, Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem (The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John), performed by candlelight. Cappella Romana and Third Angle New Music are joined by the Lewis & Clark College chamber choir, Cappella Nova, singing the part of the turba. Performed in Latin with supertitles.

Sunday February 12

10:00am Pärt Missa Syllabica sung in Mass
St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, 1112 SE 41st St, Portland
Nine soloists of Cappella Romana sing Arvo Pärt’s Missa Syllabica, one of his earliest tinntinnabuli works, in a Latin Mass at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church. Free.

2:00pm Pre-concert talk “Ancient Hymns & Modern Composers,” Alexander Lingas
Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland

Music director and founder of Cappella Romana, Dr. Alexander Lingas, is a Reader in Music at City University, London and a Fellow of the University of Oxford’s European Humanities Research Centre. He received his Ph.D. in Historical Musicology from the University of British Columbia. His work embraces historical study as well as ethnography and performance.

3:00pm Pärt Te Deum, Festival Finale Concert.
Cappella Romana, Third Angle New Music. Conducted by Alexander Lingas
Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, Portland

Featuring Pärt’s monumental Te Deum for Three Choirs, Strings, and Prepared Piano, this program opens with his Da Pacem Domine, commissioned by Jordi Savall in memory of the victims of the Madrid terrorist bombings in 2004, and the US premiere of Pärt’s Alleluia-Tropus, a work in Church Slavonic celebrating St. Nicholas of Myra. Also on the program are works by Scottish Catholic Sir James MacMillan, Greek composer Thános Mikroutsikós, and the late Sir John Tavener.

Single tickets start as low as $12 for some events, with discounts for students and $5 Arts for All. Order online or call 503.236.8202.

Arvo PärtAbout Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt was born in 1935 in Paide, Estonia. After studies with Heino Eller’s composition class in Tallinn, he worked from 1958 to 1967 as a sound engineer for Estonian Radio. In 1980 he emigrated with his family to Vienna and then, one year later, travelled on a DAAD scholarship to Berlin.

As one of the most radical representatives of the so-called ‘Soviet Avant-garde’, Pärt’s work passed through a profound evolutionary process. His first creative period began with neo-classical piano music. Then followed ten years in which he made his own individual use of the most important compositional techniques of the avant-garde: dodecaphony, composition with sound masses, aleatoricism, collage technique. Nekrolog (1960), the first piece of dodecaphonic music written in Estonia, and Perpetuum mobile (1963) gained the composer his first recognition by the West. In his collage works ‘avant-garde’ and ‘early’ music confront each other boldly and irreconcilably, a confrontation which attains its most extreme expression in his last collage piece Credo (1968). But by this time all the compositional devices Pärt had employed to date had lost all their former fascination and begun to seem pointless to him. The search for his own voice drove him into a withdrawal from creative work lasting nearly eight years, during which he engaged with the study of Gregorian Chant, the Notre Dame school and classical vocal polyphony.

In 1976 music emerged from this silence – the little piano piece Für Alina. It is obvious that with this work Pärt had discovered his own path. The new compositional principle used here for the first time, which he called tintinnabuli (Latin for ‘little bells’), has defined his work right up to today. The ‘tintinnabuli principle’ does not strive towards a progressive increase in complexity, but rather towards an extreme reduction of sound materials and a limitation to the essential. (Universal Edition)

Cappella RomanaAbout Cappella Romana

Its performances “like jeweled light flooding the space” (Los Angeles Times), Cappella Romana is a professional vocal chamber ensemble dedicated to combining passion with scholarship in its exploration of the musical traditions of the Christian East and West, with emphasis on early and contemporary music. Founded in 1991, Cappella Romana’s name refers to the medieval Greek concept of the Roman oikoumene (inhabited world), which embraced Rome and Western Europe, as well as the Byzantine Empire of Constantinople (“New Rome”) and its Slavic commonwealth.

Music Director and Founder Alexander Lingas and Cappella Romana have established themselves as global leaders in the music of the Christian East and West. A presentation by Cappella Romana is an experience unlike any other vocal music concert. Some programs feature ancient music never before heard by modern audiences; on other occasions new or rediscovered works based on ancient tropes are brought to audiences from leading contemporary composers.

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Early Music America: Reveling in Byzantine Chant

Philippa Kiraly has published a wonderful feature including reviews and interviews with Mark Powell and Alexander Lingas in honor of our 25th Season, as well as a preview of our upcoming Hagia Sophia “Icons of Sound” recording:

“Cappella Romana opened its 25th season in October in Seattle and Portland with “Icons of Sound: Byzantine Chant from Hagia Sophia.” Enhanced by the reverberant acoustics of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, the sound of early Byzantine church music created a hypnotic effect as eight men — more than half of them Greek Orthodox cantors — and five women sang music from scholarly editions, much of it prepared by the singers themselves.…

“The sound created by Cappella Romana’s men singing early chant is like nothing heard elsewhere. There’s an initial firm start to phrases that seems almost to come from under the note, though it doesn’t. There’s a rich resonance, a strongly cored, open sound with a lot of depth, and no vibrato. The music often has a limited range, spanning not much more than an octave, while its highly ornamented melodies are usually sung over one or more drones that indicate the tetrachord (a four-note range) of the mode in use. When you hear the ensemble, it only takes a few measures to know that this is Cappella Romana.…

“Participation since 2010 in Cappella Romana’s ongoing Stanford Research Project — from which the October concert was a natural offshoot — had the choir heading to San Francisco immediately after the Hagia Sophia concert. “Icons of Sound: Aesthetics and Acoustics of Hagia Sophia” was a collaboration between Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and the Department of Art and Art History.

The aim was to use real-time digital signal processing to synthesize the acoustics of Hagia Sophia itself. In Istanbul, the Stanford crew was allowed only to work in the middle of the night. They popped balloons in Hagia Sophia, measuring the reverberation times and signal response at all frequencies around the cathedral, capturing this information into their computers, and bringing the results back to Stanford. Cappella Romana’s part was to sing while wearing tiny microphones on their foreheads in Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall, with the signals processed and distributed to an array of 24 loudspeakers distributed throughout the hall. “I was prepared for it to sound fake,” says Powell, “but it sounded and felt like the real thing.”

The resulting Cappella Romana CD will likely come out in 2017, adding to its catalog of more than 20 recordings. To get a taste of the ensemble’s distinctive and unmistakable sound, go to YouTube to find dozens of excerpts.…” —Philippa Kiraly, Early Music America

See the full feature on Early Music America

Smithsonian Magazine Features Icons of Sound

Our “Icons of Sound” concert and collaboration with Stanford University gets a fantastic feature in the Smithsonian Magazine:

“Hagia Sophia, a former church and mosque, is an important part of Istanbul’s long history. Who knew its sublime sound could be transferred to Stanford? Twice in the past few years, Stanford scholars and scientists have worked to digitally recreate the experience of being in Hagia Sophia when it was a medieval church. Collaborating with choral group Cappella Romana, they digitally recreated the former holy building’s acoustics, and performed medieval church music in the university’s Bing Concert Hall as if it was Hagia Sophia. Their efforts are part of a multi-year collaboration between departments at Stanford that asks the question: can modern technology help us go back in time? … The music that Cappella Romana performs is historical Christian music. Much of their work for the Hagia Sophia project has not been heard in centuries, writes Jason Victor Serinus for Stanford’s events blog. It certainly hasn’t been performed in the former church in all that time. … There’s no substitute for being there, as the saying goes. But since it’s impossible to travel back in time to be present at a tenth-century church service, this is maybe the next best thing.” —Kat Eschner, Smithsonian Magazine

See the full feature on SmithsonianMag.com

Byrd Ensemble – Spanish Music for the House of Habsburg

The Byrd Ensemble

SPANISH MUSIC FOR THE HOUSE OF HABSBURG

A musical exploration of the Habsburg dynasty, featuring Spanish music written for monarchs Charles V and Philip II

PROGRAM

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA – Requiem Mass

  • Introitus: Requiem aeternam
  • Kyrie
  • Gradual
  • Offertory
  • Sanctus & Benedictus
  • Agnus Dei I, II & III
  • Communion: Lux aeterna
  • Versa est in luctum
  • Responsory: Libera me

Intermission

VICTORIA – Magnificat primi toni
Cristóbal de MORALES – Circumdederunt me
MORALES – “Requiem aeternam” from Missa pro Defunctis
Alonso LOBO – Versa est in luctum
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA – Nunc dimittis

Portland
Sunday 12 March 2017, 3:00pm
St. Stephen’s Catholic Church

TICKETS

The House of Habsburg

House of Habsburg coat of arms conforming with one of Habsburg County

The House of Habsburg was an incredible patron of the arts. During its six-century rule, it shaped the arts world like no other dynasty, employing singers and commissioning composers on an international scale. The program features music by the most prominent Spanish Renaissance composers employed by Charles V and Philip II: Victoria, Morales, and Lobo, and the great Counter-Reformation Italian composer Palestrina.

The House of Habsburg was one of the most influential royal houses of Europe. At the height of its power, the dynasty ruled Austria, a vast tract of Central Europe, Spain, the Low Countries, much of South America, and it occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire for nearly three centuries. The Habsburgs held the arts in high regard. In the sixteenth century, the power and wealth of a dynasty were expressed through its patronage of art and science. The most important ruler had to demonstrate that he was also an outstanding patron by commissioning and collecting works of art. Artists employed at the court enjoyed a good income, high social standing, and remarkable freedoms, a rarity during period of religious turbulence. The Habsburg who defined Europe in the Renaissance was Charles V (1500-1558), who ruled Spain and its overseas empire and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519.

Music played an important role Charles’s court. Sacred music was sung for the daily services in the court chapel, for special memorial services, marriages and affairs of state that required a solemn ceremony in church. Professional singers and the clergy provided the chapel with music. Members of the court chapel performed many duties, as they were often singer, priest, composer, choirmaster, organist, music teacher, and scribe at the same time. Additionally, the nobility received extensive musical education themselves, often from the members of the court chapel, and learned how to sing and play instruments.

Charles surrounded himself with musicians. In Brussels he had a court chapel of mainly Flemish musicians called the “Capilla Flamenca” which he eventually brought with him to Spain. At his Spanish court Charles formed a larger ensemble, “La Grande Chapelle,” made up of the best musicians from the whole of Europe. The group performed sacred polyphony for voices and eventually secular music with instruments, once it came into style in the late sixteenth century. Charles loved both sacred and secular music.

Composer Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500–1553), a contemporary of Charles, is regarded as the most important Spanish composer before Victoria. The preference by Pope Paul III of employing Spanish singers in the papal chapel choir helped Morales, who moved to Rome in 1535 and joined up. During his time, Morales sang on three occasions for the emperor Charles V and received a commission to write music for Charles’s wedding to Isabella of Portugal in 1526. Morales remained employed by the Vatican until 1545, after which he returned to Spain following a period of unsuccessful job hunting in Italy. While regarded as one of the greatest composers in Europe, he was an unpopular employee and had difficulty keeping his jobs.

Morales was one of the first important contributors to a growing repertoire of musical settings of the liturgy for the dead. His antiphon for the the solemn office, Circumdederunt me, set for five voices, achieves a dark mood through slow-moving polyphony and low ranges. The sound fits the text perfectly:

The groanings of death have encircled me: the sorrows of hell have enclosed me.

His settings of funeral music were disseminated widely across Europe. The Missa pro Defunctis was likely sung in Mexico in 1559 at memorial ceremonies for Emperor Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain.

Habsburg Map 1547

A map of the dominion of the Habsburgs in 1547

Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), “Philip the Prudent,” reigned during the so-called “Golden Age.” At the peak of his influence and power, Philip’s empire included territories on every continent then known to Europeans, including his namesake the Philippine Islands. People described his dominion as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” Unfortunately, his reign also saw the economic decline of Spain and the disastrous decade from 1588-1598 which included the devastating defeat of the Spanish Armada. Philip loved music and was a passionate art patron. He had a wonderful collection of masterpieces at the Escorial, his palace outside of Madrid, and was well educated in History and Politics but poor at languages.

16th-century Spanish music patronage differs from English, French, and Italian music in that the Spanish royal house maintained two royal chapels: the House of Burgundy and the House of Castile. The first was made up of Charles’s and Philip’s Low Countries subjects (Flemish) and the second of Spaniards. Philip’s maintenance of two chapels of singers and players showed an incredible commitment to music, unmatched by his contemporary sovereigns. Philip was also the only monarch of his time who patronized Italian, Spanish, and Flemish composers equally. He was the only patron to whom Palestrina dedicated two books of masses. Philip also helped Spanish composer Guerrero on his first publication, and Victoria dedicated one of his lavish single publications of Magnificats to him in 1563. Philip was the leading international music patron of his age.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), the most famous Spanish composer at the time, was one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer but also an accomplished organist and Catholic priest. Victoria was sent by Philip in 1565 to prepare for holy orders at the German College in Rome. During this time he likely studied under Palestrina, whom he eventually succeeded as director of music at the Roman Seminary.

The Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, was the next most important part of the liturgy after the Mass in the 16th-century Catholic Church. It was sung at the close of each day’s service of Vespers: Settings of the Magnificat were in demand. Composers served this liturgical need by publishing a complete set of eight or sixteen settings of the Magnificat, covering eight “tones” or keys. Victoria’s Magnificat primi toni, one of his two polychoral settings, employs eight voices and alternates between fugal sections for one choir and full double choir passages for both choirs. The way Victoria balances imitation and full homophonic statements in his Magnificat is strikingly similar to Palestrina’s techniques in Nunc dimittis for double choir—we can hear why Victoria is called the “Spanish Palestrina.”

In 1578 Philip II honored Victoria’s request to return to his native Spain, where he met the pious dowager empress Maria, sister of Philip, and later became her chaplain. His last work was the Requiem Mass (1605) in memory of the empress Maria, his most famous work. All of the music in the Requiem Mass is scored for six voices, except the initial Taedet animam meam funeral motet (not sung in the program) he also wrote for the occasion. The second soprano part often carries the cantus firmus (a pre-existing melody used as the basis of a polyphonic composition), though it disappears into the other parts. Victoria concludes the Mass with the motet Versa est in luctum, which was probably sung as the clergy and dignitaries assembled around the catafalque, a decorated wooden framework supporting the empress’s coffin.

Philip II died at San Lorenzo in 1598. Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) wrote his best motet, Versa est in luctum, for Philip’s funeral at Toledo Cathedral. While the six-part motet is set to text associated with a Requiem Mass, he did not write a complete Requiem Mass setting. Though not as famous as Victoria, this stunning motet filled with beautiful, cascading lines captures the despair of the text and showcases why Victoria considered him to be an equal.

My harp is turned to grieving and my flute to the voice of those who weep.
Spare me, O Lord, for my days are as nothing.

ABOUT THE BYRD ENSEMBLE

Described as “pure and radiant” (Gramophone), “immensely impressive” (Early Music Review), and “rich, full-voiced, and perfectly blended” (Early Music America), the Byrd Ensemble is garnering international acclaim for its performances and recordings of chamber vocal music, particularly Renaissance polyphony. The Byrd Ensemble, directed by Markdavin Obenza, is a Seattle-based professional ensemble made up of 10 to 12 singers from the Pacific Northwest. The group presents its annual concert series at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. The Byrd Ensemble is a nonprofit organization.

Since 2004, the ensemble has performed in the greater Seattle area and has toured across the United States presenting concerts for the Gotham Early Music Scene in New York with Peter Phillips (director of the Tallis Scholars) and the Boston Early Music Fringe Series. In 2014, the Byrd Ensemble was one of sixteen groups—the only ensemble from the United States—chosen to sing at the London International A Capella Choir Competition and worked with Peter Phillips, Mark Williams, and John Rutter, who described the ensemble as “a fine group that has achieved an enviable standard of tuning, blend, and ensemble.”

The Byrd Ensemble became part of the Scribe Records label in 2011 and has since produced six records—four of which feature Renaissance polyphony and have been reviewed by major early music publications: Early Music America, Gramophone and Early Music Review. Our Lady: Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks (2011) featured reconstructions by musicologist Nick Sandon of music by lesser-known English Renaissance composers—Pasche, Merbecke, and Ludford—and included two world-premiere recordings. In the Company of William Byrd (2012), Music for the Tudors (2015), and Music of the Renaissance: Italy, England & France (2016) featured more mainstream Renaissance composers Palestrina, Tallis, Sheppard, Byrd, and White. In 2014, the Byrd Ensemble was included in the international edition of Gramophone Magazine for their recording of works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MARKDAVIN OBENZA has dedicated his career to music. In addition to the Byrd Ensemble, Markdavin is also Director and founder of Seattle-based chamber choir Vox16 and Producer for Scribe Records, an independent record label. He is an active freelance singer who performs with the Byrd Ensemble and has performed with the Tudor Choir, Early Music Vancouver, and members of the Tallis Scholars. He is the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church in Seattle, WA.

Cappella Romana Christmas

Merry Christmas from Cappella Romana!

With so many Cappella Romana “stars” we couldn’t decide on just one tree-topper this year! (And yes, we “Put a bird on it” – several, in fact) 😁🎄