Cappella Romana first performed “Venice in the North” at the 2016 Early Music Festival in Utrecht (Netherlands). Make your April complete with this remarkable music!
An exploration of Russian Orthodox choral works from the Imperial Court Chapel in Saint Petersburg, by the Venetian Classical masters employed there under Catherine the Great.
“Venice in the North” explores revolutionary trends in 17th- and 18th-century Russian sacred music, featuring compositions for Orthodox services by Venetians Giuseppe Sarti and Baldassare Galuppi, and Galuppi’s star Ukrainian student Dmitri Bortnyansky.
Especially in Saint Petersburg, the liturgical arts of architecture, iconography, and singing displayed influence from the Baroque culture of the West, evident in music from the cultivation of Italian and Central European polyphonic styles.
Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the peoples of Russia and Ukraine began to look to the West not only for trading partners, but also for political, intellectual and artistic models. The Westernization of northern Slavic societies rooted in Byzantine traditions of governance and religion accelerated during the tumultuous seventeenth century, which saw the founding of the Romanov dynasty (1613), the Old-Ritualist Schism, and the accession of Tsar Peter the Great (1689), who transferred the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. Meanwhile the liturgical arts of architecture, iconography and singing all began to display influence from the Baroque culture of the contemporary West, evident in music from the adoption of staff notation and the cultivation of Italian and Central European styles of polyphonic composition (so called partesny singing).
Western influence on the music of the Russian Orthodox Church reached its apogee during the reign of the Empress Catherine II the Great (1762–96), who continued the practice of her immediate predecessors of appointing Roman Catholic composers of Italian opera as directors of the Imperial Court Chapel. The first of these was Baldassare Galuppi (1706–1785), a student of Antonio Lotti and Maestro di cappella at San Marco in Venice whose three-year contract for service in St Petersburg (1765–68) was secured after protracted negotiations with the Venetian Senate. In addition to producing the secular and ceremonial music for voices and instruments that had been expected of previous imported maestri, Galuppi composed unaccompanied choral works in Church Slavonic for Russian Orthodox worship. These range from such compact settings of hymns as “Only-Begotten Son” from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom to “Pass Judgment, Lord” and other lengthy works in multiple movements known as sacred concertos. Often featuring texts chosen freely from the Bible, sacred concertos came to be performed during the communion of the clergy at the Divine Liturgy, where they would supplement or replace the chanting of the liturgically appointed communion verse.
Galuppi also influenced the development of Russian Orthodox music by fostering the careers of two court singers of Ukrainian origin: Maxim Sozontovich Berezovsky (ca. 1745–77) and Dmitri Stepanovich Bortnyansky (1751–1825), both of whom were sent to Italy for advanced musical study (respectively, 1769–73 and 1768–79). Berezovsky may already have been active as composer of Orthodox sacred music at the time of Galuppi’s arrival, for there is evidence of mutual influence, as well as conflicting attributions for several works including the settings of ‘It Is Truly Right’ and the Lord’s Prayer from the Divine Liturgy performed in this program.
The only other Italian opera composer known to have written a significant body of music for the Russian Orthodox Church was Giuseppe Sarti (1729–1802). Between engagements for the Danish monarchy in Copenhagen, Sarti was maestro di coro of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice in 1766–67. Sarti left a subsequent post as maestro di cappella at Milan Cathedral (1779–84) for in Russia, where he would remain for nearly twenty years, during which he would serve two terms (1784–86 and 1790–1801) as director of the Court Chapel in St Petersburg and teach students including the Ukrainian Artemy Lukyanovich Vedel (1767–1808) and the Russian Stepan Anikiyevich Degtiarev (1766–1813), a serf of Count Sheremetev who accompanied Sarti on a journey to Italy in 1790.
By the time that Bortnyansky succeeded Sarti as director of the Imperial Court Chapel in 1801, it had become the most important musical establishment in the Russian Church. Granted censorship by over publications of Russian Orthodox church music in 1816, Bortnyansky consolidated musical forms and practices that to this day remain the basis for liturgical singing in many Slavic churches. While further developing the choral genres pioneered by Galuppi and Sarti, he also worked in two ways to domesticate improvised traditions of harmonizing Slavic chant: 1) through the creation of through-composed settings of (mainly Kievan) chant melodies; and 2) by publishing in 1815 a collection of Simple Chant for the hymns and responses of Divine Liturgy notated in alto and bass parts. As Joppi Harri has recently shown, this two-part texture conveys in outline the substance of the formulaic ‘Court Chant’ that would be systematically notated by Bortnyansky’s successors at the Imperial Chapel Alexei Fyodorovich Lvov (1798–1870) and Nikolai Ivanovich Bakhmetev (1807–91).
Major traditions of complex sacred music throughout Europe were shaped during the so-called “long nineteenth century” (the period of relative peace which lasted from the battle of Waterloo to the outbreak of World War I) by movements to recover elements of early traditions for modern use. These efforts, like contemporary “back-to-roots” endeavors in non-musical arts and the Romantic nationalisms to which they were all related ideologically, shared certain broad aims and methodologies even as they emphasized local particularities. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all employed the rapidly developing academic disciplines of liturgiology and musicology (both historical and comparative) to identify their historical, cultural, and spiritual roots. Scholarly findings were then harnessed to serve (re-) creative practice in ways that ranged from wholesale resurrections of neglected repertories to the composition of new music inspired by real or imagined pasts. e results in Western and Central Europe are well known: a musical spectrum from the Solesmes “restoration” of Gregorian chant to Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, in between which were revivals of Renaissance polyphony and Baroque liturgical music (especially that of J.S. Bach) that combined old and new in nearly equal measure.
This concert traces a quest that emerged out of the so-called “Russian Religious Renaissance” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to renew the music of Russian Orthodoxy through the study and creative re-appropriation of its traditions of chanting. Two approaches to research were pursued simultaneously, in some cases by the same people: 1) the study of notated chant manuscripts and other historical documents reaching as far back as the Byzantine origins of Orthodox worship in medieval Rus’; and 2) the investigation of contemporary chanting in the worship of monasteries, Old Believers, southern Slavs, and Greeks. is research enabled antiquarian revivals in the form of concerts and published editions of historical works, as well as pastoral initiatives to promote the use of unison chanting. Yet scholarship arguably achieved its greatest impact by fostering the emergence of a “New Direction” in the creation of harmonized choral music for the Russian Orthodox Church, the crowning achievement of which is generally acknowledged to be the (mostly) chant-based All-Night Vigil, op. 37 of Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943).
The stylistic indistinguishability of completely original sections of Rachmaninov’s Vigil from movements based on melodies from the Znamenny, Kievan, and Greek repertories of Russian chant points toward contradictions inherent in the New Direction. In pursuing a broad creative agenda that may be summarized as “back to the future,” its adherents forged inescapably modern syntheses through their (inevitably) selective use of data regarding historical and living traditions of Slavic and Byzantine chanting. Contemporary ideologies and perceptions of musical, spiritual, and/or ethnic purity governed the use of historical or ethnographic evidence, blurring lines between real and imagined traditions.
From the seventeenth century to the emergence of the New Direction in the later nineteenth century, there were three major streams of musical practice within Russian Orthodoxy:
A group of chant repertories recorded in neumes or staff notation as a single melodic line. The oldest of these was Znamenny – from the word “znak” ([musical] “sign”) – chant, a repertory with Byzantine roots that was indigenized over the course of half a millennium. Out of the core Znamenny repertory emerged other bodies of chant, some of which were closely derivative regional variants (the most prominent being Kievan chant), while others such as Demestvenny chant were created as supplements to adorn worship selectively with new (and o en elaborate) music. Post-medieval waves of musical influence from the Balkans led to the formation of additional Slavonic chant repertories labeled “Greek” and “Bulgarian.”
Multipart singing derived from the Slavic chant traditions listed above, most of it realized extemporaneously according to orally transmitted conventions, a practice known in western Europe as “chanting on the book.” The multipart textures that emerged from these polyphonic practices featured harmonic progressions, seventh chords, octave doublings, and parallel movements of vocal parts that are inadmissible according to Western textbooks of harmony and counterpoint. As Jopi Harri has recently shown, these practices undergird manuals for ordinary church singing (Obikhod) edited and published in multiple voice parts by three directors of the Imperial Capella in Saint Petersburg: Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751– 1825), Alexei Lvov (1798–1870), and Nikolai Bakmetev (1807–91).
Singing music notated in multiple voice parts (partes) composed in the style of contemporary western European art music, albeit without the use of musical instruments. Renaissance and Baroque styles of partesny singing initially absorbed through Poland and Ukraine were replaced during the later eighteenth century by Galant and Classical works, a stylistic change stimulated by Catherine the Great’s appointment of Italian composers to head the Imperial Capella. Chants were occasionally harmonized using “textbook” western harmony and counterpoint, but most of the music composed in this style featured original melodic material.
The present concert surveys the progress of the New Direction in Russian church music through selections drawn mainly from three services: the All-Night Vigil, a composite of the offices of Vespers (evening prayer), Matins (morning prayer), and the First Hour celebrated on Saturday night and the eves of major feasts; the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the ordinary form of the Eucharist in the Byzantine rite; and the Memorial Service (Panikhida). We represent the received practices of polyphonic chanting in nineteenth-century Russia with excerpts of collections recording the traditions of two great monastic foundations: the Monastery of the Kievan Caves (Kiev-Pechersk Lavra) as transcribed and arranged after its oral traditions of harmonization by Leonid Malashkin (1888); and the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Possad near Moscow as edited by Hieromonk Nathaniel Bochkalo (1911). This style of chanting was ubiquitous and was found to be inspirational even by composers of the New Direction whose own church music rejected many of its harmonic devices. In some of his chant-based works, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) adopted the doubling of upper-voice melodies in bass voices, while Rachmaninov quoted the Kievan version of the morning hymn “Your Cross, O Savior” in his Second Piano Concerto.
One of the first composers to move toward the reorientation of Russian church music was Mikhail Glinka (1804–57), whose triumph with the nationalist opera A Life for the Tsar led to his appointment as Director of the Imperial Capella in 1837. During his brief tenure at court (1837–39), Glinka composed only a single sacred work (a Cherubic Hymn in a Romantic version of the imitative polyphonic style of the Renaissance) and apparently had little impact on the aesthetic trajectory of church singing. Late in life, however, Glinka returned to the composition of liturgical music a er a period of study in Berlin, where a setting of the Paschal hymn “Christ is Risen” is preserved among his papers. Having made the acquaintance of the abbot of the Coastal Monastery of St. Sergius near Saint Petersburg, (now Saint) Ignaty Brianchaninov, Glinka composed two works for the community: a set of responses to the Litany of Peace, and an arrangement for male voices of the Greek Chant melody of the responsory “Let My Prayer Be Set Forth” from the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. In both of these late works Glinka used a “strict style,” avoiding dissonance and chromatic alterations of the scale, that reflected his rejection of what he perceived to be the prevalence of Italian and German influence in contemporary Russian church singing.
The foundations for a broader quest to establish a distinctively Russian style of church music rooted in the past were strengthened in 1867 with the establishment of a department for the “History of Church Singing” at the Moscow Conservatory. Glinka’s late sacred works were nally published in 1878 by the Moscow rm of Jurgenson, which in that same year also released an original setting of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, op. 41 by Peter Tchaikovsky (1840–93). Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy immediately provoked litigation from Bakhmetev, who as Director of the Imperial Capella alleged that its unauthorized appearance contravened his powers of censorship over printed liturgical music. e dismissal of this lawsuit on a technicality in 1880 inaugurated a new era of productivity in Russian church music, out of which soon coalesced the creative re-imaginings of chant and folk music of the New Direction.
Tchaikovsky’s next publication of music for Orthodox worship was explicitly an attempt to reframe ancient traditions of Russian church singing: All-Night Vigil: An Essay in Harmonizing Liturgical Chants, op. 52 (1882). It was based almost entirely on melodies from major repertories of Russian chant, with harmonizations ranging stylistically from unmetered and modally pure settings in the “strict style” to relatively complex arrangements featuring counterpoint and other devices characteristic of Western art music. An example of the latter is the Polyeleos, a setting of a Greek Chant for festal matins that extends iterations of its refrain (“Alleluia”) with passages of imitative polyphony.
In 1883 Mily Balakirev (1836–1910) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov were appointed co- directors of the Imperial Capella. Working with the assistance of a team of younger composers, Rimsky-Korsakov immediately set out to rework its core repertory of customary chants (Obikhod) according to academic principles of modal harmony and voice-leading. The results of this group e ort were published in 1887 as the All- Night Vigil based on Ancient Chants, from which we have excerpted its arrangements of Kievan melodies in Mode 1 for the Lamplighting Psalms and interpolated hymns (stichera) of Saturday vespers.
Composers in Saint Petersburg continued to recast ancient chants through 1923, when the Communist authorities prohibited the Petrograd People’s Choral Academy (as the Imperial Capella had been renamed) from performing Maximilian Steinberg’s recently completed Passion Week. (Passion Week received its world premiere by Cappella Romana 91 years later in 2014.) By that time leadership in Russian sacred music had long ago passed to composers and scholars based in the old capital of Moscow, a shift brought about in part by Tchaikovsky as a member of a committee that in 1886 completely reorganized the curriculum of the Moscow Synodal School of Church Singing. Newly hired conductor Vasily Orlov (1856–1907) quickly transformed its choir of men and boys into Russia’s leading vocal ensemble and a champion of new music, eventually including the most challenging sacred works of Rachmaninov and Alexander Grechaninov (1864–1956).
A sample of this repertoire by Chesnokov, sung by the Male Choir of Saint Petersburg:
During the tenure of chant scholar and composer Stepan Smolensky (1848–1909) as its director (1889–1901), the Synodal School became the central hub of the New Direction, training and appointing as faculty composers including Alexander Kastalsky (1856–1926), Pavel Chesnokov (1874–1944), and Nikolai Tolstiakov (1883–1958). From the time of its reorganization the professional networks of the Synodal School faculty overlapped with those of the Moscow Conservatory, where Smolensky taught as a professor of the history of church music alongside colleagues including the composer-theorist Sergey Taneyev (1856– 1915). They later came to encompass scholars, performers, and composers of church music in Saint Petersburg, especially after Smolensky served a term (1901–1903) as director of the Imperial Capella.
Composers working during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries within the orbits of the New Direction approached the problem of formulating a chant-based style from a number of angles. In a treatise entitled A Theory of Ancient-Russian Church and Folk Singing on the Basis of Authentic Treatises and Acoustic Analysis (Moscow: 1880) the St-Petersburg-based theorist and composer Yuri Arnold (1811–98) began to expound a systematic approach to the modal harmonization of chants rooted in ancient theory that resembled contemporary work on Greek folk song and Byzantine chant by Louis-Albert Bourgault Ducoudray (1840–1910). Arnold’s approach was subsequently taken up by the priest, historian, and composer Dmitry Allemanov (1867–1928), who began to correspond with Smolensky in 1894 and taught the history of church singing at the Moscow Synodal School during the years 1910–18. Labeled “Greek Chant” in some of its republications, Allemanov’s setting of the matins antiphon “From My Youth” is an original composition in chant style. Allemanov, however, did compose numerous settings of authentic chants, mainly Russian but also Byzantine. The latter appeared in a pair of publications co-authored with Alexei Zverev that feature harmonized Byzantine melodies in Greek and Slavonic.
Sergey Taneyev was a master of academic styles of counterpoint whose major sacred works are two large-scale sacred cantatas for chorus and orchestra: John of Damascus, op. 1 (1883–84); and At the Reading of a Psalm, op. 36 (1912–15). He became interested in church music in the mid 1870s, discussing the matter with Tchaikovsky and occasionally venturing to produce his own settings of liturgical texts for unaccompanied chorus. Of Taneyev’s seventeen extant liturgical choruses, een are based on traditional Russian chants. Those for the All-Night Vigil were evidently intended, according to Plotnikova, to be components of a cycle that, had it been completed, would have comparable to that of Tchaikovsky. Taneyev sets his chosen Znamenny, Kievan, and Greek chant melodies to various permutations of imitative polyphony or, as in the case of the Apolytikion of the Resurrection in Mode 1, homophonic writing in the “strict style”. Although never published during his lifetime, this Apolytikion is one of two chant-based works by Taneyev that the Synodal Choir performed in 1891 at Smolensky’s behest.
Ultimately, as Vladimir Morosan has noted, it was Smolensky and his assistant Kastalsky that succeeded in forging a distinctive and widely copied chant- and folk-related choral idiom that the former had christened “kontrapunktika.” Similar in texture to the nationalist style pioneered in secular music by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), kontrapunktika featured parallel vocal lines (including the fourths and hs forbidden by textbook harmony), constantly shi ing numbers of voices, drones, and irregular phrases based on chant melodies and their texts. Smolensky himself o ered only a small number of fully developed exemplars of this technique, the most extensive of which is the Panikhida on emes from Ancient Chants for Male-Voice Choir, a setting of the Russian Orthodox Memorial Service composed in 1904. Many of his other musical publications were editions of existing bodies of music, including a three-volume set of chant harmonizations arranged for male chorus that appeared in 1893, from which we perform the Prokeimenon for Saturday Vespers and a Cherubic Hymn for the Divine Liturgy.
After joining the Synodal School as a pianist on the recommendation of Tchaikovsky, Alexander Kastalsky rose through the ranks of its faculty to become director from 1910 to 1918. One of his most self-consciously antiquarian endeavors at the school was a performing edition of the medieval Russian version of the Service of the Furnace (1909). The Service had originated in the late Byzantine rite of Hagia Sophia as a quasi-dramatic retelling of the story of the Three Hebrew Youths in the fiery furnace from the Septuagint version of the biblical Book of Daniel. Previously recorded by Cappella Romana from manuscripts preserved today on Mount Sinai, the Greek prototype of the Service was celebrated during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries between matins and the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday before Christmas in the cathedrals of Constantinople and Thessalonica. In Russia the Service expanded into a multi-day observance with spoken dialogue, additional chants, and pyrotechnics. Basing his work on recent scholarship, Kastalsky combined ancient chant sources with arrangement according to the techniques of kontrapunktika to create for the Moscow Synodal School a greatly abbreviated version lasting approximately thirty minutes. We sing its penultimate movement, a setting of verses from Psalm 136.
Nikolai Tolstiakov was a 1903 graduate of the Synodal School who served on its staff from 1907 through 1918 and then, like his mentor Kastalsky, for another five years during the institution’s twilight as a People’s Choral Academy. Tolstiakov originally published “Blessed is the Man,” an arrangement of Greek Chant melodies for selected verses of Psalms 1–3, as the second of five numbers for mixed chorus from the All-Night Vigil contained in his Opus 1. Like the paraliturgical choral concerto O Be Joyful in the Lord (Op. 19, No.2 of 1898) by Alexander Grechaninov, it was later arranged for male chorus by Pavel Chesnokov, another graduate turned staff member of the Synodal School. Grechaninov had acquired his association with the school when its choir premiered his Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, op. 13. According to Morosan and Rakhmanova, this led to conversations with faculty members who convinced him to adopt the techniques of kontrapunktika.
Svetlana Zvereva has documented how Kastalsky also exchanged ideas regarding stylistic directions in contemporary church music with Vladimir Glinkaov (1866–1920), a composer best known today for his piano works. In his All-Night Vigil, op. 44 (1911), a work premiered by the Synodal Choir and described by Kastalsky as “remarkable for the boldness of its exposition,” Rebikov went beyond the stylistic conventions of kontrapunktika to create his own soundworld of invented melodies and austere harmonizations. Rebikov’s music for vespers includes two solo chants in a quasi-Byzantine style: a setting of the Canticle of Symeon (the Nunc dimittis, Luke 2:29–32) for a tenor with a “mature timbre”; and a version of the Marian hymn “Hail, Virgin Mother of God” for a tenor with a “youthful timbre.”
The harmonically and sonically rich textures of Pavel Chesnokov’s mature choral style stand in polar opposition to the radical asceticism of Rebikov. Chesnokov began his career as a church composer by regularly employing traditional melodies, but over time turned toward original composition, preferring to suggest rather than to quote chant. This is the case with his second setting of the Russian Orthodox Memorial Service, the Panikhida No. 2, a work written for mixed voices as Opus 39 and then immediately adapted for male voices as Opus 39a (1913). In the Funeral Kontakion and Ode 9 of the Kanon, Chesnokov musically unifies a patchwork of textual fragments reflecting abbreviations commonly made to the service in late imperial Russia.
The dismantling of institutional infrastructure for the creation and performance of sacred music in the Soviet Union led the task of further development along the lines of the New Direction in the hands of Russian émigrés. Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936), who held the title of Director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory from 1905–1930, went abroad in 1928 on a concert tour from which he eventually decided not to return, settling in Paris in 1932. In the year before his death Glazunov composed his first known liturgical music for the choir of the St. Serge Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, a pair of chant arrangements from the matins of Easter Sunday. The Paschal Exaposteilarion sets a Greek Chant melody with harmonies and counterpoint in the “strict style” that Morosan likens to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev.
Born in Saint Petersburg, Nikolai Kedrov, Jr. (1906–1981) was the son of Nikolai Kedrov, Sr. (1871–1940), a singer, composer of church music, and professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. After his family settled in Paris in 1923, the younger Nikolai resumed his musical training, eventually succeeding his father as director of the Kedrov Vocal Quartet. He was one of the editors of the so-called London Sbornik (1962–72), a multivolume collection of liturgical music that featured prominently both the composers of the New Direction and their émigré successors. Kedrov, Jr. contributed to this project many of his own arrangements of Russian chant, among which is his setting of the Greek Chant for the verses and refrains of Psalm 103, the opening psalm of Byzantine vespers.
The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serve the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which The Tallis Scholars have become so widely renowned.
The Tallis Scholars perform in both sacred and secular venues, usually giving around 70 concerts each year across the globe. In 2013 the group celebrated their 40th anniversary with a World Tour performing 99 events in 80 venues in 16 countries and travelling sufficient air-miles to circumnavigate the globe four times. They kicked off the year with a spectacular concert in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, including a performance of Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in alium and the world premieres of works written specially for them by Gabriel Jackson and Eric Whitacre. Their recording of the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas by John Taverner, was released on the exact anniversary of their first concert in 1973 and enjoyed six weeks at number one in the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart. On 21st September 2015 the group gave their 2000th concert at St John’s Smith Square in London.
The 2016/2017 season will see the group travelling to Australia, China, USA, Russia, Japan, South Korea, as well as extensive touring around Europe and the UK.
Recordings by The Tallis Scholars have attracted many awards throughout the world. In 1987 their recording of Josquin’s Missa La sol fa re mi and Missa Pange lingua received Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award, the first recording of early music ever to win this coveted award. In 1989 the French magazine Diapason gave two of its Diapason d’Or de l’Année awards for the recordings of a mass and motets by Lassus and for Josquin’s two masses based on the chanson L’Homme armé. Their recording of Palestrina’s Missa Assumpta est Maria and Missa Sicut lilium was awarded Gramophone’s Early Music Award in 1991; they received the 1994 Early Music Award for their recording of music by Cipriano de Rore; and the same distinction again in 2005 for their disc of music by John Browne. The Tallis Scholars were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001, 2009 and 2010. In November 2012 their recording of Josquin’s Missa De beata virgine and Missa Ave maris stella received a Diapason d’Or de l’Année and in their 40th anniversary year they were welcomed into the Gramophone ‘Hall of Fame’ by public vote. In a departure for the group in Spring 2015 The Tallis Scholars released a disc of music by Arvo Pärt called Tintinnabuli which has receive great praise across the board. The latest recording of Josquin masses Missa Di dadi and Missa Une mousse de Biscaye was released in October 2016.
H. Praetorius: Magnificat IV Gibbons: Magnificat (‘Short’) Pärt: Magnificat Sheppard: Our father Tavener: Our father (1999 version) Stravinsky: Otche nash Palestrina: Pater noster (a5) Gallus: Pater noster (a8)
Chant: Ave Maria Mouton: Ave Maria – virgo serena Stravinsky: Bogoroditse devo Pärt: Bogoroditse devo Gibbons: Nunc dimittis (‘Short’) Eccard: Maria wallt zum Heiligtum Pärt: Nunc dimittis Torrentes: Nunc dimittis Holst: Nunc dimittis
The Ave Maria, Pater Noster, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis between them explore the full emotional gamut of the Christian experience. These four core texts of Christianity take us from birth to death, celebrate God as both father and infant, Mary as virgin and mother. There is joyful anticipation here, but also calm acceptance; we find ourselves looking forward to a life yet to come and backwards over a life already lived.
From simplest plainchant monody to elaborate polychoral polyphony, composers have responded to these touchstone texts in their different ways. Tonight’s programme explores the scope and diversity of these responses in works from the renaissance and 20th century.
We open with three contrasting settings of the Magnificat – Mary’s song of joy at the Annunciation. Each finds echo at the close of the concert in the corresponding setting of the Nunc Dimittis, framing the evening with the two familiar canticles of the Anglican rite of Evensong, or the Catholic services of Evening Prayer and Compline.
One of the earliest German composers to employ Venetian polychoral techniques in his music, Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629) showcased the style at its animated and expressive best in his nine alternatim Magnificat settings. The Magnificat Quarti Toni embraces the ambiguous tonality of this “fourth tone” (the Hypophrygian mode), colouring what we might now think of as a minor key with rhythmic energy more suited to the jubilant text. It also boasts perhaps the most striking opening of any Praetorius work – an arresting bit of chromatic writing that keeps the ear guessing – as though the joy of this text is so great that the composer cannot find adequate expression in conventional harmonic gestures.
Although perhaps best-known now for his expressive madrigals, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was an accomplished and prolific composer of sacred works. While his Second Service showcases some of the finest verse writing of late Tudor England, his earlier Short Service finds its interest in the textural manipulation of full choral forces. Gibbons the madrigalist is quietly evident here in the stylistic articulation of his texts. Contrast, for example, the athletic, dance-like emphasis of the opening of the Magnificat, with the sustained, legato phrase that begins the Nunc Dimittis. Mary has rarely seemed as youthful in her joy as she does in Gibbons’ hands, nor Simeon’s rapture (“For mine eyes have seen thy salvation”) more simple in its conviction. The gradual scalic flowering of the “Amen” of the Nunc Dimittis is surely one of the contrapuntal high-points of its age.
Few composers are more texturally aware or demonstrate a greater sense of aural drama than contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part. Derived from his studies of Gregorian chant, renaissance polyphony and Russian Orthodox music, Part’s signature technique – a reverberant choral homophony he terms ‘tintinnabuli’ – places his voices in a constantly shifting yet strangely static harmonic relationship. With any conventional sense of harmonic trajectory negated, it is through varied vocal textures that he achieves his meditative musical drama.
Here in his Magnificat he places a solo soprano voice chanting on a single pitch against a series of homophonic choral ensembles, creating a contemporary take on the renaissance fauxbourdon technique of harmonised chant. The Nunc Dimittis by contrast sees Pärt’s voices deployed in rather more flexible units, sustaining by turns a rocking dialogue between upper voices over chanted mens-voice pedal notes, and latterly a denser chorale-like homophony, collapsing ultimately back into the familiar waves of echoing sound for the Gloria.
We return to the renaissance for the Pater Noster or Lord’s Prayer, heard first in a setting of exquisite delicacy by English composer John Sheppard. With its vernacular text, we can assume that the work dates from the reign of Edward VI with its new demand for music for Protestant liturgy. Clarity of text was paramount – a reaction against the “popish excesses” of the Catholic rite – and led composers to favour the translucent, five-part texture heard here. Modal harmonies add interest and colour to a treatment whose rocking imitation and pulsing, dotted rhythms establish a single mood of affirmation and spiritual security.
Affirmation is a little harder-won in two contemporary treatments of the same text. While offering moments of glowing, consonant warmth in his four-part setting, John Tavener complicates his prayer with the smudged doubts of passing notes and suspensions, rooting his setting in the muddy complexity of human imperfection. This is a work that reaches for the divine while never losing touch with the earthly.
After experiencing a miraculous moment of healing in 1925, Igor Stravinsky returned to the Russian Orthodox Church (also, incidentally, the faith shared by Tavener) he had abandoned in his youth. The result was a sequence of liturgical choral works, including this miniature four-voice setting of the Pater Noster. The text here is heard in Slavonic, chanted in traditional recitative style, and references but never quoting chant melodies. With a limited harmonic palette Stravinsky creates a single-mood work of mournful beauty, throbbing with never-fully-resolved uncertainties.
Palestrina’s Pater Noster setting typifies the polychoral style of sixteenth-century Rome. A world away from the ascetic purity of Stravinsky or even Sheppard, Palestrina’s setting delights in the richness and echoing sonority of his double-choir forces. Athough reaching an impassioned climax at the contemplation of “debitoribus nostris” (our sinss), the scale and grandeur of the “Amen” suggests a certainty of redemption absent from the contemporary settings.
From Rome to Venice, in Jacobus Gallus’s (also known as Jacob Handl) Pater Noster. Marrying the older Franco-Flemish imitative style with the antiphonal writing of the Venetian tradition, Gallus creates a fluid and lovely musical prayer. Upper voices are pitted against lower, exchanging phrases that echo, embellish and complete one another. The work concludes with one of the loveliest Amens of the period – a florid seal on this elegant motet.
The Ave Maria – the second Antiphon hymn during the Festival of the Annunciation – was a popular chant among sixteenth-century composers, chiming particularly with the revival in Marian worship during the early years of the Counter-Reformation. Heard first in its plainsong original, the text is then repeated tonight in a sequence of polyphonic settings.
The Marian imagery of the Ave Maria draws the smoothest of polyphony from the French renaissance composer Jean Mouton. Two simple motives (one rising, the other falling) form the melodic basis of this five-part work, giving it a characteristically organic sense of wholeness. Use of upper and lower voices suffice to create textural contrast within the imitative flow until the text’s climax in a threefold address of the Virgin – “O Maria Dulcissima/O Maria Piissima/O Maria Sanctissima” – where sudden homophony interrupts the flow with an appeal to Mary, all the more touching for its sudden plainness.
Texture is also at the fore in Arvo Part’s Bogoroditse Djevo – an unusually rhythmic and jubilant work from the minimalist. Passages of declamatory homophony are set against chanted sections of highly rhythmic, recitative-like accompaniment in this exhilarating paean to the Virgin.
The moving underlying parts of Stravinsky’s Ave Maria turn this prayer almost into a cradle song. “I can endure unaccompanied singing in only the most harmonically primitive music,” the composer wrote – a pronouncement amply borne out here. Any narrative quality in the text is negated by a meditative setting that restricts its harmonic language and range to the absolute minimum, creating a deliberately naïve piece of musical sophistication.
Johannes Eccard (1533-1611) worked as Kappellmeister to Elector Joachim Friedrich of Brandenburg in Berlin, and is chiefly known for his role in developing the genre of Lutheran Chorale. So influential was his work that the chorales of Bach’s St Matthew Passion owe their form to Eccard, and Brahms was known to revere the composer. Balancing a simple clarity in his polyphony with a sensitivity to word-setting that took Lassus as its model, Eccard’s music is represented tonight by two chorale motets.
Maria wallt zum Heiligtum describes Mary’s visit to the temple to present the infant Jesus to Simeon. Despite its six-part texture, the motet’s delicate harmonisation ensures that the words remain the focus, shaded by the composer’s textural manipulations. The climactic moment, when Simeon recognises Jesus as “the light of the world”, is beautifully simple – an octave leap in the soprano line sees it flower expansively above the accompanying voices. Ubers Gebirg Maria geht encloses within its story a miniature setting of the Magnificat. Its polyphonic treatment is once again a model of simplicity, but achieves drama through the contrasting homophonic directness of Mary’s speech (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”) and the more contrapuntal sections of narrative.
A contemporary of Guerrero and Morales, Spanish polyphonist Andres de Torrentes is best known for his large number of Magnificats. There survive also, however, two Nunc Dimittis settings, and tonight we hear the Nunc Dimittis in the eighth tone. It’s a short work, compressing a some exciting and athletic counterpoint into the traditional alternatim structure – alternating verses of plainchant and polyphony. Five voice-parts expand to six by the end, giving a thrilling sense of climax to the closing phrase “et nunc et semper” (now and forever).
The role of the Nunc Dimittis within the Anglican rite of Evensong has prompted settings by all the major English composers, including an elegant double choir treatment from Holst. The gradual building-up of the opening pianissimo chord establishes a contemplative mood that gives way to rather more sprightly polychoral writing, including a rhythmic “lumen ad revelationem”, and the vibrant exchanges of the Gloria that grow into a pealing “Amen”.
Seattle audiences have the exciting chance to preview our Russian Chant Revival program on Thursday, March 30th during a pre-concert session with the Seattle Symphony in their night devoted to Rachmaninov and his Russian influences! The preview is FREE with a Seattle Symphony ticket. Then, experience the full Russian Chant Revival performance at 7:30pm on Friday night at St. James Cathedral in Seattle!
Russian Chant Revival
The men of Cappella Romana perform music from Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy in the Slavic tradition, including powerful medieval chants, and choral works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Kastalsky, Chesnokov, and more.
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. …