The celebration of the feast of Christ the King ends another wonderful year for the choir: A well-attended concert; singing in San Marco, Venice; new members; masses with our orchestra; new additions to the repertoire as well as old favourites.
2 November: Requiem in F minor – Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (c1644-1704)
The Bohemian composer, Biber, was one of the best-known composers of his day. His compositions stretched the techniques of violinists and his music travelled throughout Europe from Salzburg, the city that he made his home.
For the feast of All Souls the choir will be joined by an orchestra led by Simon Lillystone, Director of Music until 2014. Biber’s Requiem, written in 1692, is a musical highlight of the seventeenth century, the early Baroque. The music of the Baroque is often characterised by dance and Biber uses stately, sombre dance rhythms throughout this piece. Equally striking are the changes that occur in the music, from solo to chorus, from imitative writing to big extravagant blocks of sound.
6 November: Missa Inter vestibulum – Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599)
Although overshadowed by fellow Spaniards, Morales before him and Victoria afterwards, Guerrero has taken his place as a composer of some of the most striking music from the Renaissance. Although well-travelled, Guerrero almost exclusively worked in cathedrals in the south of Spain.
This mass, published in 1566, is based on a motet by Morales; it is possible that this mass was written as a tribute to his great predecessor who had recently died. The text is from the book of Joel, a description of a congregation weeping and pleading for safety from their enemies. Guerrero, using Morales as his template, uses lots of sighing phrases and dark harmonies. The final Agnus Dei is well known; he adds two extra parts but has three parts singing in canon, the same music but starting one at a time and at different pitches.
13 November: Missa pro defunctis – Jacob Clemens non Papa (1510-1555)
On Remembrance Sunday we commemorate those who have died in wars. The music for our Requiem Mass is the setting by the Dutch composer, Clemens. Very little is known about Clemens; he was extremely prolific: 15 masses, more than 200 motets, lots of songs and psalm settings. It is also believed that he was murdered; Vaet wrote a piece soon after his death mourning the sudden, violent loss of his colleague and friend.
This simple, powerful requiem uses the plainsong as the inspiration for long, sweeping phrases.
20 November: Missa Ave Regina caelorum – Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611)
The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI; he saw the rise of nationalism and secularism and his predictions that these would lead to war were sadly shown to be all too accurate.
For this final service of the liturgical year, we celebrate with the exuberant eight part Missa Ave Regina caelorum. Victoria was one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance. He was born in a sleepy village (current population less than 800) in western Spain but he and his music travelled widely and the birth of Baroque music can be heard in this great mass, published in 1600. The choir is divided into two and joyfully throws musical ideas from one side to the other; imitation is by groups of singers not just one part copying another, and strong gestures predict the music that Biber and his contemporaries composed a hundred years later.
27 November: Missa Inviolata – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)
We start the new year with music by the great Italian composer, Palestrina. He was the teacher of Victoria and an influence on the music of Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart.
Palestrina drew on many sources for inspiration for his masses, which numbered over 110. This early, understated mass is based on an eleventh century Marian hymn which was often sung in Advent.