To those of you who attended our Come and Sing event on January 18th, we would like to say a big ‘thank you’ and we hope you enjoyed the day as much as we did! You sounded marvellous and we truly appreciate your support.
The concert showcasing the chosen settings of O Magnum Mysterium is fast approaching - Saturday 14th March at 8.00pm, and tickets can be bought from our website - or from Sandra Wakefield on 0115 9606236. They are £12 or £5 for students under 21.
St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham, NG1 5AE makes a wonderful venue for these pieces. The generous acoustic enhances the beauty of the music and the expressive yearning towards an understanding of the mysteries of the Incarnation. We hope to see many of you there!
Tomas Luis de Victoria (ca. 1548-1611) was one of Spain’s most important composers, producing a repertoire which includes psalm settings and hymns as well as 21 masses and 44 motets. He was also a Catholic priest, singer and organist. In 1565 he went to Rome and became cantor at the German College. It is possible that he may have studied with Palestrina at around this time, and he did take over the position of maestro after Palestrina left the Pontifical Roman Seminary. He returned to Spain in 1587 and worked, for the remainder of his life, as chaplain and then organist to the Dowager Empress Maria.
According to some, Victoria’s sacred music reflected his ‘intricate personality’ and expressed a ‘passion of Spanish mysticism and religion’. The mass in 4 parts which we will perform, explores beautiful, simple lines, homophonic textures and rhythmic variations, as well as dissonance and expressive word painting, the overall effects of which can produce surprising contrasts of intensity and emotional connection to the subject matter.
We will also perform Victoria’s 4-part motet of the same title, published in 1572, upon which the mass is based. This beautiful, melismatic piece illustrates the use of imitation between the voices, dissonance, and echo rather than singing syllables at the same time, the combination of which creates a feeling of mystery.
Another important composer of the Counter-Reformation was the Italian contrapuntal expert Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594) who wrote more than 105 masses and 250 motets. His 6-part motet, O Magnum Mysterium was composed in 2 sections and published in Rome in 1569. Palestrina was attempting to create a more complex piece in some ways (6 parts), in response to those who were complaining about the ‘plainness of religious works’, but also trying to heed the arguments of others who thought Catholic liturgical music was becoming incomprehensible, by making the music more accessible (using fewer melismas, for example).
The motet has a harmonic style and Palestrina seems to reflect the importance of the birth of Jesus through repetition of certain phrases, using syllabic unisons and less imitation, thereby enhancing the clarity and meaning of the words. Strikingly, the piece ends with a joyful Alleluja section and on a strong plagal cadence, possibly to maintain the surprise and awe of the birth in the minds of the listeners.
We will also be performing some beautiful pieces by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943), Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) and Javier Busto (b. 1949). Lauridsen’s setting, composed in 1994, is a lovely, intense work, which seems to combine a contemporary feel with a more classic Gregorian chanting style, weaving the voices together in a shimmering wall of sound, striking the emotional core of the listener. Apparently, he likes to spend time composing and accessing his ‘inner song’, in a secluded place on an island off the coast of Washington. Originally trained as a medical doctor, Busto is also a Spanish (from the Basque Country) choral music composer and conductor who is in demand, throughout the world, as a guest conductor and member of choral and composition contest juries. His works, and choirs, have received many prizes and his scores are published in several countries around the world. Busto’s O Magnum Mysterium opens with hushed ‘misterioso’ chanting from the 4 voice parts, creating an almost reverent atmosphere. The piece then explores different musical ideas in several defined sections, ending on a bright Alleluia, heralding the great birth.
The French composer and pianist, Francis Poulenc, was initially self-taught, then studied with the pianist Ricardo Viñes and also with Erik Satie. He wrote many sacred and secular pieces, for voice and instrument and was part of the group of young composers Les Six. With an artistic mother and a religious father, these contrasting elements seem to be reflected in Poulenc’s music - sometimes serious and sometimes very light and fun. His music is, generally, melodic, expressive and memorable. The O Magnum Mysterium was one of 4 Christmas motets that he composed in the early 1950s. Changing harmonies, unexpected twists and humming create a sacred and serene piece, building up to a peak of awe and praise.
We are looking forward to performing this beautiful music and hope that you will enjoy it, too!