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Music of many voices

    at St John's Smith Square

    A concert to mark the fortieth birthday of the choir’s founder, Matthew Greenall.
    Guest conductor: Robert Hollingworth

Tallis: Spem in alium à 40
Striggio: Ecce beatam lucem à 40
Gesualdo: Three motets
Monteverdi: Adoramus te
Monteverdi: Cantate domino
Weelkes: Service for seven voices
Byrd: Easter Propers
Victoria: Magnificat à 12

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Thomas Weelkes 1575?-1623

Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis
This work was almost certainly written after Weelkes’ appointments to post of organist at Winchester College in 1598 and to Chichester Cathedral in 1602. ( By all accounts he was a man who spoke his mind and was eventually dismissed from his position at Chichester Cathedral for use of profane language and drunkenness – he had previously been fined for urinating on the Dean from the organ loft during Evensong!) None of his ten services (six of which are have solo or “verse” sections) have survived complete. The work is large scale, fluctuating between six and ten parts. It was reconstructed using his full anthem ‘O Lord Grant the King a Long Life’. It was customary in those days to write a service and anthem for the same occasion using similar material. In this case several lines from the anthem seem to reflected in the service, making it easier to reconstruct the missing part. Neither the tenor part has survived nor the Cantoris alto two. Both have been reconstructed in this edition by David Wulstan who has also proposed that the series of sections for reduced forces should be for soloists (a marking often omitted). His orthodox solution assigns these first to one side of the choir (Decani) and then to the other (Cantoris) which gives the work a split-choir feel.

William Byrd 1539?-1623

Easter Propers: Resurrexi, Haec dies, Victimae paschali, Terra tremuit & Pascha nostrum
Byrd was a pupil of Thomas Tallis and at the age of about 20 became organist of Lincoln Cathedral and then, with Tallis, of Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel Royal. A Catholic at the time of the new Church of England, his middle years saw an increasing persecution of Catholics and his music often refers to this. Later in his long life he withdrew from London musical life to a home in Essex where he received patronage from the Catholic Petre family. In 1605 and 1607 he published a comprehensive collection of music for the Catholic liturgy called Gradualia from which this selection of music for Easter is taken.

Thomas Tallis 1505-1585

Spem in alium
Born in Greenwich, Tallis held a number of musical positions before becoming a gentleman of the Chapel Royal between 1542 and 1544, remaining there until his death forty years later. In 1575 he and William Byrd were granted a licence to be the sole printers of music for 21 years, a great honour, but not one which seems have earned them great riches. The origins of Spem in alium, one of the most extraordinary achievements of 16th century music, remain shrouded in mystery. However, a small body of circumstantial evidence has linked the Tallis motet with the 40 part motet by Striggio. Striggio is known to have visited England briefly in 1567 and may have met Tallis. There is also a surviving early 17th century account which seems to corroborate emulation of an Italian original, and also tells of a first performance in the long gallery of Arundel House in London, home of the then Earl of Arundel. Arundel had at the time one of the largest musical establishments in England, making it a possible location for the first performance. It is unlikely that his 40-part motet ever filled a liturgical function, although technically it is a Responsary, sung at matins during the October readings from the Book of Judith. Rather it seems to have been performed on special occasions (with a new text) such as at the Great Hall in Whitehall for the creation as Prince of Wales of Henry in 1610 and Charles in 1616.

Tomàs Luis de Victoria 1548-1611

An ordained priest of the Catholic Church, Victoria only wrote sacred music – possibly because Spain was less affected by the secular influences of the Renaissance and the Reformation. He spent an important middle period of life working in Rome, where he must surely have come into close contact with Palestrina, whose coolness of style Victoria reflects but infuses with Iberian passion, however apparently understated. His acute awareness of vocal sonority colours his wonderful music for split choir, a texture which he favoured. This Magnificat for three choirs was probably written when he had returned to Madrid and was published in 1600.

Claudio Monteverdi 1564-1643

Adoramus Te & Cantate Domino
Monteverdi’s early life in Mantua focused primarily on superlative madrigal collections and early essays in opera. His move to Venice to take up the coveted post of Maestro di Cappella at St Mark’s Venice in 1613 saw a change to writing music for the church. He submitted these two motets to a collection compiled by his Mantuan colleague Giulio Casare Bianchi in 1620. Cantate Domino reflects the joy in the words by using a tripping triple time. Adoramus Te with its languid lines often for sonorous pairs of voices was probably written for the festival of the Holy Cross for which Monteverdi had to provide a large amount of music each year.

Gesualdo 1560-1613

Ave dulcissima Maria, O vos omnes & Domine, ne despicias deprecationem meam
Born in the south of Italy, probably Naples, Gesualdo was connected with both the church and the aristocracy. An uncle was the archbishop in Naples and a great uncle, Pope Pius IV. He was best known for assassinating his first wife after finding her in a compromising position with the Duke of Andria in 1590. Revenge from the families involved was always a possibility and so he moved to his estate at the town of Gesualdo where he largely remained until his death in 1613. These three motets come from two books of Sacrae Cantiones, published in Naples in 1603. He had previously been known as a composer of daring and harmonically extreme madrigals and these motets use similar mannerist vocal writing, if not so extreme, to express the text in an especially intense way.

Alessandro Striggio 1535-1592

Ecce beatam lucem
It’s not certain but it seems likely that this monumental work was written for a Cardinal on a Papal mission to quell the rise of Protestantism in France. The text is a confident affirmation of the Catholic faith and it was perhaps first performed with a great tableau behind the singers illustrating the text, which several times says “here is”. Certainly the nobleman/composer Alessandro Striggio was known for providing music for such large-scale occasions, albeit secular ones. The only known performance was in Munich in 1568 directed by Lassus as part of the celebrations for a Bavarian royal wedding. Many instruments were used, in the German fashion. But a performance for voices only was quite possibly intended, as the ten groups of four voices are constantly recombining into larger groups which would make the Venetian and German style of “choirs” of specific instrumental colours impossible. While the piece is full of great blocks of sound, they are always coloured by detail. There is much syncopation where several voices are singing against the main pulse and a feature of the piece is that a few of the voices have quite virtuosic parts, running semiquavers around the main chords like ivy round a solid building.

Katie Jack / Robert Hollingworth