Friday, February 19, 2016

Music for Lent: William Byrd, et al.

R.J. Stove writes for The Catholic World Report, suggesting music for Lent:

Apologies if readers’ individual favorites have been omitted, but such omissions are inescapable. A playlist truly illustrative of Lenten music down the ages would be Wagnerian in its length, even if YouTube retains some surprising gaps (it is weak above all in 19th-century and early 20th-century Lenten repertoire). Order could be imposed upon “embarrassment of riches” chaos solely by adopting these stringent yardsticks for musical selection:

~To include only music that, whatever its composers’ own religious allegiance, could be performed in the context of a penitential Catholic liturgy. So nothing from Handel’s Messiah—even though that is much better attuned to Easter than to the Nativity—and no Passion settings by Bach or Heinrich Schütz either. Alas.
~To eschew pure plainchant (as distinct from composed music with a plainchant basis).
~To prefer—when a work has attracted several renditions displaying a broadly equal standard—YouTube recordings which show the relevant printed score, over YouTube recordings which do not.
~To choose nothing, however praiseworthy, over 15 minutes long (which, sadly, rules out Thomas Tallis’ complete Lamentations).
~To bypass the examples that have acquired lives of their own in secular fora. This necessitated omitting, for instance, such concert-hall staples as Pergolesi’s extremely famous Stabat Mater, the scarcely less celebrated Palestrina version, and Rossini’s disconcertingly operatic treatment of the same words. Gregorio Allegri’s thrice-familiar Miserere has likewise been avoided.

Once those criteria were put in place, the process of selecting works became not easy by any means, but less difficult. With what upshots, others must judge. . . .

I'm glad to see that he includes a selection prayed at Mass at St. Eugene-Ste. Cecile in Paris:

Henri Du Mont, born two generations earlier than Fux, spent his youth in the Low Countries (principally the cities of Maastricht and Liège) before moving, in 1639, to France. There he occupied various exalted posts in the House of Bourbon’s service. His Lenten meditation on mortality, Media Vita in Morte Sumus, dates from 1668 and—as this account of it from Paris’ own Schola Sainte-Cécile indicates—is marked by a self-effacing, no-nonsense chordal approach, better fitted to the words than any obviously histrionic idiom would have been.

And then William Byrd's Ne Irascaris, Domine" sung by the Durham Cathedral Choir:

From Du Mont we cross the Channel and move back more than half a century to William Byrd, the one outstanding Elizabethan composer who remained Catholic while living in England throughout Elizabeth’s reign. (John Bull, John Dowland, and Peter Philips all spent as much time abroad as possible. Tallis and Christopher Tye—unlike Byrd, both old enough to have adult memories of the Henrician terrorism—stayed discreet about their ultimate religious allegiances.) Originally appearing in the 1589 collection Cantiones Sacrae, Byrd’s Lenten motet Ne Irascaris, Domine is among his most powerful and most openly recusant works; no hearer at the time can possibly have misconstrued the stress he places on the word “desolata.” The Durham Cathedral Choir has a surprising and agreeable Continental harshness of sound, with a merciful absence of that Oxonian-Cantabridgian gentility which is so alien to English music’s greatest dissident.

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