Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sheppard, Davy, and Mundy from The Sixteen

On their new CD and in their 2014 Choral Pilgrimage:

The Sixteen returns to its grass roots and revisits the golden age of Renaissance polyphony in England for the repertoire of its latest disc. In this new programme the award-winning ensemble presents a stunning selection of music by Richard Davy, John Sheppard and William Mundy.

Little is known about the life of Richard Davy. He is, however, the second most represented of all the composers in the Eton Choirbook and wrote in the beautifully florid style so characteristic of 1490s English music. The mere fact that his music survived the Reformation is nothing short of a miracle. He was a scholar of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he acted as choir master and organist and it is believed that he wrote the monumental O Domine caeli terraeque creator in the span of a single day during his time at the college.

John Sheppard's musical style contains all the grandness and idiosyncrasies of English harmonic invention, as is aptly displayed on this new recording which includes one of the gems of Tudor music - the glorious seven-part Trinity antiphons Libera nos with their ethereal combination of upper voices balanced with an even-note cantus firmus in the bass, as well as one of the most grandiose of Sheppard’s responsories, Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria, a magnificent setting of the responsory and prosa for Second Vespers for the Feast of the Purification.

William Mundy was one of the few composers whose career bridged the Reformation and allowed him to develop his style through a variety of important periods. His Votive antiphon,Vox patris caelestis, probably written for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the reign of Mary Tudor, can be considered as the culmination of the great antiphon tradition with its elaborate and virtuosic vocal writing and daunting extended range.

The track listings are:

John Sheppard (c.1515-58/9)
1. Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria
William Mundy (c.1530-before 1591)
2. Adolescentulus sum ego
Richard Davy (c.1465-c.1521)
3. O Domine caeli terraeque creator
4. Libra nos I & II
5. In manus tuas I
6. Ah, mine heart, remember thee well
7. In manus tuas III
8. Vox patris caelestis

While enduring withdrawal symptoms from the football season Sunday night, I watched the first episodes of Music and Monarchy again--with performances from Eton College, King's College, Cambridge, et al. I enjoyed again how David Starkey and his experts demonstrated the arrangements of College choirs around the huge choir book; then showed the changes made in the composition of music and the membership of the choir during the Tudor Reformation transitions, etc.

Something I did not comment on when I posted my review of Music and Monarchy is the other gradual transition Starkey demonstrates. From the Tudors to the Stuarts to the Hanoverians to the Windsors, the purpose of music at Court, Chapel Royal, and Cathedral changed. First, as Starkey showed particularly with the example of Henry V and Henry VI, the purpose was worship of God. Then, with the Restoration of Charles II and particularly the coronation of James II, the purpose was supporting the monarchy and king, which Purcell continued with the odes to Mary, for example, during the reign of William and Mary. After William curtailed music at Court, English music was revived during the Hanoverian dynasty by the German Handel--and George III supported his music and talent so much that the focus of the musical performance for the monarchy became recognition of the composer. With the Windsors, the purpose of music for the monarchy was patriotism or even nationalism: "Land of Hope and Glory", the Proms, the processional hymn by Ralph Vaughn Williams at Elizabeth II's coronation, "All People That On Earth Do Dwell", the focus was on the people and the glories of being English!

From God, to the King, to the composer, to the people.

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