Music Notes 2016 Trinity XVI

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1 Music Notes 2016 Trinity XVI The mass setting this Sunday is the Missa Papæ Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina ( ). Over many years, this setting became encrusted with an entire mythology, and was popularly believed to have saved western music virtually singlehandedly. The German composer Hans Pfitzner wrote an entire opera based on this myth. Alas, it is not in itself a true story, and yet there is perhaps more underlying truth in it than might at first appear to be the case. The myth itself has several times been cheerfully disparaged in these notes. It appears to have started with something written by the composer Agostino Agazzari thirteen years after Palestrina s death: Music of the older kind is no longer in use, both because of the confusion and babel of the words, arising from the long and intricate imitations, and because it has no grace, for with all the voices singing, one hears neither period nor sense, these being interfered with and covered up by imitations...and on this account music would have come very near to being banished from the Holy Church by a sovereign pontiff [Pius IV], had not Giovanni Palestrina found the remedy, showing that the fault and error lay, not with the music, but with the composers, and composing in confirmation of this the Mass entitled Missa Papae Marcelli. Jesuit musicians found this a particularly engaging idea and perpetuated it enthusiastically. Finally, in the first attempt at a really definitive biography of Palestrina in 1828, the author Giuseppe Baini repeated it as truth, describing the composer as the saviour of church music and speaking of the Council of Trent having wished and intended to ban all polyphonic music. Cardinal Carlo Borromeo was either said to have asked Palestrina to compose the mass to demonstrate that it was possible to have polyphonic music in which the text was still intelligible, or else Palestrina did it off his own bat and Borromeo was, so to speak, knocked over by what he heard and stayed the musical executioner s hand. Of course, Agazzari simply said that Palestrina s mass demonstrated that it was possible to create a polyphonic yet intelligible setting, although he clearly believed that the Pope was minded to limit compositional freedom. Nevertheless, the documented history of the Council doesn t really support this. The first mystery with this setting is when it was written. Pope Marcellus II reigned for a mere three weeks in The Council of Trent ran from 1545 until 1563 in all, and initially Marcello Cervini degli Spannochi (he was the last of the Popes to use his own name as his papal name) was one of its three Presidents. This, of course, strengthens the idea that Palestrina was making some kind of a reference to the Council by naming the setting after one the people charged with managing its affairs. Marcellus was elected in succession to Julius III, former Bishop of Palestrina, and the one who had brought Giovanni Pierluigi to Rome in the first place. Julius proved something of a scandalridden Pope, in fact, not least because he had an adopted nephew, Innocenzo Ciocchi

2 Del Monte, whom he elevated to Cardinal-Nephew after his accession, and who was said to share the Pope s bed "as if he were his own son or grandson" although it was not the possibility of a familial relationship that actually bothered his critics What we know is that the first historical appearance of the mass is when it was copied into the manuscript book at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 1562 or 1563, when Giovanni Pierluigi was Director of Music. Interestingly, 1562 is also the date of the Council s declarations on music. This said that compositions should be constituted in such a way that the words be clearly understood by all, and thus the hearts of the listeners be drawn to desire of heavenly harmonies, in the contemplation of the joys of the blessed. Giovanni Pierluigi undoubtedly was aware of this, and perhaps legend and reality do cross over here, in that he may have reacted by composing a work that really was his interpretation of this instruction, and named it for the President of the Council who subsequently became Pope and who refused the requests of some to shut down the Council s work. On 28th April 1565, the Papal Choir s records state that the choir members assembled at the request of the Most Reverend Cardinal Vitellozzi at his residence to sing some masses and to test whether the words could be understood, "as their Eminences require. We only know of the identity of one of the settings that were performed, and it isn t this one. However, it is plausible that it was sung on this occasion, because it was entered into the papal choir s Codex that same year, and published formally two years later. This, perhaps, is the starting point of the legend, and if it is correct, perhaps what it tells us is that those present agreed that Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina had really hit the nail on the head. Next Wednesday is Holy Cross Day, and Rupert is recognizing this by giving us as the motet at the Offertory Adoramus te, Christe by Claudio Monteverdi ( ), a piece written while he was Director of Music at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. In an early stage of his career, he had gone to work at the court of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga in Mantua as a vocalist and viol player, but worked his way up to become Master of Music. While there, he met one Giulio Cesare Bianchi, himself a writer of motets. When Bianchi decided to publish a collection of such works, he asked his friend if he might contribute some of his excellent works to the book. Among the works Monteverdi sent were two associated with the Holy Cross, the five-part Adoramus te that we will hear this Sunday, and a six-part work using an adaptation of the Adoramus te text. Feasts of the Holy Cross had a special position in Venice. First, the relics of St Helena who was the mother of Constantine the Great, and who was said to have discovered the True Cross on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 326 and 328 were said to have been transported to the city in Furthermore, the city claimed and claims to possess one of the extant pieces of the True Cross measuring 445,582 mm 3 to be precise. Venetians therefore marked not only Holy Cross Day, but also the Feast of the Invention

3 of the True Cross. Invention in this case is a somewhat misleading word in modern English. The word comes from the Latin particles in and venire and means really to come across or to discover. This feast, celebrated on May 3 rd, marked the rescuing in 628 of the True Cross from the Sassanid Emperor Khosrau II, who had nabbed it after capturing Jerusalem in 614. The two festivals, together with the obvious attention paid to the Cross on Good Friday, kept a Venetian composer busy with this theme in any given year, and it is no wonder that there are two such motets by Monteverdi in this collection. The text is familiar to us from the liturgy of Good Friday: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world. The canticles at Evensong are The Norwich Service by the Bermuda-born British composer Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962). He is particularly well-known for writing wonderful choral music, and his skill in this genre is obviously partly the result of his time as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, after which he attended the Royal Academy of Music in London. Nevertheless, his first ambition had in fact been to become an architect. There is some correlation between architecture and composers, rather as there is between mathematics and music. It goes without saying that composers have to think of writing their music as involving elements of construction they are in a sense three-dimensional works. If we were able actually to see air with our eyes, we would also (assuming good enough eyesight) we able to see the waveforms of sound passing through it to our ears, and might better recognize the physical nature and structure of music and indeed, of all sound. In any case, architecture did not in fact win against music in the battle for Gabriel Jackson s future. During the time that he was at Canterbury, Alan Wicks was Organist and Master of the Choristers, a post he held for some 27 years, and he proved to be a strong influence in Jackson s musical development. Nevertheless, in spite of the cathedral background, Jackson s time at the Royal College in the early 1980s was not in fact focused on choral music but rather on instrumental music, and most of his early works are therefore not for voices. Jackson has said, however, that this all started to change towards the end of the 1980s: I realized that I still wanted to be involved in the cathedral music that had meant so much to me, and the only way I could contribute (I was a terrible adult singer!) was to compose liturgical music. Michael Nicholas, another great pioneer of contemporary church music at Norwich Cathedral, was very supportive and commissioned and performed several pieces in the early 1990s. One of these was this set of canticles, first performed by the cathedral choir under Michael Nicholas on 13 June It was then revised a little by the composer in Jackson is one of a particular group of composers many of them published by Oxford University Press and Faber Music, as he is who have been making a substantial

4 contribution to British choral music. One might think if not in exactly the same breath, in adjacent pants, as it were of Bob Chilcott, Matthew Martin, and Will Todd as other examples from this group, although they all write very different music. Nevertheless, they are united with Jonathan Dove, composer of last week s mass setting, in being determined to write thrilling music that does not present insuperable barriers to its use and enjoyment. The anthem is The Beatitudes by the Estonian composer, Arvo Part (b.1935), whose 81 st birthday happens to fall this Sunday. This work, composed in 1990 and revised in 1991, is one of the few examples of the composer setting an English text. It was the result of a commission by RIAS, Rundfunk im amerikanischem Sektor or Broadcaster in the American sector, a radio and television station located in the American sector of Berlin during the Cold War period. The station s first broadcast was on 7 th February 1946, and it finally shut down on 31 st December Needless to say, a large part of its purpose was to broadcast enthusiastically western-inclined programmes from the enclave of West Berlin to an audience living in the completely surrounding country of East Germany (the DDR). Listening to the station was officially discouraged, but the fact is that it generally attracted a larger audience in the East than the official DDR state broadcasters of managed to achieve. Of course, by the time this work was performed, the DDR was over, the Berlin Wall having fallen the previous November. The work is for a normal four-part choir and organ, and the text is derived from Matthew 5, verses 3 12, as you would expect. This is one of the pieces written in the style sometimes referred to as holy minimalism or mystical minimalism. The mystical or holy part is hopefully reasonably self-evident, while minimalism generally refers to music that uses a certain economy of means, either in terms of translucent textures, or by means of certain repeated patterns that change over a period of time in sometimes small but significant ways. Pärt often takes a basic harmonic structure, such as a single chord, and then refracts it endlessly through adding other chords that surround it and show it in a new light, while the original chord still resonates through it. Added to this is the way that Pärt illuminates the meaning of the words he is setting by breaking them up and attaching particular music structure to them. These then act as a kind of leit motif for the word itself, so that it is recognizable not just by its syllables, but also by a melodic or harmonic inflection. This means, of course, that it is virtually impossible to perform such works in translation, since the significance of any music phrase lies in the precise meaning of the word that it is setting. This is especially true in this beautiful piece of music. The blessing of each beatitude are each characterized by a particular melodic gesture, some of them standing out starkly in what is generally a very restrained texture. Nevertheless, this is an almost

5 surprisingly chromatic work from a composer who often revels in a limited palette of chords within which he weaves a magical network of sounds. This unusually diverse harmonic structure is driven by the pedal part of the organ, which starts on a low D-flat and then gradually winds its way up in semitones to a G# during the course of the choir s music, arriving finally at the last verse (which unlike all the others begins with the word Rejoice) and a final Amen. The organ then takes over from the choir, and weaves through a series of arpeggiated figures as the pedal gradually descends back once more until it finally reaches home on the D-flat where it originally began. It s a very elegant and, indeed, poignant work.

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