March 2006

Into the Temple of the King

Purcell Funeral Music for Queen Mary
Bruckner Afferentur regi; Ecce sacerdos
Caldara Missa dolorosa

Into the Temple of the King takes its title from a line in Bruckner’s Afferentur regi and its inspiration from the deep sonorities of the combination of voices and trombones.  In Caldara’s Missa dolorosa, as with a number of the composer’s other works, the alto and tenor choral lines are doubled throughout by alto and tenor trombones, giving rise to a depth and timbre of sound that is both rich and astounding.  Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary continues our loosely Lenten theme, complete with the brass canzonas that help make the piece so hauntingly memorable.  Having found three trombones it seemed only sensible to put them to good work, and we make no excuses for the non-Lenten theme of the Bruckner motets.  They are highly appropriate for the occasion, being on the themes of worship and priesthood.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695), believed to be an Old Westminster, became organist of Westminster Abbey in 1679.  His exceptional genius makes him one of the greatest composers of the baroque era.  He was an extremely prolific composer who served at court in the reigns of three successive kings, Charles II, James II and William III.  Purcell’s compositions for Queen Mary, co-regnant wife of William III, span the whole of her brief reign – her coronation in 1689, the formal celebration of her birthday for the next six years, and her funeral in March 1695. The British public was fond of Mary, who died of smallpox in late 1694 aged only thirty-three, and Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts was sung at her funeral: it is a comforting and dignified setting of part of the service for the Burial of the Dead.  Man that is born of a woman and In the midst of life come from the composer’s Funeral Sentences of 1680-82; they are in the key of C minor and are a stark yet sublime depiction of the short duration of man’s time on earth.

Anton Bruckner (1824-96) was the son of a schoolmaster and organist and a descendant of a long line of schoolmasters.  He was originally destined for the same profession but in 1855, after the success of a number of earlier compositions, he became organist at the cathedral at Linz, where he also furthered his composition studies, and in 1868 he moved to Vienna to teach at the conservatory.  He retained a modest diffidence to the end of his life, as well as a strongly traditional religious faith.  The offertory Afferentur regi, from the Mass for Virgins and Martyrs, was written in 1861 and belongs to the period during which Bruckner’s pre-occupation with counterpoint was at its height. It is written for four voices as well as three trombone parts which mark the dynamic climaxes of the work.  Ecce sacerdos, written in 1885, was designed to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the diocese of Linz, which it does in masterly style, with the additional assistance of trombones and organ. Deriving its inspiration from plainsong, it is a work of imaginative harmonic treatment, suited in its grandeur to the occasion it marks. It ends with a penultimate plainchant doxology, followed by the impressive chromaticism of the opening, where the refrain moves through successive root position chords of E major, C minor, G major, E flat minor, B flat major, F sharp minor, D major, A major, F major and C major.

Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) was one of the most prolific composers of a highly productive generation.  He held appointments in Mantua and Rome before he became, in 1716, Vizekapellmeister at the imperial court of Charles VI in Vienna.  The court operated a remarkably full calendar and observed a strict protocol, with liturgical feasts and seasons, as well as saints’ days, commemorated with music appropriate to their status.  In twenty years Caldara had composed 3 oratorios, 32 operas and more than 100 masses as well as the usual collection of psalms, antiphons and offertoriums.  In 1727 Pope Benedict XIII instituted the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, to be celebrated on the Friday between Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday, and the Missa dolorosa was written for this feastday in 1735.  This extended setting has all the hallmarks of the composer’s late style: the concluding fuges of the Gloria and Credo as well as the Kyrie II, returning later as Dona nobis pacem, display a rich and seemingly effortless counterpoint; his expressive melodic style is obvious in the duets and solo numbers, and the whole work is permeated with a deep and lasting sense of spiritual joy.