December 2012

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Music for the Queen of Heaven

Anon There is no rose
Victoria Ave Regina caelorum
Handel Haec est Regina virginum; Salve, Regina
Vivaldi Magnificat

Pearsall In dulci jubilo
Corelli Christmas Concerto
Vivaldi Gloria

Cantandum Vyvian Bronk, Anna Gould, Helen Prentice soprano; Lucy Chambers, Delia Robertson, Catharine Robertson alto; Tim Dutton, Kevin Walsh, Chris Yate tenor; Jeremy Gray, Peter Langdale, Nicolas Moodie bass

Bampton Classical Players on period instruments: Camilla Scarlett, Simon Kodurand violin; Peter Collyer viola; Gareth Deats cello; Jonathan Moss double bass; Jane Downer, Nicholas Benda oboe; Stephen Cutting trumpet; James Johnstone harpsichord and organ.

Handel soloist: Serena Kay (mezzo-soprano)

Music for the Queen of Heaven is a programme inspired by music in honour of the Virgin Mary. The introductory piece, There is no rose of such virtu, is an anonymous macaronic (mixed-language) fifteenth-century Nativity song, in Old English and Latin, and is characterised by simple and effective melodic weaving.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) was the greatest Spanish Renaissance composer and one of the leading figures of church music. After 21 years in Rome, and ordination in 1575, he became chaplain to the Dowager Empress Maria in Madrid; he remained at the royal convent of the Barefooted Nuns of St Clare, first as choirmaster and later as organist, until his death. His music ranks with the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance, and is characterised by a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal. The 8-part Ave Regina is typical of the cori spezzati (spaced style), with polyphony merging freely in and out of homophony; both choirs combine for the final oration in a rich sonority.

Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was born in Germany but became a British citizen in 1727. He was one of the greatest vocal and instrumental composers of the baroque age and was a cosmopolitan and eclectic artist. Haec est Regina virginum is a simple but effective setting of the first psalm antiphon at First Vespers, whilst Salve Regina, for soprano and two violins, is characterised by moments of chromaticism, a moving ‘sospiramus’, a joyful organ obbligato in the third movement and a plaintive ‘O clemens’ to end.

The Magnificat, with a text from Luke 1: 46-55, is one of the most ancient Christian hymns and one of the first in honour of the Virgin Mary. The setting by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was written during his long years as music director of the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in Venice, a post which inspired him to compose a large variety of church music. The solemnity of the Magnificat and Suscepit Israel is characterised by hymn-like chords and a masterly chromaticism whilst the expressively contrapuntal Et misericordia is full of intensity. Fecit potentiam and Deposuit, traditionally dramatic, are depicted through striking instrumentation and bold unison writing, the latter depicting the fall of the mighty and the exaltation of the humble. The solo sections are all short ensembles with momentum and purpose; the concluding Gloria ends with a fugue one wishes were longer.

In dulci jubilo is a traditional carol. The tune first appears in a manuscript dating from around 1400; the original text, a macaronic alternation of medieval German and Latin, is thought to have been written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse in 1328. Robert de Pearsall’s translation of 1837 retains the Latin but substitutes English for German; a looser (and much-criticised) English version is better-known as Good Christian men, rejoice.

The Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6 no. 8, of Italian violinist Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), known as his Christmas Concerto, was commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni and published posthumously in 1714; it bears the inscription Fatto per la notte di Natale (Made for the night of Christmas). It was composed around 1690 and scored for two concertino violins and cello, ripieno strings and continuo. The work is structured as a concerto da chiesa, expanded from a typical four movement structure to six, ending with the well-known Pastorale ad libitum.

The Gloria of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is one of the most frequently performed pieces of Baroque sacred music. Its enduring popularity is founded on a compelling artistic and spiritual merit, with a good number of choruses as well as opportunities for several solo voices from within the ensemble. Its celebrated status is in part an accident of history, being one of a handful of pieces selected during the early phase of the Vivaldi revival in the 1920s and 1930s, whereas the bulk of the composer’s sacred music remained virtually unknown outside academia until as recently as the 1980s. The Gloria was probably intended for the Pietà: the addition of single oboe and trumpet was a familiar one at the time, and there are a number of solos for girls’ voices. The relatively high compass of the chorus bass suggests that the parts were likely to have been taken by women of the institution and transposed up an octave as required. It has been suggested that the composition of certain parts of the work was influenced by a concern to save music paper, perhaps evident in the brevity of the penultimate movement and also possible in the ‘Qui tollis’. The final double fugue ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ is borrowed from the Gloria per due chori by the Veronese composer Ruggieri; there is a suggestion that the fugato on ‘propter magnam gloriam’ in movement 4 might also be, although no model has been found.