Vautor Sweet Suffolk Owl
Gibbons The Silver Swan
Kodály Matra Pictures
Vanhal Missa Pastoralis (possible UK première)
English madrigals are set to secular texts and usually describe the pains and pleasures of love and the beauties of nature. They encouraged stylistic developments that culminated in the baroque period, particularly those which involved the expressive relationship between text and music, and are one of the most important genres of the late Renaissance.
Thomas Vautor (fl 1600-20) was an English composer whose only extant works are contained in his single madrigal volume The First Set, being Songs of Divers Ayres and Natures, of Five and Sixe parts, Apt for Vyols and Voyces of 1619-20 and dedicated to George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. In Sweet Suffolke owle the rapid declamation and enthusiastic musical representation of the textual details have an infectious wit yet a pervasive melancholy quality which transforms it into one of the most individual of English madrigals. Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), one of the most important early 17th-century composers, was particularly noted for his individual church and organ music. His seven children were baptised at St Margaret’s Westminster and in 1623 he became organist of Westminster Abbey. The Silver Swan, an exquisite setting of a hauntingly melancholic text, is from the composer’s one set of secular vocal music, The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets, apt for Viols and Voyces.
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) was, along with Bartok, one of the creators of art music based on Hungarian folk sources, and helped establish a high-level national musical culture. His development was profoundly influenced by his folksong experiences and by the embodiment of the Hungarian spirit. The evocative Matra Pictures, although written as a seamlessly fluid piece, is a compilation of five folk-songs: Vidrócki’s hunting, The farewell, The message, Summertime and Stealing chickens, ordered to form a narrative thread. Kodály was a vocally-orientated composer for whom melody was of the highest importance. In 1966 he wrote ‘Our age of mechanisation leads along a road ending with man himself as a machine; only the spirit of singing can save us from this fate’.
Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813) was a Bohemian composer and an accomplished violinist and organist. He became an associate of a number of leading composers including Gluck, and played string quartets with Mozart, Haydn and Dittersdorf. Source material on his life is scarce but he was clearly one of the more active composers of the time and, lacking a single patron, produced a large number of works for a variety of genres, including about 50 masses (compared to Haydn’s dozen). The origins of the late 18th century Missa Pastoralis can be traced to Italy and a style of composition suitable for performance in the Christmas Eve service. With its emphasis on simplicity and rustic charm the style was adopted throughout Europe in a variety of genres. Four copies of Vanhal’s mass, composed in 1782, survive, perhaps indicating its popularity at the time. It cleverly features pastoral devices – drone basses, yodelling themes and passages of harmonic stasis – which allow the mass to echo musically the Nativity event and also to present a coherent unity for the mass itself. There are six thematically linked movements, with a central contrasting section in the long Gloria and Credo movements. He uses the soloists in ensemble fashion, delineating new or important ideas and effecting a transition from mystery to high drama.