Friday, March 3, 2017

Victoria, Morales, Lobo and Palestrina

A musical exploration of the Habsburg dynasty, featuring Spanish music written for monarchs Charles V and Philip II

SATURDAY MAR 4, 2017 at 7:30PM 
St. Mark's Cathedral 
1245 10th Ave E 
Seattle, WA 98102

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA - Requiem Mass
Introitus: Requiem aeternam
Sanctus & Benedictus
Agnus Dei I, II & III
Communion: Lux aeterna
Versa est in luctum
Responsory: Libera me


VICTORIA - Magnificat primi toni
Cristóbal de MORALES - Circumdederunt me
MORALES - “Requiem aeternam” from Missa pro Defunctis
Alonso LOBO - Versa est in luctum
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA - Nunc dimittis

Danielle Sampson
Margaret Obenza
Christina Siemens

Sarra Sharif Doyle
Joshua Haberman

Orrin Doyle
Kurt Kruckeberg

Peter Lifland
Willimark Obenza
David Stutz

The House of Habsburg was an incredible patron of the arts. During its six-century rule, it shaped the arts world like no other dynasty, employing singers and commissioning composers on an international scale. The program features music by the most prominent Spanish Renaissance composers employed by Charles V and Philip II: Victoria, Morales, and Lobo, and the great Counter-Reformation Italian composer Palestrina.

The House of Habsburg was one of the most influential royal houses of Europe. At the height of its power, the dynasty ruled Austria, a vast tract of Central Europe, Spain, the Low Countries, much of South America, and it occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire for nearly three centuries. The Habsburgs held the arts in high regard. In the sixteenth century, the power and wealth of a dynasty were expressed through its patronage of art and science. The most important ruler had to demonstrate that he was also an outstanding patron by commissioning and collecting works of art. Artists employed at the court enjoyed a good income, high social standing, and remarkable freedoms, a rarity during period of religious turbulence. The Habsburg who defined Europe in the Renaissance was Charles V (1500-1558), who ruled Spain and its overseas empire and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519.

Music played an important role Charles’s court. Sacred music was sung for the daily services in the court chapel, for special memorial services, marriages and affairs of state that required a solemn ceremony in church. Professional singers and the clergy provided the chapel with music. Members of the court chapel performed many duties, as they were often singer, priest, composer, choirmaster, organist, music teacher, and scribe at the same time. Additionally, the nobility received extensive musical education themselves, often from the members of the court chapel, and learned how to sing and play instruments.

Charles surrounded himself with musicians. In Brussels he had a court chapel of mainly Flemish musicians called the “Capilla Flamenca” which he eventually brought with him to Spain. At his Spanish court Charles formed a larger ensemble, “La Grande Chapelle,” made up of the best musicians from the whole of Europe. The group performed sacred polyphony for voices and eventually secular music with instruments, once it came into style in the late sixteenth century. Charles loved both sacred and secular music.

Composer Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500–1553), a contemporary of Charles, is regarded as the most important Spanish composer before Victoria. The preference by Pope Paul III of employing Spanish singers in the papal chapel choir helped Morales, who moved to Rome in 1535 and joined up. During his time, Morales sang on three occasions for the emperor Charles V and received a commission to write music for Charles’s wedding to Isabella of Portugal in 1526. Morales remained employed by the Vatican until 1545, after which he returned to Spain following a period of unsuccessful job hunting in Italy. While regarded as one of the greatest composers in Europe, he was an unpopular employee and had difficulty keeping his jobs.

Morales was one of the first important contributors to a growing repertoire of musical settings of the liturgy for the dead. His antiphon for the the solemn office, Circumdederunt me, set for five voices, achieves a dark mood through slow-moving polyphony and low ranges. The sound fits the text perfectly.

The groanings of death have encircled me: the sorrows of hell have enclosed me.

His settings of funeral music were disseminated widely across Europe. The Missa pro Defunctis was likely sung in Mexico in 1559 at memorial ceremonies for Emperor Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain.

Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), "Philip the Prudent,” reigned during the so-called “Golden Age.” At the peak of his influence and power, Philip’s empire included territories on every continent then known to Europeans, including his namesake the Philippine Islands. People described his dominion as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” Unfortunately, his reign also saw the economic decline of Spain and the disastrous decade from 1588-1598 which included the devastating defeat of the Spanish Armada. Philip loved music and was a passionate art patron. He had a wonderful collection of masterpieces at the Escorial, his palace outside of Madrid, and was well educated in History and Politics but poor at languages.

16th-century Spanish music patronage differs from English, French, and Italian music in that the Spanish royal house maintained two royal chapels: the House of Burgundy and the House of Castile. The first was made up of Charles’s and Philip’s Low Countries subjects (Flemish) and the second of Spaniards. Philip’s maintenance of two chapels of singers and players showed an incredible commitment to music, unmatched by his contemporary sovereigns. Philip was also the only monarch of his time who patronized Italian, Spanish, and Flemish composers equally. He was the only patron to whom Palestrina dedicated two books of masses. Philip also helped Spanish composer Guerrero on his first publication, and Victoria dedicated one of his lavish single publications of Magnificats to him in 1563. Philip was the leading international music patron of his age.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), the most famous Spanish composer at the time, was one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer but also an accomplished organist and Catholic priest. Victoria was sent by Philip in 1565 to prepare for holy orders at the German College in Rome. During this time he likely studied under Palestrina, whom he eventually succeeded as director of music at the Roman Seminary.

The Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, was the next most important part of the liturgy after the Mass in the 16th-century Catholic Church. It was sung at the close of each day’s service of Vespers: Settings of the Magnificat were in demand. Composers served this liturgical need by publishing a complete set of eight or sixteen settings of the Magnificat, covering eight “tones” or keys. Victoria’s Magnificat primi toni, one of his two polychoral settings, employs eight voices and alternates between fugal sections for one choir and full double choir passages for both choirs. The way Victoria balances imitation and full homophonic statements in his Magnificat is strikingly similar to Palestrina’s techniques in Nunc dimittis for double choir—we can hear why Victoria is called the “Spanish Palestrina.”

In 1578 Philip II honored Victoria’s request to return to his native Spain, where he met the pious dowager empress Maria, sister of Philip, and later became her chaplain. His last work was the Requiem Mass (1605) in memory of the empress Maria, his most famous work. All of the music in the Requiem Mass is scored for six voices, except the initial Taedet animam meam funeral motet (not sung in the program) he also wrote for the occasion. The second soprano part often carries the cantus firmus (a pre-existing melody used as the basis of a polyphonic composition), though it disappears into the other parts. Victoria concludes the Mass with the motet Versa est in luctum, which was probably sung as the clergy and dignitaries assembled around the catafalque, a decorated wooden framework supporting the empress’s coffin. 

Philip II died at San Lorenzo in 1598. Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) wrote his best motet, Versa est in luctum, for Philip’s funeral at Toledo Cathedral. While the six-part motet is set to text associated with a Requiem Mass, he did not write a complete Requiem Mass setting. Though not as famous as Victoria, this stunning motet filled with beautiful, cascading lines captures the despair of the text and showcases why Victoria considered him to be an equal.

My harp is turned to grieving and my flute to the voice of those who weep. Spare me, O Lord, for my days are as nothing.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Flemish Masters: Gombert, Isaac and Crecquillon

Nicholas Gombert

Flemish Music for the House of Habsburg
FEB 4, 2017 at 7:30PM
St. Mark's Cathedral
1245 10th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102

Nicolas GOMBERT - Magnificat tertii et octavi toni
GOMBERT - Lugebat David Absalon
Heinrich ISAAC - Tota pulchra es
JOSQUIN - Gaude virgo mater
Thomas CRECQUILLON - Pater peccavi
arr. Ludwig SENFL - Quis dabit oculis nostris
ISAAC - Virgo prudentissima

TICKETS Save $2 per ticket by purchasing in advance
General Admission: $25
Seniors (65+): $20
Students: $15

Soprano: Danielle Sampson, Ruth Schauble, Margaret Obenza
Alto: Sarra Sharif Doyle, Joshua Haberman
Tenor: Orrin Doyle, Kurt Kruckeberg
Bass: Gabriel Lewis-O'Connor, Peter Lifland, Willimark Obenza

The House of Habsburg, one of the most influential royal houses of Europe, shaped the arts world like no other dynasty. In the sixteenth century, the power and wealth of a dynasty were expressed through its patronage of art and science. The most important ruler had to demonstrate that he was also an outstanding patron by commissioning and collecting works of art. Artists employed at the court enjoyed a good income, high social standing, and remarkable freedoms, a rarity during this period of religious turbulence. The program features music by the most famous Franco-Flemish composers employed by Maximilian I (1486-1519) and Charles V (1519-1556).

Music was clearly important to Charles V. He collected musicians during his travels, eventually finding Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-1560) in Flanders and naming him choirmaster for the royal chapel in 1529. He and the singers would travel with the emperor, further spreading the Franco-Flemish polyphonic tradition. He unofficially held the position of court composer, arranging many works commemorating key events during Charles V’s life. In 1540, Gombert ran into trouble with the law and was sentenced to hard labor but was pardoned early sometime around 1547, after Charles heard the Magnificat settings he composed while serving his sentence. These “swansongs” are considered to be Gombert’s greatest works and showcase his style—a preference for dense textures and dissonant harmony. His setting of the Magnificat on the program is the third of a cycle of eight and alternates between plainchant and polyphonic sections. Magnificat begins with three parts and unfolds to eight parts by the end, each section marked with Gombert’s signature splash of dissonance.

Gombert’s eight-voice motet Lugebat David Absalon was originally attributed to Josquin. Josquin (c.1450-1521), a contemporary of Gombert and Isaac, is considered to be the greatest composer of the age and was so famous and admired that many anonymous compositions were attributed to him by copyists, probably to increase their sales. This Lugebat David Absalon is an example. Gombert’s work is an eight-voice motet based on David’s Lament and is a contrafactum (where the composer substitutes one text for another without making substantial changes to the music). The motet is filled with beautiful imitative descending lines (classic lament painting) and the pleading repetition of “O fili mi” (O my son!), making it one of the most moving settings of David’s Lament in the Renaissance.

Heinrich Isaac’s (c.1450-1517) career spanned over 30 years and allowed him to travel far from his homeland of Flanders into Germany, Italy, and Austria. He took several positions as a professional singer before making his way to Vienna to take up the position of court composer for Emperor Maximilian I. Around 1502, Isaac traveled to Ferrara to the Este court, where he wrote the motet La mi la sol la sol la mi in merely two days and competed with Josquin for employment. A famous letter from the agent of the Este Family compared the two composers, “[Isaac] is of a better disposition among his companions, and he will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to and not when one wants him to." The program includes two motets by Isaac dedicated to the Virgin Mary, both based on chant (found in the lower voice parts in longer note values). Tota pulchra is scored for four lower voices and, through carefully balanced chordal and homophonic textures, delivers an intimate mood in this setting from the Song of Songs. Isaac’s Virgo prudentissima, one of the grandest motets of the Renaissance, is a musical dedication to the Virgin Mary on one hand but also a tribute to his employer Maximilian I on the other, written for his coronation. The text is by humanist Vadian, and it expresses hope that the Virgin will look mercifully on Maximillian. The motet alternates between chant sung as a duet and with declamatory sections of polyphony, one of Isaac’s most complex works.

Josquin’s Gaude virgo mater Christi is from a time when devotion to the Virgin Mary flourished in the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, fostering new celebrations, new poetry, and music dedicated to the worship of the Virgin. The text has no liturgical use and was likely written for private devotion. The four-part motet tells the story of Mary’s involvement with the Christ Child from her Annunciation, through his death and resurrection.

Not much is known about Thomas Crecquillon (1505-1557). He was a priest and member of the chapel of Charles V and died probably as a victim of the plague. Though details of his life are spare, his output was somewhat prolific. He wrote twelve masses, over 100 motets, and 200 chansons. Like Josquin, Crecquillon stylistically preferred writing imitative polyphony but rarely varied the texture for dramatic effect, preferring smoothness and consistency, as demonstrated in Pater peccavi, a motet about the story of the Prodigal Son.

Ludwig Senfl (1486-1542) was the most famous student of Isaac and served as his copyist. When Isaac died in 1517, Maximilian I appointed Senfl to fill Isaac’s position as court composer. However, when Maximilian died in 1519, Senfl lost his job, and his situation became worse: Charles V dismissed most of Maximilian’s musicians and refused to pay Senfl the annual stipend owed to him in the event of Maximilian's death. He spent his next few years seeking employment, eventually sympathizing with Protestants (although never officially becoming one) and acquiring a post in Munich which had high musical standards and was tolerant of Protestant sympathizers.

Quis dabit oculis nostris was originally attributed to Senfl, but it was actually composed by Costanzo Festa, who wrote it originally for the death of Anne de Bretagne, the Queen of France whom Maximilian once sought for his wife. Senfl adapted Festa’s motet for Maximillian’s funeral, changing only a few words (“Anna” was replaced by “Maximilianus”) with the necessary rhythmic adjustments, probably because Senfl did not have enough time to compose a new motet.

The sixteenth century was a golden age for Renaissance vocal music, and this program showcases the essence of the Flemish style:  smooth and elegant lines, a predominantly polyphonic texture, and very moderate vocal ranges. From the somber setting of David’s lament in Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon, to Isaac’s fireworks-of-a-motet Virgo Prudentissima, the program displays the remarkable range of expression in Flemish polyphony. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Recording Retreat at La Maison Verte

Step away from it all and participate in a Recording Retreat at beautiful La Maison Verte, an 1830's wine-maker's mansion located in the beautiful Languedoc region of southern France.

Saturday, July 22, 2017 - Saturday, July 29, 2017

To record a full-length CD of Flemish Renaissance polyphony, featuring music by one or more of the following composers:
  • Adrian Willaert
  • Antoine Brumel
  • Cipriano de Rore
  • Clemens non Papa
  • Heinrich Isaac
  • Josquin des Prez
  • Orlando de Lassus
  • Thomas Crecquillon
Repertoire will be finalized after the singers have been selected.

Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses—4 on each part for a total of 16 singers (maximum 20). Experience singing Renaissance polyphony preferred though not required. We will tailor the experience to fit all skill levels!

MARKDAVIN OBENZA is the director of Seattle-based Byrd Ensemble, founder of chamber choir Vox16, and Producer for Scribe Records, an independent record label. He is an active freelance singer who performs with the Byrd Ensemble and has performed with the Tudor Choir, Early Music Vancouver and members of the Tallis Scholars. He is the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church in Seattle, WA.

FRANCIS STEELE is musical director of Verte Musique and was, for thirty years, a professional vocalist, singing bass for such groups as The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen. Since 2003 he has developed a worldwide reputation as a vocal group coach/tutor and has also produced many CDs. He enjoys working with less experienced singers as much as with professionals.

SCHEDULE: subject to change, a little!
SAT JULY 22 - Arrive and relax!
We'll have dinner, introductions, and talk about the week ahead! Have a nap to situate yourself in the time zone, or maybe check out the town. Or maybe you need to stay up and swim in the pool or play some ping pong... tons of things to do!

SUN JULY 23-MON JULY 24 - Time to rehearse
A light continental breakfast is served at 8am. We'll have a rehearsal at 10am, have lunch at 1pm, and more rehearsal from 2:30pm-6pm. Dinner at 6pm. Small group performances at 8pm followed by a nightcap at the bar! We're hoping to fit a short lecture about the music and the technical recording process.

TUES JULY 25-THURS JULY 27 - Recording Sessions
Just like the previous days, but with recording sessions in the afternoon at the Roujan town church, Cahuzac Isabelle.

FRI JULY 28 - Performance at the Roujan town church, Cahuzac Isabelle
The main event is the performance this evening. We'll take it easy today and have a light rehearsal in the afternoon after lunch.

SAT JULY 29 - Goodbye!
A nice brunch as we say farewell!

€695 (that's Euros!)

What your fee includes:
  • Accommodations for one person for the entire week Note: Most of the rooms are double occupancy. There are a few single occupancy rooms available at €795 on a first-come, first-served basis. 
  • Includes a continental breakfast, lunch and dinner. Alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.
  • A professionally-produced CD of your singing on the retreat.
  • An in-depth understanding about the recording process.
  • A lecture about the history behind the music.
  • An opportunity to fine tune the musical skills required for recording session work as well as concert performance.
  • A concentrated week of singing to focus on the vocal skills necessary for chamber ensemble singing.
Interested singers, please fill out this application. Sign up soon! Space is limited.

This course is sponsored by the Byrd Ensemble. Please send all payments to:

The Byrd Ensemble
PO BOX 12505
Seattle, WA 98111-4505

For more information, please contact Markdavin Obenza at


What's so cool about the house?
La Maison Verte was built in the 1830′s, and started life as a wine producer’s mansion. Nothing much has changed, except now the gardens grow oleanders, irises, mimosa, tamarisk, lilac and almonds as well as vines. The property remains totally secluded, with a vast courtyard and an acre or so of fragrant and colourful gardens. The swimming pool is surrounded by mulberry, fig and almond trees, and pomegranates, oranges and lemons all thrive. It belongs to English singer Francis Steele, arts administrator Anne Roberts and their thirteen-year-old daughter Eliza. They live there all year round, and are always on hand to give help, information or advice to enable guests to make the most of their stay.

Where do we rehearse and record?
Rehearsal room: we have a vast rehearsal room (80m2), which is well sound-proofed with an acoustically tested ceiling.  It has a terracotta tiled floor, its own shower and toilets and a wall of windows providing beautiful views of the courtyard and pool.

Rehearsal Room

Wine Barn: our wine barn is also about 80m2 and can be used either as a semi-alfresco eating area or as an additional workshop space.

Break-out spaces: we have additional spaces including a large living room which can be used for small group work such as discussions, singing or as quiet spaces.

Recording sessions and the Friday concert will be held here at Cahuzac Isabelle.

Cahuzac Isabelle

Tell me about the what's around La Maison Verte!
La Maison Verte is set in the hub of the working village of Roujan, in the beautiful Languedoc region of southern France. The property is only 5 minutes’ drive from the very popular town of Pézenas, 25 minutes from the beaches of the Mediterranean, and within 90 minutes‘ drive of 5 international airports. The village boasts two superb bakeries and a traditional French café, and the Saturday market at nearby Pézenas (once the capital of Languedoc) is one of the best markets in the region. All around, vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see, providing guests with superb walks, and of course, excellent wine-tasting opportunities!

Languedoc is a hidden treasure, growing in popularity all the time.  Between the mountains and the Mediterranean, it is rich in history, breath-takingly beautiful, blessed with superb weather and rejoicing in a burgeoning international reputation for the quality of its wine.  It is also served by at least 6 airports within two hours of La Maison Verte, the closest of which (Beziers/Cap d’Agde) is just half an hour away.

MORE PHOTOS. Read more about La Maison Verte here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Christmas in the Sistine Chapel

Luca MARENZIO - Hodie Christus natus est
CHANT - Puer natus est nobis
Cipriano de RORE - Missa Praeter rerum seriem
CHANT - Laetabundus
JOSQUIN - Gaude Virgo
JOSQUIN - Præter rerum seriem
JOSQUIN - Benedicta es
PALESTRINA - Hodie Christus natus est

FOR MORE THAN A MILLENNIUM, the papal choir has been the most important musical body of Christendom. The choir existed as the Roman "schola cantorum" in the 6th century, and in the 15th century the papal choir was re-established in Rome under Sixtus IV, who rebuilt the Sistine Chapel and established the daily sung services which became the official worship of the papal court.
    Because music was always unaccompanied in the Sistine Chapel, it was crucial that the Papal Choir perform at the highest level. Membership in the papal choir came with great rewards, financially and with special privileges. New choir members competed in front of the existing members, who acted as a judge panel, for these coveted positions. The choir was consistently able to attract the finest singers and composers from all over Europe, resulting in a diverse choir made up of three national groups: Franco-Flemish, Italians and the Spanish. After the Counter-Reformation, the personnel was almost entirely exclusively Italian.
    The program explores what Christmas Mass might have sounded like at the Sistine Chapel. The main mass parts feature Renaissance motets by Franco-Flemish and Italian composers, and the interpolated chant, from the Roman Rite, is sung by Vox16.
    Referred to as “the divine composer,” Italian composer Luca Marenzio (1553-1599) brought the Italian madrigal to its highest point of artistic and technical development. He produced seventeen books of madrigals between 1580 and 1589, their contents demonstrating a mastery of the madrigal style. Through imitation, cascading lines, and attention to the text,  Marenzio incorporates madrigal techniques in the 4-part Hodie Christus natus est, a joyful motet about the birth of Christ.
    During the 16th century, Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521), the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School, acquired the reputation as the greatest composer of the age. He joined the papal choir from 1489 to 1495 and may have carved his name into the wall of the Sistine Chapel, as a “JOSQUINJ” was recently found on a wall by workers restoring the chapel. Since it was traditional for singers to carve their names into the wall, it is likely that Josquin did also, and if so, this would be his only surviving autograph.
    Praeter rerum seriem is one of Josquin’s greatest pieces. The Christmas motet scored for six voices is based on a chant melody in long notes. For much of the piece, the polyphony is presented antiphonally between the three upper and the three lower voices. The opening begins with the three lowest voices in minor-mode polyphony, creating a dark and unique sound world. Rore uses this opening in all five of his mass movements.
    Cipriano de Rore (1516-1565) represents a generation of Franco-Flemish composers after Josquin who went to live and work in Italy. Rore found employment with the Duke Ercole II d'Este at the court of Ferrara for whom he composed the Missa Praeter rerum serium. In 1563, Rore was chosen to succeed Adrian Willaert at St. Mark’s, Venice, the most prestigious post for a musician in Italy, but did not stay long and returned to Parma by September 1564, where he died the following year.
    Rore, like Marenzio, wrote a large number of madrigals but also composed sacred music of the highest caliber in the Franco-Flemish tradition, following in Josquin’s footsteps. The Missa Praeter rerum seriem scored for seven parts is based on Josquin’s Christmas motet Praeter rerum seriem and is one of the most elaborate parody masses of its time. (A parody mass is a musical setting of the mass that uses material from another pre-existing piece of music.) Through this work, Rore pays his respects to both his employer Duke Ercole II d'Este and to Josquin. Rore uses the same cantus firmus (a pre-existing melody used as the basis of a polyphonic composition) found in Josquin’s motet, but set it to text in praise of the Duke, “Hercules secundus, dux Ferrariae quartus vivit et vivet” (Hercules the Second, fourth Duke of Ferrara, lives and will live). One might argue that very little of Rore’s Missa Praeter rerum seriem is original. He added an extra soprano part for a brighter sound and turned one of the existing parts into a long-note cantus firmus for the dedication to the Duke, “Hercules secundus...”
    Gaude virgo mater Christi is from a time when devotion to the Virgin Mary flourished in the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, fostering new celebrations, new poetry, and music dedicated to the worship of the Virgin. The text has no liturgical use and was likely written for private devotion. The four-part motet tells the story of Mary’s involvement with the Christ Child from her Annunciation, through his death and resurrection. Josquin’s famous Benedicta es was sung during the mass for feasts of the Virgin Mary. The motet for six voices is based on a paraphrase of a plainchant sequence Benedicta es.
    Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) was the most prolific composers of his time, composing over 300 motets, 140 madrigals, 104 masses, 72 hymns, 68 offertories, and 35 Magnificats. He was hired by the Sistine Chapel in 1555, but left shortly after the new pope, Paul IV, decided to reinstate the rule of celibacy for anyone working there—Palestrina and two other married singers were forced to leave. During this period, the Council of Trent implemented musical policies to remove the “impure” or secular elements from the liturgy with an emphasis on intelligibility. The Palestrina style embodied the new aesthetic and is characterized by a balance between intelligible text and rich consonant harmony. Palestrina’s Hodie Christus natus est, based on the text of the Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers on Christmas Day, contains declamatory cries of joy, “Noe, noe.”

-Markdavin Obenza

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Early music afficionados, a must-have greatest hits disc

MUSIC OF THE RENAISSANCE: Italy, England & France

ALLEGRI: Miserere mei, Deus
TAVERNER: Quemadmodum
WHITE: Exaudiat te Dominus
TALLIS: Lamentations II
BYRD: Domine, quis habitabit
BRUMEL: Lamentations
PALESTRINA: Magnificat
PALESTRINA: Nunc dimittis

Purchase CD at Scribe Records (Available December)

The music on this disc spans the late-15th century to the early-17th century and represents the Italian, English, and Franco-Flemish schools of polyphony. From the singular phenomenon that is the Allegri Miserere to the gleaming architecture of Palestrina’s double-choir canticles, the works of the Italian school bookend a brief, chronological survey of the 16th-century English psalm motet as well as two sets of Lamentations, one English, the other Franco-Flemish. In the span of 70 minutes, we are vividly reminded of the remarkable diversity of the late-Renaissance polyphonic repertory.

Gregorio Allegri was an Italian composer and singer who joined the Papal choir in 1629. His setting of Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus, is easily the most famous vocal work of the Renaissance, largely due to a somewhat spurious edition dating from the early-20th century, which included a soaring high C for the soprano in the odd-numbered verses sung by a quartet. The history and evolution of Allegri’s setting is now well-known and well-documented.[i] It was composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during Matins, as part of the Tenebrae services on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. The service usually would start around 3:00 AM, and during the ritual, candles would be extinguished, one by one, until only one remained alight and hidden.

Originally, the work was simply a succession of chords to which the psalm was chanted (the tone has been identified as tonus peregrinus), but over decades of exclusive performance by the Papal choir, embellishments were added by singers and the piece evolved into a legendary work. A heightened sense of mystery surrounded the piece as the Papal choir jealously guarded it from others. Occasionally, a copy of the music would make its way out into the world, once via a young Mozart, who copied the work from memory after hearing a performance. For this recording, the now-traditional setting serves as the basis for further embellishments developed by Joshua Haberman in the spirit of the abbellimenti tradition.

The English school is represented by a selection of three psalm motets, a genre that developed out of the late-medieval votive antiphon in the 1540s, at a time when, in the climate of reform, prayers addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints fell out of favor. Composers of psalm motets sometimes adopted the structure of the old votive antiphons, beginning in triple time and changing to duple at the midway point. Passages for a reduced number of voices in any variety of combinations alternated with sections for full choir. Other examples of psalm motets were built solely on structural imitation, a technique developed on the continent during the late Renaissance, but which the English were slow to adopt. Psalm motets also continued the use of the five voice-types employed in large-scale votive antiphons: treble (soprano), mean (alto), tenor, baritone, and bass, although a number of examples (including those on this disc) omit the treble.

John Taverner was the most important English composer of the first half the 16th century. He was the first director of music at the newly established Cardinall College from 1525 to 1530. Taverner’s music bridges the gap between the complex, florid style of the Eton Choirbook composers of the late-15th century and the simpler, imitative style of the later mid-16th century composers, including Thomas Tallis and John Sheppard. His work is characterized above all by a sweeping melodic lyricism.

Quemadmodum probably dates from Taverner’s later years. The motet survives in a wordless source, likely used for recreational purposes by musical Elizabethans, but editor Haberman joins his predecessors in taking the lead from the title and fitting the first two verses of Psalm 42 to Taverner’s notes. Quemadmodum, although an early example of the psalm motet, nevertheless more closely resembles a Flemish motet than an English antiphon. The piece is in duple meter throughout, for full choir throughout, and employs structural imitation. The six-voice scoring also follows the Flemish preference for lower voices, creating a dense, compact texture that Tallis would later adopt in his seven-voice works, such as Loquebantur variis linguis, Suscipe quaeso, Domine, and the canon Miserere nostri. Upward transposition of the edition recorded here matches the voices more closely with the traditional English ranges of this period. Yet, despite all that seems un-English about the motet, the giveaway is Taverner’s supreme melodic gift. So beautifully developed in his large-scale Masses and antiphons, his sense of line also lends itself to the shorter melodic statements of imitation, thoroughly worked among the six voices.

Robert White was a leading musical figure in mid-16th century England during this period of continuing turmoil. He was a chorister at Trinity College, Cambridge, and later succeeded his father-in-law Christopher Tye as Master of the Choristers at nearby Ely Cathedral. He next worked at Westminster Abbey, but died of the plague in 1574. White wrote very little music in English, choosing to set Latin texts in an individual style that was at once old-fashioned and modern for its time—the sprawling musical structures of an earlier era were informed with the modern technique of imitative polyphony, with voice after voice repeating similar melodies in patterns that generate genuine urgency and drive.

White’s Exaudiat te Domine is composed using the old antiphon format, alternating full and reduced sections. He employs mean, tenor, baritone, and bass voices, omitting the trebles. Here, the edition is transposed up a minor third, resulting in ranges for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. The baritone voice is split into a gimell from the beginning. (The gimell is an English device wherein a voice part is divided into two separate lines.) The piece begins with an extended trio for SABar. Imitation dissolves into extended melisma, leading into the first full section for SATBar1Bar2. Changing to duple meter, the motet continues with a double-gimell quartet for sopranos and baritones, followed by a second double gimell for altos and tenors, a passage featuring the false relation—the clash created by the raised leading tone in one voice sounding against the minor seventh in another. The expertly crafted final full section begins with the gradual addition of the other voices—the second baritone, followed by the soprano and first baritone. The resulting seven-voice texture provides White the means for an extended, thoroughly worked point of imitation at “Amen,” filled with cascading parallel thirds and sixths.

Thomas Tallis was unique in working under no fewer than four monarchs during his long life spanning most of the 16th century. He was able to adapt his musical style to meet virtually any requirements. He joined the Chapel Royal in 1543. Tallis’s two settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah are among the most beloved works of Tudor polyphony. They are settings of readings for the Maundy Thursday liturgy, but because the music survives only in manuscript we can’t be certain if Tallis intended them for liturgical performance or private, devotional use. The musical style suggests they were composed during Elizabeth I’s reign. Tallis’s compositional triumph here is his ability to imbue an overall feeling of restraint with a powerful emotional undercurrent.

“Tallis is dead and music dies.” So lamented William Byrd, who was once Tallis’s pupil and later his colleague. Byrd was one of the greatest of all English composers. He remained a Catholic in Protestant England, serving in the court of Elizabeth I for many years before moving out of London to a Catholic community toward the end of his life.

Like Taverner and White before him, Byrd’s voicing for the psalm motet Domine, quis habitabit omits the treble. The nine-voice texture (again, transposed up a minor third for this recording) includes pairs of sopranos, altos, and tenors over triple basses. Byrd eschews the antiphon structure, opting for full scoring throughout, save for a central section omitting two of the bass voices. The thorough working of White’s imitation at the end of Exaudiat te is brought to new heights by Byrd. Following a tutti rest, the final section begins with strong homophony. The texture quickly becomes polyphonic as Byrd introduces his final tour de force: canonic imitative points in each pair of the three upper voice parts as three basses pass motives back and forth, sometimes in literal imitation, sometimes inverse, sometimes abandoning the point altogether for a free polyphonic phrase. With the final text, “in aeternum” (substituting for an “Amen”), Byrd brings us to a rousing and seemingly inevitable final cadence.

French composer Antoine Brumel was a pupil of Josquin Desprez. Among his numerous posts, he was a singer at Chartres Cathedral and Master of the Boys at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Brumel’s only surviving set of Lamentations is one of the most beautiful in the repertory. Composing for four voices in a chordal style, Brumel strikes a somber and contemplative mood. Following tradition (as did Tallis), he provides musical settings for the names of the Hebrew letters (here, Heth and Caph) that divide the text.

The outstanding composer of the Counter-Reformation years was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. He was probably a choirboy at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and later served there as maestro di cappella for ten years from 1561. The influence of his conservative and harmonically pure style was strongly felt throughout the latter years of the Renaissance and well into the Baroque era. Much of his music was performed by the Papal choir in Rome. Listening to Palestrina’s double-choir settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis back to back on this disc, one must remember they were not composed as a pair for Anglican Evensong, but rather for use separately in the Catholic offices of Vespers (Magnificat) and Compline (Nunc dimittis). Each stands on its own as a powerful expression Palestrina’s lasting achievements.

-Doug Fullington, 2016

Doug Fullington is founder and director of the Tudor Choir, based in Seattle, Washington. As a countertenor, he has performed with the Tallis Scholars as well as the Tudor Choir, Byrd Ensemble, and Cappella Romana. Trained as a musicologist, Doug is also a dance historian, with a focus on 19th-century French and Russian ballet.

[i] See, for example,

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Long press home button to activate "OK Google" (like Siri on iphone)

Samsung S7 Edge users (and probably other Samsung models too) might enjoy this small workaround to activate "OK Google" with a long press of your home button, very much like how Siri is activated on the iPhone.

[Previously, my long press was opening Google Now cards—not useful].

Step 1: Make sure both of these apps are downloaded. (Available for free at the Play Store).


Step 2: Setup your phone to trigger Home Launcher

Go to Settings -> Applications -> Default Applications -> Device assistance app and select "Home Launcher"


Step 3: Set Home Launcher Up

Open "Home Launcher" and add "Voice Search" [And remove whatever app might be already setup]


Go to "Home Launcher" settings and check "Auto start mode if only one single app selected" and click "Save"



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Golden Age of Portuguese Polyphony

Evora Cathedral, Portugal

SATURDAY OCT 15, 2016 at 7:30PM
St. Mark's Cathedral
1245 10th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102 ​

Featuring mass settings by two of the greatest Portuguese composers of the 17th century: Duarte Lôbo and Manuel Cardoso. ​


Duarte LÔBO - Audivi vocem de caelo
LÔBO - Missa Vox clamantis
Manuel CARDOSO - Lamentatio
CARDOSO - Missa pro defunctis ​

TICKETS Save $2 per ticket by purchasing in advance online
General Admission: $25 Seniors (65+): $20 Students: $15

By the 17th century, the transition to the Baroque period was well under way. Composers were leaving Renaissance polyphony behind and turning to Baroque styles and more joyful texts. Portugal was the exception. Portuguese music did evolve, but it seems it did so with one foot still in the Renaissance era. Portuguese music kept the polyphonic texture and contrapuntal techniques from the Renaissance, but it employed a fresh treatment of harmony that was reminiscent of the new Baroque sound. 

Portugal’s apparent isolation on a map might explain their ‘doing their own thing,’ though this was certainly not the case. Portugal was connected to the monastic and ecclesiastical institutions in other parts of Europe, and its proximity to Spain ensured that Portugal remained part of the wider European tradition of polyphony.

Together with John IV—King of Portugal, composer, and patron of music and the arts—Filipe de Magalhães (not included in this program), Duarte Lôbo (1565-1646) and Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650) represent the “golden age” of Portuguese polyphony. 

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed most of Lôbo’s music. Because of this catastrophe, we will never have a complete picture of Lôbo the composer, but based on what has survived we do know that he was a conservative composer who preferred the Renaissance styles of his predecessors, even by the conservative Portuguese standards. Instead of writing in double-choir antiphony—the trend of the day—he opted to write in single-choir polyphony. At a time when other composers thought everything in the Renaissance had been tried and exhausted, Lôbo brought highly original turns of phrase to the table. As a listener, one might feel certain a cadence is just around the corner, but Lôbo, denies us that sense of resolution, keeping our expectations in check. Lôbo’s music is an ebb and flow of blissful deception that keeps the harmonic adventure going.  

Lôbo served as a choir boy at Evora Cathedral, the musical hub of Portuguese music, where Lôbo, Magalhães, and Cardoso studied with Manuel Mendes. Lôbo eventually became the choirmaster at Evora and, sometime before 1589, choirmaster at the Hospital Real, Lisbon—the most prestigious musical position in the country.

Lôbo’s Audivi vocem de caelo, written for six voices, is one of the most admired and frequently performed and recorded works of Portuguese polyphony. Audivi is one of only two of Lôbo’s motets that have survived to the present day. If this was his typical motet, then it is a great tragedy that more have not survived. Lôbo's Missa Vox clamantis was published in the 1639 Book of Masses and was based on a motet of the same scoring presumed to have been lost in the 1755 earthquake. The mass setting is scored for six voices (SSAATB) and shows a combination of contrapuntal techniques of the late Renaissance and homophonic declamatory devices from the Baroque. 

Lôbo was a contemporary of Cardoso, who must have been a close colleague in Evora and Lisbon. In the early 1620s Cardoso was resident at the ducal household of Vila Viçosa, where he met the Duke of Barcelos, who later became King John IV. King John IV—nicknamed John the Restorer—was a patron of music and the arts, a writer on music, and a composer. During his reign, he collected one of the largest libraries in the world, which was sadly also destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake. His surviving writings on music include a defense of Palestrina and a Defense of Modern Music. Cardoso was widely published, thanks to the help of King John IV, who helped fund his publication.  

Three books of masses by Cardoso survive, their contents based on motets by King John IV himself and Palestrina. Many of Cardoso’s works—particularly the polychoral compositions, which were probably the most progressive—also perished in the Lisbon earthquake. Cardoso’s music ignores the Baroque idiom and is more similar to Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria. Cardoso treats dissonance carefully and employs the occasional polychoral writing and frequent cross-relations.

Cardoso’s Lamentatio, setting of the Lamentations for six voices, was published in the collection of Livro de Vários Motetes (Book of Various Motets) in 1648. It was his last work to be printed, two years before his death. Cardoso uses descending suspensions and chromatic movement to create tension and, like Lôbo, clever turns of phrases in this setting of the second lesson at Matins Office for Maundy Thursday.

Cardoso’s Missa pro defunctis (Requiem Mass) is evocative of Victoria’s own six-part Requiem Mass. Both composers place the chant in one of the Soprano parts rather than the usual tenor—a key characteristic of Portuguese polyphony. Both settings begin in very similar ways, but Cardoso quickly demonstrates his own harmonic language in the first phrase as he approaches an augmented chord, firmly placing his style well after Victoria’s time.