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 ​

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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. 

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