Music from 16th and 17th century Spain & Portugal

United Reformed Church, Henleaze, Bristol
Saturday 9th February, 2008

An evening of inspirational and sublime music from the finest composers of Spain and Portugal. Music of spiritual and emotional intensity showcasing the choir’s musical assurance and purity of sound.

Peter Leech Conductor


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Cristobal Morales Andreas Christi famulus a 8
Manuel Cardoso Tulerunt lapides, Mulier quae erat peccatrix
Lamentations for Maundy Thursday
 - In monte oliveti
 - Lamentatio Feria V: Responsorium II< br>  - Lamentatio Feria V: Lectio III
Tomas Luis de Victoria

Magnificat sexti toni
Duarte Lobo Requiem otto vocum
Manuel Cardoso Motet - Non mortui qui sunt in inferno
Duarte Lobo Agnus Dei


Spanish and Portuguese Renaissance Polyphony

The golden age of polyphony in Spain and Portugal was undoubtedly the period between 1550 and 1650, when some of the greatest composers in Europe emerged from the Cathedral choir schools and Royal chapels of the Iberian Peninsula. However, this flowering would not have come into being were it not for the school of early sixteenth century Iberian composers trained in Rome and Franco-Flemish lands (such as Manuel Correa and Cristobal Morales) who helped transmit the latest Italian styles to far-flung parts of Europe. The leading Spanish composer of the era after Morales was Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611). A native of Avila, Victoria spent most of the period 1565-95 in Rome where he was ordained and in whose prominent churches and chapels (most notably the Roman and German Jesuit colleges from 1571-3 and 1573-8 respectively) he worked as a singer, organist and composer. He returned to his native Spain in 1595 and later served as organist and choirmaster at the Convent of Descalzas Reales, Madrid from 1596 until his death.

It was the Roman polychoral aesthetic which undoubtedly influenced Victoria in the composition of his superb Magnificat sexti toni for three choirs. Contemporary printed and manuscript sources demonstrate that polychoral works were performed regularly in Jesuit college chapels during the second half of the fifteenth century and through the seventeenth, especially on important days or Marian celebrations such as the feasts of the Annuntiation and Immaculate Conception. Nearly eighty years later Simone Ruggieri, in his Diario dell’ Santissimo Giubeleo (Rome 1650) reported the continuing tradition of polychoral performance at special events, by which time the use of more than two choir (sometimes up to eight or nine) had become standard practice. The exact circumstances of the composition of this Magnificat are unknown, but it was probably for a Vespers service in Rome around 1590. The forward-looking, post- Tridentine harmonic approach adopted, with cadential devices typical of Palestrina, certainly suggest that the work probably derived from Victoria’s long Italian sojourn and probably not from the later period. The arrangement of choral forces is deliberate and contrasting, with full tuttis being reserved specifically for poignant expressions such as ‘for behold from henceforth and generations shall call me blessed’ (ecce enim ex hoc), ‘he hath shewed strength with his arm’(fecit potentiam) and the final Gloria patri. It is a sublime and evocative choral tour de force, equal of Victoria’s Italian contemporaries.

It should not be forgotten that for sixty years (1580-1640) Portugal had been annexed by Spain, and despite being under the yoke of Spanish Hapsburg hegemony, she continued to maintain high standards of choral and instrumental music which continued well into the seventeenth century, the first decades of which saw the rise of composers such as Estevao de Brito, Filipe de Magalhaes, Duarte Lobo and Manuel Cardoso. It was not unusual for Portuguese musicians to take posts in Spain and vice versa, though it was often the case that Spanish composers were hired when political circumstances dictated.

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Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650) has become increasingly familiar to modern audiences for his outlandish and often bizarre choral works which frequently defied Roman harmonic rules in favour of a more experimental style typical of many Portuguese Renaissance composers. A native of Fronteira (near Evora), Cardoso studied in Evora with Manuel Mendez and Cosme Delgado. His penitential motets for Lent and Advent are amongst the most free and tonally ambiguous vocal polyphonic works of the period, perfectly demonstrated in Mulier quae (Livro de varios motets) and Non mortui (Liber primus missarum, 1625) Cardoso is at his best when depicting the inherent despair and uncertainty in the contemplation of death, whether as divine deliverance from suffering or as a just reward for evil doings on earth. His opening motifs are often melodically taciturn, as if teasing the listener to guess at the final cadential outcome, persisting even when all the other voices have entered. There is no better example of this that the extraordinary setting of the Hebrew alphabet letters in the Lamentations, where the exact harmonic destination is determined at bar 8, after which the continual use of false relations, escape tones leading unexpectedly into new keys and oscillations between major and minor progressions depict the departing beauty of Jerusalem, Sion’s daughter, whose princes have gone astray and whose people fell into the hands of her enemies.

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Duarte Lôbo (c.1565-1646) studied at Evora Cathedral, the training ground for Cardoso, Magalhaes, and Mendez, all of whom had been organists there, the last of whom taught Lobo in the 1570s. By 1594 Lobo had become mestre de capela at the cathedral in Lisbon where he developed a reputation as the greatest Portuguese musician of his era. Much favoured by the Royal court, he published six volumes of music that include numerous Magnificat settings, motets and Requiems in six and eight parts.

The Requiem otto vocum, printed for two separate choirs in a Flemish publication (Liber Missarum Antwerpiae, 1621) is rich in the imitative counterpoint so typical of the time, with a sonic weight and dramatic solemnity which suggests usage for the funeral of a member of the ruling house (de facto) of Portugal, though it may also have been commissioned by a senior Spanish noble person. Lôbo approaches the texts with a variety of techniques. Sometimes parts move together in simple, spacious block chords such as in the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus, but at other times there is more complex counterpoint such as in the Offertorium and Libera me.

The powerful emotions portrayed in this work place it amongst the finest Requiem settings of Renaissance Europe, particularly within the genre of polychoral writing which flourished everywhere, not just in Venice, the home of the Gabrielis or Papal Rome, where resources for feast days were vast. With countless feast days in the Roman calendar, as well as births, deaths and marriages of prominent patrons, the singing of polychoral works in Lisbon and provincial Portuguese cities with rich musical traditions was a much more typical state of affairs in daily life than is generally assumed.

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Cristobal Morales (c.1500-1553)Andreas Christi famulus

The motet, Andreas Christi famulus is a superlative example of sustained eight-part contrapuntal writing and one of the greatest compositions of its time. Various print and manuscript sources of the motet, dating between 1564 and 1583 name both Morales and Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505/10-1557) as its author. It is most likely that Andreas Christi famulus was written by Morales for the 1546 grand chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece, a religious confraternity, crusading order and one of the most prestigious heraldic orders in Europe, of which Saint Andrew was the patron saint. The first performance of the motet probably took place in Utrecht, a most august occasion, the guest list including Henry VIII of England and Francois I of France. The text of the prima pars (soprano 1) is that of the third Antiphon at Lauds and Second Vespers for the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle (30th November), while the opening sentence of the secunda pars (soprano 2) is from Antiphon 5 at Matins of that day. For meetings of the Order of the Golden Fleece a mass setting was composed based upon the tune L’homme arme. It is possible, by way of subtle fragmentation of the L’homme arme tune, that Andreas Christi is indeed based upon this material, further supporting the thesis that this work was composed for a Golden Fleece ceremony.

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Programme notes © Peter Leech 2008
Notes on Andreas Christi famulus © Vincent Hobbs 2008.

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