Polyphony

Two mid-16th-century Cecilian parody masses

When speaking of Cecilian music, one generally has the idea of the nineteenth-century movement, mostly centred in Germany, that pushed a reformation of Catholic church music, aiming to restore a more traditional religious feeling and the authority of the church in regard to the sacred music repertoire. This movement of the 1800s was in great part inspired by the fifteenth-century Congregazioni Ceciliani (Gmeinwieser, 2001). This meant that in the fifteenth century there were already movements of composers and musicians in praised of the Saint (whose feast is celebrated 22 November), and there are several references to festival celebrations of her feast day throughout several European regions which also prompted the foundation of associations to that end. One of these association was established in 1570 at Evreux (Normandy) – Le Puy de musique – which celebrated the Saint’s Day with several liturgical performances followed by a banquet after the mass and prizes would be awarded for the best motets, songs, airs and sonnets composed for the occasion (Husk, 2001).

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Pueri Hebraeorum vestimenta by Simão dos Anjos

The city of Évora, Alentejo, Portugal, is known for its musical history regarding the great Portuguese masters of polyphony of the first half of the seventeenth century. Names like Fr. Manuel Cardoso, Duarte Lobo, Filipe de Magalhães are known throughout the world as leading figures with biographical and professional relations with Évora Cathedral.

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The Magnificat Quarti Toni by Duarte Lobo

In 1626 the Portuguese theorist Antonio Fernandes dedicated his Arte de Musica to his former master Duarte Lobo praising him as one of the most illustrious Portuguese masters. Duarte Lobo is included in the trio of Portuguese composers (the other two being Fr. Manuel Cardoso and Filipe de Magalhães) with an impressive body of music compositions during the Portuguese golden age of polyphony.

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The motet Ave gratia plena by Cornelis Verdonck

Flemish composer and singer Cornelis Verdonck was born in Turnhout sometime during the year 1563 and died in Antwerp on 5 July 1625. He was a choirboy at Antwerp Cathedral and in 1572 was enrolled as a singer at the court of Felipe II of Spain being colleague to other singers of Flemish origin such as Peeter Cornet and Philippe Rogier. In 1580 he was enrolled with two other singers in Douai University. Verdonck was a pupil of Séverin Cornet in Antwerp, who included one of his works in each of his three 1581 publications. He returned to Madrid in 1584 as a singer of the royal chapel where he remained until 1598. In 1599 he was already back in Antwerp and later in that year he took an active part in the preparations for the entry of Achduke Albert in that city, composing a motet for that occasion. His 1603 book of madrigals suggests that Verdonck was then at the service of Cornelis Pruenen nephew, Johannes Carolus de Cordes, governor of Wichelen and Serskamp, the dedicatee of the publication. He also held a prebend at Eindhoven until 1622.

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The motet O magnum mysterium by Cristóbal de Morales

Many sixteenth and seventeenth-century composers have set the text O Magnum mysterium with wonderful polyphonic results, such as Willaert, Gabrieli, Palestrina, Victoria, and, Morales only to name a few. In Portugal during this period we find at least three settings of this text – all as responsories – by Pedro de Cristo, Duarte Lobo and Estêvão Lopes Morago respectively, being the Cristo setting the most widely known.

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Two Magnificat Settings by Francesco Soriano

Francesco Soriano is one of the cases where composers of the same generation become lesser known than the popular composers of the time, and the last decades of the sixteenth century were a great time to be forgotten from the mainstream Music History books. It was the case in Italy during Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s or in Spain during Victoria’s time. Soriano was born near Viterbo in 1548 or 1549 and died in Rome on 29 July 1621. He studied with Palestrina during his early years as a choirboy of the cappella in St John Lateran, being ordained to the priesthood in the 1570s. In 1580 he was appointed maestro di cappella of the Roman church of S. Luigi dei Francesi and, in the following year, he took a position at the Gonzaga court in Mantua but returned to Rome in 1586 where he spent the rest of his life as choirmaster of three churches, including the Cappella Giulia in St Peter’s, retiring from these duties in 1620.

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Alma Redemptoris Mater by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Palestrina is most certainly the sixteenth-century composer who printed almost all of his music production. The fact that his career developed in Rome, centre of the Catholic world and of important figures of the Church, contributed considerable for the numerous books of masses, motets, hymns, lamentations among many other works that make the volume of his music production.

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In manus tuas attributed to Tomás Luis de Victoria

I have always been a fan of small-scale polyphonic works. In the case of Portuguese sixteenth and seventeenth-century polyphony, I have always included brief works, mostly the Jesu Redemptor settings, in concert programmes and recordings. These works are often forgotten from concert programmes due to their small scale length. One of these cases is Tomás Luis de Victoria’s In manus tuas.

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