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Saturday morning quotes 4.28: Why music?

November 22, 2014

As we continue to be waylaid by the aftereffects of this year’s premature winter weather, we reflect on why we bother investing heart, soul and our few remaining cents in old music.  One grows weary with the attempt to gain and maintain a foothold in performing early music, a field that has become as tawdry and commercial as any other aspect of life in these United States.  Credentials and connections seem to take precedence over music-making in the world of early music, and it has simply become tiresome to those of us who care about aesthetics.

It has always been thus.  According to Gioseffo Zarlino (1517 – 1590) author of the important treatise Le istitutioni harmoniche (1558), even his teacher, the famous Adriano Willaert (c.1490 – 1562), suffered insulting behavior when singers discovered he was the the composer of a piece that was mistakenly attributed to Josquin:

“I shall now relate what I have heard said many times about the most excellent Adrian Willaert, namely, that a motet for six voices, Verbum bonum et suave, sung under the name of Josquin in the Papal Chapel in Rome almost every feast of Our Lady, was considered one of the most beautiful compositions sung in those days. When Willaert came from Flanders to Rome at the time of Leo X and found himself at the place where this motet was being sung, he saw that it was ascribed to Josquin. When he said that it was his own, as it really was, so great was the malignity or (to put it more mildly) the ignorance of the singers, that they never wanted to sing it again.”

Having just recorded two pieces by Willaert, “O magnum mysterium” and the sublime “In tua patientia,” we can report that his compositions do indeed hold a candle to Josquin’s music. And as a roundabout answer to the question posed by the title to today’s post, we offer these words from another notable Hungarian-American, János Starker (1924 – 2013).

“[If] It is part of our lives in a way that we cannot wake up in the morning and go through life without music and without having this essential aspect of it, that music means just as much as eating and drinking or living then that person should not be involved in music.”

We hope to once again exhibit the usual joie de vivre and be back on track after the snow melts just a little.

  1. Reblogged this on Marius Cruceru and commented:
    De ce muzică?

    “[If] It is part of our lives in a way that we cannot wake up in the morning and go through life without music and without having this essential aspect of it, that music means just as much as eating and drinking or living then that person should not be involved in music.”

  2. Christopher Barker permalink

    I would love to hear your recording of O magnum mysterium. The tune is in my devotional memory. It may have been attributed to Josquin when I first heard it many years ago. Having a background in classical guitar and vihuela, I thought of Mille Regretz when I heard it, and took delight in the connection. Now I’m a little disappointed, but it’s better to know the truth, and still I want to hear your recording.


  3. Thank you, Chris. We are just finishing a recording session at our favorite space, the very lute-friendly Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus. Willaert’s “O magnum mysterium” will be included on our next CD along with settings of the same text by Byrd, Morales and (of course) Victoria. Willaert’s setting has a particularly serene quality, especially in our arrangement for solo voice, lute and double harp. We’ll certainly let you know when the recording is available – soon, we hope.


  4. David Lamb permalink

    Greetings Ron and Donna!

    Yes, it was ever thus in the music world. Credentials and connections rule. It is hard, but Starker had it right. Decades ago when somebody asked me why I wanted to be a composer, I replied that you should never be a composer unless you simply cannot NOT be a composer. This applies to serious musicians generally. Realize at the start that not all those who are driven really achieve their goals, nor are they recognized for the good work they have done. Nevertheless we follow our aesthetic calling because we must. At my age, I’m not sure we deserve praise for that, it’s just who we are and just what we do.

    David Lamb

  5. Thanks for your wise words, David. As for an unquestioning dedication to a life in music and its not so many tangible riches, I confess to being a stowaway on that battered and leaky boat. However, the boat sails not so well at present with the seas rapidly filling way beyond capacity cluttered with cast-off plastic trash. To make matters worse, there are billionaire barbarians like the brat who runs Spotify greedily soaking up the scant remaining drops of navigable water and redirecting the diminishing revenue stream to his private pool. We may not be making anything for all our work but least we create something aesthetically pleasing and real in the way of music.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Saturday morning quotes 5.6: What’s in a name? | Unquiet Thoughts
  2. Saturday morning quotes 6.29: Willaert | Unquiet Thoughts

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