Saturday morning quotes 4.32: Advent IV
Of the many effective historical settings of the text, O magnum mysterium, Adrian Willaert’s four-voice motet has become quite a favorite. Published in Motetti libro secondo a quattro voci in 1539, Willaert’s setting captures the spirit of the great mystery with angelic grace and gentle reverence. An added attraction is the welcome fact that Willaert was a friend to plucked instruments, having arranged and published the music of Philippe Verdelot’s il primo libro de madrigali for the combination of solo voice and lute.
The connection of lutes and lutenists with the traditions of high culture and with the musical practices of singers and composers is of course made explicit by the fact that Verdelot’s madrigals were intabulated by one of the most distinguished composers of the time, Adrian Willaert, already the chapelmaster at San Marco in Venice when the volume was first published in 1536. Willaert was in fact the only major composer of the sixteenth century to publish a collection of such arrangements, and so his volume also gives us valuable insight into the way learned musicians of the time arranged music for performance, and into the nature of sixteenth-century polyphony, which in performance was not always what it seems from the sets of part books that have come down to us.
– Howard Mayer Brown, “Bossinensis, Willaert and Verdelot: Pitch and the Conventions of Transcribing Music for Lute and Voice in Italy in the Early Sixteenth Century,” Revue de Musicologie, T. 75e, No. 1er (1989), pp. 25-46
Our historically-appropriate arrangement is inspired by Willaert’s gift for deftly weaving together tuneful melodic lines that individually have something pleasing to say as they gently support the cantus. Our interpretation in this live performance features the unique and beguiling combination of solo voice, lute and harp—and full participation of the wonderful acoustic of the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus—as the inspiration to embody the calm reverence of the responsory text without the distraction of competing vocalization applied to the lower parts.