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Saturday morning quotes 5.13: Assumptions II

August 14, 2015

August 15th marks the Feast of the Assumption, an important feast day in the liturgical calendar and an active day for those inclined to dedicate their Saturday to singing a Missa Solemnis.  In addition to the chant propers, today we are treated to a banquet of renaissance polyphony as we sing the “Missa Ave maris stella” by Victoria and the motets “Hodie Maria Virgo caelos ascendit” by Luca Marenzio, “Quae est ista quae ascendit” by Thomas Crecquillon, and “Surge amica mea” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. This last motet is from Palestrina’s Motettorum liber quartus ex Canticis canticorum 5vv, Rome, 1584, the text is directly from the Song of Solomon 2:13b,14.

While Palestrina’s setting of the Canticum Canticorum, or the Song of Songs, is listed among his sacred works, the texts are quite racy, describing in evocative terms the love between a man and a woman.  The “sacred” designation is premised on the ancient belief that the songs are an Old Testament allegory describing the love between God and Israel.  The updated New Testament twist and likely Palestrina’s inspiration for his lovely settings places the Virgin Mary as object of adoration.

Those of us interested in the better sort of late-medieval/early renaissance music know that it was common practice to borrow musical material from secular chansons for adaptation as sacred polyphony, some of the best-known examples being DuFay’s “Missa Se la face ay pale”, and Ockeghem’s “Missa De plus en plus”.  David J. Rothenberg has made a particular study of the phenomenon in a few chapters of his book, The Flower of Paradise: Marian Devotion and Secular Song in Medieval and Renaissance Music, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011.

Rothenberg provides convincing evidence to support the idea that the texts of well-known chansons such as Hayne van Ghizegheim’s popular “De tous biens plaine” were actually paraphrasing devotional texts, thereby demonstrating their suitability for adaptation as sacred polyphony.  Rothenberg gives specific comparisons of textual similarities with Marian devotionals, and shows how the opening line, “De tous biens plaine” scans as compared to the Latin words “gratia plena”.

“We have seen repeatedly that courtly love lyrics could sound very much like Marian devotional texts, but none that we have encountered thus far has such strong Marian overtones as De tous biens plaine.  Its symbolism could hardly be clearer.”

– David J. Rothenberg, The Flower of Paradise, p. 163

Rothenberg’s text also provides helpful insight into DuFay’s Vergine bella, a piece which was featured in some depth in an earlier blog post complete with links to our live performance and our recording.  And here we make a small departure from our usual format.

It turns out that August 15th is also the birthday of the more vocal half of Mignarda.  And since said person is not as gifted at the task of self-promotion as she is at singing, the party of the first part shares some feedback below as a small birthday gesture.

“Your version of Vergine Bella is my favorite in many senses and your pure singing is simply amazing.  The text of Petrarca comes out clear and full of elegance: a text that is the spiritual testament of his existence.”

– Marco Beasley

“Donna, I love your expressive, plaintive quality – and such intelligence shines behind every word and sentiment.”

– Anthony Rooley

Lute songs are great but Donna’s a cappella recordings stand alone, so to speak.  Donna’s video of Tantum ergo sacramentum has had 10,000 views in the past six weeks alone and Adoro Te, her solo recording of chant hymns and Marian antiphons, is a must-have for your cat.

Happy Birthday.

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