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Saturday morning quotes 7.1: Authenticity redux

stilllifewithsockmonkeyrosesWe finally reemerge with our series of Saturday morning quotes after more than a year of hiatus.  Those faithful readers who have followed our series will know the general thrust of our approach, which remains unchanged and as committed as ever.  But for new readers, we will say that our series of quotes past and present will focus on the following:

  • The nature and status of the early music revival from the perspective of committed performers
  • The lute, both as an historical emblem of musical aesthetic of the past and a viable, if  very sensitive, instrument of the present
  • Mignarda, as a duo specializing in polyphonic music for voice and lute, and as our now expanded vocal and instrumental ensemble

 

Today’s post revisits the theme of authenticity with a retrospective selection of quotations drawn from a variety of sources and distilled in past postings on Unquiet Thoughts. The first is from a pioneer of the early music revival, Michael Morrow, who elucidates the essentials of communication with the audience of today.

“…[W]e must never forget that in any age the artist is addressing himself to his contemporaries, and his language is composed of a system of familiar conventions — musical, visual or literary. If we don’t or can’t learn these languages, the conventions will be as meaningless to us as the hand gestures of an Indian dancer are to the average western audience.”

– Michael Morrow (1929 – 1994), Early Music, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1978.

Richard Taruskin pointed out the inconvenient truth that simply performing on early instruments does not mean that performers are recreating the past.

“Old instruments and old performance practices are in themselves of no aesthetic value. The claim of self-evidence for the value of old instruments, like the claim of self-evidence for the virtue of adhering to a composer’s ‘intentions’, is really nothing but a mystique, and more often than one can tell, that is the only justification offered. Consequently, though he is happily less in evidence than before, the naked emperor still parades through the halls where ‘authentic’ performances are heard.”

– Richard Taruskin, from “The authenticity movement can become a positivistic purgatory, literalistic and dehumanizing”, Early Music, Vol. 12, No. 1, Feb., 1984, p. 7

“…What we call historical performance is the sound of now, not then. It derives its authenticity not from its historical verisimilitude, but from its being for better or worse a true mirror of late-20th-century taste…So forget history. What Early Music has been doing is busily remaking the music of the past in the image of the present (necessary because we unfortunately have so little use for the actual music of the present), only calling the present by some other name.”

– Richard Taruskin,“The Spin Doctors of Early Music,” New York Times, July 29, 1990.

Anthony Rooley, now retired from performing, has had an active career as a scholar, performer, and an insightful researcher into the aesthetics of early music.

“There are two ways of looking at authenticity. The first is pragmatic—where you try to recreate the sound the composer actually heard, using original instruments in the original setting. This is only the first step. The second way is to examine exactly what authenticity meant to the composers themselves. In asking this we may hope to capture the spirit of the music. This is anathema to the modern scholar and to the majority of performers because the terms are so ill-defined—it frightens people. You talk about the spirit, the power, the energy of something and you’re into a language which becomes poetic, almost divine. It’s a threat to the pragmatic mind; but renaissance man was infinitely more interested in the quasi-divine than in pragmatic data.”

– Anthony Rooley, as interviewed by Peter Phillips, “Approaches to Performance: The Lutenists’ View”, Early Music, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Apr., 1979), pp. 225-235.

Bernard D. Sherman authored an enlightening book, Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers, Oxford University Press, 1997.  More to the point, Sherman is also the author of an important article on Authenticity in The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics.

“…Few audiences share the emotional or theological associations that period audiences felt toward specific texts, chorales, or plainchant melodies. This is an example of another broad argument for impossibility, involving reception, which says that composers wrote for audiences whose experiences not only of music but also of much that music refers to differed from those of our time.”

“Some of today’s most distinguished historical performers agree that their own work will someday appear to reflect the tastes of our time rather than of the historical eras being reconstructed.”

“The most important legacy of the historical performance movement may be those performances that attain authenticity in the senses more often used in the arts: those of conviction, self-knowledge, spontaneity, and emotional honesty.“

– Bernard D. Sherman, “Authenticity in Musical Performance” The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, ed. Michael J. Kelly (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, four volumes).

When we get to the heart of the matter and distill the convoluted descriptive verbiage, authenticity in the performance of early music has much more to do with the intent, integrity and the musicianship of the performer than, for instance, the type of strings one uses.

One of our very favorite ensembles consists of the lute duo of Anna Kowalska and Anton Birula, who specialize in virtuoso arrangements of baroque lute music, at times creating dazzling new renditions of Bach’s keyboard works that sound much more appealing and aesthetically pleasing than the keyboard originals.  In a bold display of authentic spirit, they describe their recording of sonatas by Silvius Leopold Weiss as an homage to the early music revival.  We heartily applaud this approach.

The current program features works by the most prominent Master of lute composition, Silvius Leopold Weiss. Weiss composed during the Baroque era, which saw the peak of the lute`s development. Here Weiss` works are performed by XXI century musicians, whose musical influences have been shaped by a colorful array of later voices: Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Dave Brubeck, and Pink Floyd among others. Many great musicians developed their skills by being rooted in the music of the past, while inspiring millions who play and compose the music of the present. We hope that the music of Silvius Leopold Weiss will be an inspiration to you as it has been to us.”

“While working on this recording, we wanted to recreate the atmosphere and feeling musicians had when recording lute in the time of the XX century early music revival. We desired to recreate that atmosphere, when albums that made us dream of playing the lute were created. Therefore, we turned to the analog medium and worked with Tascam reel-to-reel recorders during sessions and the post production process. This CD represents an AAD recording.”

“The Pyramid strings on our instruments were widely used towards the end of the XX century, and are still among the most respected of brands. It was a great experience to combine historical instruments, traditional tape machines, and strings that were crucial in the revival of the lute.”

Anna Kowalska and Anton Birula

What could be more authentic?

Millionaires

PayMeThe dense fog begins to lift, the swirling mists wisp away and we emerge from a very long silence.  We’ve had our reasons, including a momentous move and tiresome medical maladies that seem to pile on like negative comments on an internet forum.  But we return nevertheless.  Think of this post as a slight tremor of an awakening volcano.

The real reason for today’s post is to make mention of an important milestone.  Nearly seven years ago, we posted a video of Donna singing the last two verses of the Pange lingua hymn, beginning with Tantum ergo sacramentum.  It was among Donna’s first efforts to create a video with Windows software, and it was nothing less than an absolute time-sucking bother that would have collapsed in on itself completely if she had tried to edit the video and (for instance) put the correct music to the chant.  But we figured the video would not get much traffic, and thought it best to just post it so people could hear the chant.  We discussed the experience in more detail a few years ago in a blog post here.

It turns out that the video did receive some traffic: A million views as of February 11, 2018, in fact.  And some 41,000 more over the past month.

We’re very pleased that a million listeners have had the chance to hear Gregorian chant sung with depth and intelligence in a woman’s voice.  So, we should now be millionaires, right?  If we even received one cent for every view, that $10,000 would go a long way towards mitigating the ever-rising cost of living for dedicated professional musicians.  In nearly seven years, we have barely made $100 from the video, at a rate of around $0.0001 per view.  In plain terms, not very much.

Someone makes money from Youtube videos.  But it is certainly not artists.

While we celebrate the number of listeners who have had a chance to hear Donna sing, and we are motivated to continue making our music accessible, we want to remind the world that live music is best. We have a series of concerts planned for 2018, several with our new vocal ensemble, and we invite all who appreciate live music to get in touch and inquire when and where.

Meanwhile, Donna has posted a new(ish) video of Ave regina caelorum in honor of our now not being millionaires.

We will return to our usual programming very soon.

 

Happy News Year

“Mark Twain wrote, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you think you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Spotify’s in serious trouble because they’re powerfully sure of something that just ain’t so. They think this is all about them. It’s not.”

– Blake Morgan (#IRespectMusic)

We have been very quiet for the past year for reasons we’ll explain in a more finely finished re-entry post that will appear soon.  But today we are taking the extraordinary step of re-posting an important story from another source.

The story has to do with censorship in response to industry pressure on a well-known news site, the Huffington Post.  When artist rights advocate Blake Morgan reported on a conversation with representatives of Spotify, Spotify leaned on Huffington Post to remove the story because it clearly outlines the way Spotify works.

Spotify routinely forgets to compensate or drastically underpays artists for their music as part of a coordinated effort to attract investors.  Please read the revealing story before it disappears entirely.

Spotify’s Fatal Flaw Exposed

Saturday morning quotes 6.35: Sheepdipping

sheep-and-wolves

All we like sheep have gone astray, and to those who have ever experienced actual farm work—you know, back in the day when people actually did real things—sheep-dipping involved immersing the hapless animals in a toxic brew of pesticides and fungicides, apparently for their own good.  Today, the term has taken on a slightly different meaning, something to do with the way our leadership does business.

But we’ll shift our focus to an ovine piece of music that highlights the wandering pan-European nature of music from the 16th century, and the plot involves a piece that was composed for four voices by a non-papal Belgian and published in Antwerp, arranged for solo lute by an Hungarian and published in Poland, adapted for lute by an Italian musician and spy who likely came across the music while employed in France, and eventually found its way into an English manuscript, sandwiched between two unique pieces by John Dowland.

The piece in question is inscribed “A Phantazie” and is attributed to Alfonso Ferrabosco (1543 – 1588).  While the music appears elsewhere, for the purpose of this discussion, the primary source of our fantasia for solo lute is the Board lute manuscript (f. 29v).

aphantazie
The fantasia also appears in the Mathew Holmes manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library, Dd. 5.78, f. 58v, arranged for bandora (and credited to Richard Allison) in Dd. 2.11, f. 28v, and also British Library Add. Ms. 31392, f. 40v. A transcription (and facsimile) of “A Phantazie” may be found in Alfonso Ferrabosco of Bologna: Collected Works for Lute and Bandora, edited by Nigel North, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.  The piece also appears in a many-paged tablature/transcription in Richard Charteris’ Opera Omnia of Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (1543 – 1588).

As is the case with many 16th-century instrumental fantasias, Ferrabosco’s “Phantazie”, long thought to belong in the canon of English music for plucked strings, is based upon a motet for four voices, composed by Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c. 1510 – 1556).  Clemens was a prolific composer who, like most successful musicians of the 16th century, was employed as a church musician and composer at Bruges Cathedral, at Ypres, and may have been Kapellmeister to Philippe du Croÿ, Duke of Aerschot and an important general of Emperor Charles V.  There is some question whether Clemens actually held this post because it was reported that he was “un grant ivrogne et tres mal vivant” (a great drunkard and lived badly), and therefore suspect.  This assessment may very well be true as one may discern by the naughty bawdy character of Clemens’s chanson, “Venes mes serfs et Bacchus adorons“.  Nevertheless, Clemens composed at least 15 masses, 233 motets and over 100 secular works, and some of the latter were arranged for solo voice and lute and published by Pierre Phalese in Antwerp, 1552.

Clemens’s motet for four voices, “Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit“, is found in Cantiones ecclesiasticæ : quator vocum, Liber I, 1553, from the printing press of Tielman Susato (c. 1510 – 1570), also located in Antwerp and with whom Clemens had a close working relationship. “Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit”, and its secunda pars, “Delicta juventutis meæ”, represent a sensitively composed text setting that is a masterful display of fugal treatment.

“Clemens motets in the sample group feature prominent fuga development, whereas it is almost absent from two of the Crecquillon motets…The topic of fuga development is a large and important one, leading as it does into the issue of how sixteenth-century composers variously “researched” their fuga subjects, and demonstrated their ability to work them in a wide variety of ways.”

– John Milsom, “Crecquillon, Clemens, and four-voice fuga”, Contemporary Fame: Reassessing the Art of Clemens non Papa and Thomas Crecquillon, Edited by Eric Jas, Centre d’études Supérieures de la Renaissance, p. 328.

The text of the motet is drawn from Psalms 118 (Vulgate), verse 176:

Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit;
quære servum tuum, Domine,
quia mandata tua
non sum oblitus.

I have wandered like a sheep that is lost:
seek thy servant, Lord
because I have not
forgotten thy commandments.

The secunda pars of the motet, “Delicta iuventutis meæ”, is drawn from Psalm 24 (Vulgate) and is part of the text for the Office for the Dead (Matins, Second Nocturne).  While both sections of the motet were arranged for solo lute by Valentin Bakfark (c. 1526 – 1576) and published as Valentini Greffi Bacfarci pannonii harmoniarum musicarum in usum testudinis factarum tomus primus, Kraków, 1565, we will focus only on the first section of the motet.

I first noticed the similarity between Bakfark’s intabulation and the Ferrabosco “Phantazie” via use of my ears when I heard a recording of the former by Jacob Heringman on his recording Black Cow: Lute music by Valentin Bakfark and Matthaeus Waissel, Discipline Global Mobile DGM9906, 1999.  The intabulation is a virtuoso setting that adds a significant amount of decoration to what amounts to four-voice fugal writing.  Bakfark, whose music is always challenging, achieved a fairly strict arrangement of Clemens’s motet by using a method of splitting the strings of the double courses of the lute in three separate instances.  This is akin to the probably apocryphal story that J. S. Bach would add as many voices as possible to his finger-crunching keyboard fugues, sometimes by pressing extra keys with a stick placed in his mouth.

Alfonso Ferrabosco (1543 – 1588) came from a musical family, and his father Domenico Maria was a famed composer in his own right.  Alfonso and his two brothers were farmed out early on to a foreign court, and established a youthful reputation in the employ of Charles de Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine. The three brothers Ferrabosco were known to sing to their own accompaniment, probably lutes, and record of their singing survives as chronicled by Pierre de Ronsard.  In 1562, Alfonso was retained as a musician at the court of Queen Elizabeth, whom he served until 1580 when he returned to Italy for good, leaving a family in England.

Ferrabosco’s return to Italy was fraught, and he was under suspicion for having worked as a spy for the heretic Queen Elizabeth.  We know of his less than admirable reputation via a 1578 letter written by Anselmo Dandino, the papal nuncio in France, to Ptolemy Gilli, cardinal of Como, in Rome.

“I understand that this is a most evil-spirited, evil-minded man, and very knowing, and excellently informed of the affairs of those countries; that the queen of England makes much use of him as a spy and complotter, in which character he might now be employed, so that if one had him in one’s power, one might learn many things; that it is in order that he may better play his game that he affects to have a grudge against the queen of England; and that therefore he will go to Italy, and in particular to Rome and Bologna. I know not what of good to believe, as here he has gone to dine with the ambassador of England on Friday, and has eaten meat, and is constantly busy there: and as I have learned that before going to Bologna he desires to know what Cardinal Paleoto’s feeling may be towards him, I have warned his Most Illustrious Lordship to avoid saying aught in reply that may hinder his going; and my reason for writing to your Most Illustrious Lordship is that, in case he should come to Rome, the pope may hear of it. Meanwhile I have placed persons about him to try if they can penetrate his mind, and I will apprise you of the result.”

– From Richard Charteris, “New Information about the Life of Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (1543 – 1588)”, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, No. 17 (1981), pp. 97-114.

Alfonso came before the Inquisition and was actually sentenced to three years imprisonment for his carnivorous crimes, but he served no time because of a fortuitous connection with Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti (1522 – 1597), who was a significant player in implementing the dictates of the Council of Trent.  Connections matter, and it turns out that Paleotti had studied music with Alfonso’s father, Domenico, and was quite musical himself:

“[Paleotti] composed not inelegant songs, and sang them, in correct rhythm and harmonized and accompanied, sometimes on the lute and at other times on the viol…Indeed, even in his old age he employed the practice of singing and playing, simply for the recreation of his soul and the relaxation of his spirit, which were exceedingly preoccupied with those weightier studies, and oftentimes exhausted.”

– From Craig Monson, “The Composer as ‘Spy’: The Ferraboscos, Gabriele Paleotti, and the Inquisition”, Music & Letters, Vol. 84, No. 1, February 2003, p. 4.

Returning to Ferrabosco’s “Phantazie”, we can clearly see Alfonso’s borrowing in the example below:

erravi-example

Ferrabosco’s setting wanders off a bit after measure 5, and generally condenses the strict fugal treatment in Clemens’s motet.  But the music is most assuredly the same, and this begs the question: Just how much instrumental music from the 16th century is actually adapted from vocal polyphony?  Based upon our working familiarity with sacred and secular vocal polyphony, we suspect the answer is that the majority of surviving instrumental fantasias began life as motets, chansons, and madrigals.

The theme of our post may appear to have wandered like a lost sheep, but we can assure our readers that it is all connected.   But we take this opportunity to announce that, after nearly six full years of weekly posts, we will be taking a much-needed break to concentrate on a number of projects that deserve our full attention.  We will return eventually with a new format, so check back from time to time.  Thanks for your support.

Saturday morning quotes 6.34: New Ears

eartrumpetHappy New Ears. Today’s post touches on a theme that is of crucial importance to those who are involved in early music, and discusses how aural skills are essential to intelligent musicianship.

From the beginning of my involvement with early music, I (RA) have been baffled by the the universal dependence upon reading scores in performance for even the simplest piece of music.  Having years of experience as a professional musician, I can say most emphatically that there is an entire world of truly amazing—and sometimes very complex—music happening that is created without the visual distraction of players chained to their music stands reading sheet music.  Reading notated music is an important skill that is sometimes necessary to access the information, but it is only the first step towards making real music.

In historical performance practice the score contains important interpretive information, but this information does not only reside in the score and must be internalized if a musician is serious about quality rather than quantity.  Reliance on sight-reading skills to access a large quantity of music ultimately detracts from the quality of the result.  In my experience, even the best sight-readers simply do not produce excellent results without diligent study and repeated rehearsals.  This unfortunate tendency to favor quantity over quality gives the overall impression of skimming over the top of the score instead of plumbing the depth of emotion inherent in the music.  And from an historical performance perspective, forsaking the depth of the music seriously undermines the composers intent.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.

“Chuse one Lesson thy selfe according to thy capacitie, which giue not ouer by looking ouer others, or straggling from one to another, till thou haue got it reasonably perfect, and doe not onely beginne it by going through it to the end at first sight, but examine each part of it diligently, and stay vpon any one point so long (though thou play it ouer a thousand times) till thou get it in some sort.”

“…It will not little help you to get it without booke : for whilst the minde is busie searching here and there for that which is written, the hand is more vnapt to performe the Note, and all the difficultie the Lvte hath, which for the most part is imputed to the fingers, should rather be attributed to the varietie of the Rules, which are in this respect to be obserued, all which doe rather depend vpon the minde, then on the hand.”

– (John) Dowland, “Necessarie Observations Belonging to the Lute, and Lvte-playing, by John Baptisto Besardo of Visonti”, Varietie of Lute-Lessons, 1610

Sight-reading engages a complex system of neural networks that involve all four cortical lobes of the brain to decipher written notation and process the dots into musical sounds. Sure, if you are only playing or singing a single line of music a prima vista there should be no real impediment to instant music-making.  But serious musicians—and musicologists—involve their concentration in the recognition of notes, vertical harmonies, horizontal contrapuntal devices, rhythms, phrases, and patterns, and then move on to technical realization and interpretive choices.  On a plucked-string instrument, there is also the distracting matter of playing the same note on different strings.  In a nutshell, serious musicians engage their ears.

Sight-reading is an important technical skill but serious concert soloists always memorize their repertory so they can engage their ears and concentrate on excellent performances.  Perhaps this is the line that separates the artist from the musical technician.  Julian Bream seems to have played his solo lute repertory from memory, which surely is a factor that contributes to the depth of his interpretations, which remain unmatched to this day.

Saturday morning quotes 6.33: 2016 Retrospective

new-year2Coinciding with the close of another calendar year, our Saturday post offers the opportunity to indulge in a bit of retrospection.

“…And by that destiny to perform an act
Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.”

– Shakespeare, The Tempest, II:i

2016 was an inauspicious year in many aspects, to say the least.  In addition to unfortunate global political upheaval and a challenging economic environment, we have all seen the passing of far too many family members, close friends, and cultural icons, leaving a hollow place in our personal lives and missing mileposts in our collective public consciousness.  But we fear that lest we manage the memory of departed friends and our inherited cultural heritage with care, it will simply go missing.

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

– Shakespeare, The Tempest, I:ii

The aforementioned political upheaval has perfumed the entire globe with a particularly unpleasant odor, spreading and leaving its stench on everything it touches. Once-trusted news sources now specialize in deliberately contrived “news” stories that blatantly advance an agenda to the detriment of truth and fact.  Unpleasantness in public discourse seems to have unfortunately become a new standard, at least among those who have always inclined toward displays of dyspepsia while safely perched behind their computer keyboards. As active professional performers of early music, we are guided by the cultural context and aesthetics of our chosen music, and we shall continue to uphold standards of public discourse as we share our unique perspective.

“I say there is no darkness but ignorance.”

– Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, IV:ii

Of course there are positives that emerged over the past year, and we are pleased to point out a few. Items of interest include new (to us) discoveries of stellar performers who put an unconventional spin on early music while managing to deliver committed and convincing performances.  These include Purcell’s “Music for a while” sung by Claron McFadden, a mesmerizing performance of “Dido’s Lament” by Jenny Evans, and of course the definitive performance of Handel’s “Zadok the Priest”, which never fails to satisfy and has the great distinction of having been viewed repeatedly in our household.  We look forward to exploring more exemplary work from these artists in the coming year.

There are several projects we would like to tackle in 2017 and beyond, including recording a new selection of French chansons and airs de cour; an oft-requested recording of more music by John Dowland; recording more late 15th-century rondeaux, more music by Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Francesco Spinacino; and (finally) a recording devoted to lute solos.  This being the last week of the calendar year, we want to remind our many friends and listeners that we accept contributions, both direct and tax-deductible. If you like our work, please visit the “Donate” button on the top of this page and consider making a contribution, no matter how small, and help us continue.

“And take thou this!’ O thoughts of men accursed!
Past and to come seems best; things present worst.
Shall we go draw our numbers and set on?
We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.”

– Shakespeare, King Henry IV, Part II, I:iii

Saturday morning quotes 6.32: Puer natus est

piero-nativityThis Christmas Eve we offer a dual discussion: first a brief mention of a 15th-century painting of the Nativity, and secondly a synopsis of a miniature musical masterpiece by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500 – 1553).

The painting is a depiction of the Nativity by Piero della Francesca, painted circa 1475 and now in The National Gallery, London. Piero della Francesca (c. 1415 – 1492) was a true renaissance man – an artist, mathematician and prolific writer on the subjects of perspective and geometry in painting.  In De Prospectiva Pingendi, Piero outlines a number of perspective reduction problems, offering clear examples and solutions.

While most 21st-century types are capable of recognizing the obvious skill that went into a painting in the age of Leonardo da Vinci, it’s difficult to grasp the meticulously planned proportion and the layers of symbolism in a painting such as Piero’s Nativity.  An extremely enlightening discussion on mathematical principles and geometric proportion in Piero’s art by Paul Calter of Dartmouth College is quoted below:

Proportion and the Rule of Three:

One important subject was how to solve proportions, crucial to a merchant who had to deal with problems of pasturage, brokerage, discount, tare allowance, adulteration of commodities, barter, and currency exchange. Not only did every city have its own currency, but its own weights and measures!

The universal mathematical tool of literate commercial people in the Renaissance was the Rule of Three, also called the Golden Rule and the Merchant’s Key. In his Del abaco, Piero explains how to use the rule of three to solve a proportion:

“multiply the thing one wants to know about
by the thing that is dissimilar to it,
and divide by the remaining thing.
The result is dissimilar to the thing we want to know about.”

Example:  If seven bracci (1/3 person’s height or about 23″) of cloth are worth nine lire; how much will five bracci of cloth be worth?

Solution:

The thing we want to know about is:        5 bracci of cloth.
The thing dissimilar to it is:                9 lire
The remaining thing is:                    7 bracci of cloth.
So: (5 bracci) x (9 lire) / (7 bracci) = 6 3/7 lire

The units are lire, because lire are dissimilar to bracci, the units in the thing we wanted to know about.

If the reader follows the link to Piero’s circa 1475 Nativity, close examination of the angelic lutes reveals a few interesting details.  First, the perspective is beautifully accurate right down to the angles of the interesting lute roses.  Next, a look at the angel’s right hand disposition reveals that the one on the left may or may not have been holding a plectrum, while the angel on the right is clearly playing polyphony with the fingertips of the right hand.  Unfortunately, much of the finer details – like the strings – are absent, likely due to an overzealous cleaning or “restoration”.

The Nativity motet Puer natus est nobis by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500 – 1553), found on our new recording Magnum Mysterium, represents a miniature masterpiece of textual and musical proportion and symbolism, with perhaps as much complexity and layers of meaning as a painting by Piero.  Morales highlights the number “3”, with the motet composed for three voices setting a text derived from three sources.  The text of the Gregorian chant is:puernatusestchant3

Puer natus est nobis
et filius datus est nobis:
cujus imperium super humerum ejus:
et vocabitur nomen ejus,
magni consilii Angelus.
Alleluia.

A boy is born to us,
and a son is given:
whose government is upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called:
the Angel of great council.
Alleluia.

The text is from Isaiah 9:6, and the chant is the Introit 7 Ad Tertiam Missam In Navitate Domini (the Introit for the 3rd Mass of Christmas Day), which may seem slightly familiar as the text to the well-known chorus “For unto us a child is born” to those stalwart fans of Handel’s Messiah.  But Morales adapted the text as follows:

Puer natus est nobis
et filius datus est nobis:
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
et in terra pax hominibus
bonæ voluntatis,
Alleluia.
Verbum caro factum est,
et habitavit in nobis.
Alleluia.

A boy is born to us,
and a son is given:
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace
to men of good will,
Alleluia.
The Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.
Alleluia.

As we can see, Morales’ text departs from the text of the chant after the first two lines, adding the beginning of the greater doxology, or the beginning of the Gloria section of the Mass ordinary, derived from Luke 2:14.  Next, Morales added the text, “Verbum caro factum est”, from John 1:14.  In our recording, we preface Morales’ three-voice motet with the first two lines of the chant melody.  Since the instrumental part covers only two voices, the transcription is notated on a single treble-octave staff with upward stems indicating the alto and downward stems indicating the bass.  As a Christmas gift to our readers, we offer our transcription of Morales’ “Puer natus est nobis”, or a version with accompaniment in lute notation.

Happy Christmas from Mignarda.