This recording highlights the intense devotional imagery found in the motets of 16th century Spanish composers including Cristóbal de Morales, Francisco Guerrero, Tomás Luis de Victoria and Esteban López Morago. In returning to the sacred polyphony that brought us together, we have arranged the program as an extended meditation, following the example of our forebears in selecting and adapting the best examples of polyphonic sacred music for private devotions.
While we love, respect and, whenever possible, indulge in the a cappella tradition of sacred polyphony, our format of solo voice and lute represents nothing less than a continuation of the 16th century practice known as intabulation, or arranging vocal music to be played on the lute. Most recordings of lute today are focused on the wonderful repertory of fantasias and dances, yet the bulk of the surviving music for lute consists of intabulations of vocal music, predominantly sacred polyphony.
The fast-decaying strings of the lute are incapable of sustaining long polyphonic lines in the three or four parts it plays, yet
several factors emerge through this rendering that demonstrate why intabulation was such a dominant historical medium. First and foremost, the text is absolutely clear in the absence of competing vocalization of the lower parts, demonstrating the composer's intent with a happy marriage of melody and meaning. Transparency and clarity of line are enhanced to
a point seldom heard in the thicker texture of an all-vocal performance, resulting in a more expressive reading of the text. Articulation of rhythmic nuance, often sublimated in ensemble, is enhanced, enabling performers to exploit rhetorical devices inherent in the text. All of these factors lead to the main point: a successful performance of intimate devotional music.
Spanish sacred polyphony, with its depth of passion, sensitively wrought polyphony and abundance of appealing rhythmic
gesture, is a logical choice for our reconstructions of private devotional music. We have a particular fondness for the music of Francisco Guerrero and have included six very different examples of his versatile style. Guerrero's Ave virgo sanctissima (track 15) stands out as particularly "Spanish", composed to support the hotly-debated doctrine of Immaculate Conception held by the Spanish Immaculatist movement. Banned in the 16th century by papal bull, the Immaculists eventually prevailed when the Feast of the Conception was designated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1858. Doctrine aside, the popularity of this beautiful motet is evident in that it was the basis for no fewer than six Masses by Spanish and Portuguese composers. In this recording, the lute plays the lower three parts and we are joined by an anonymous harpist playing in canon with the cantus line.
Victoria's O magnum mysterium (track 1), beloved and virtually ubiquitous in its four-voice setting, is a perfect model for
intabulation with subtle divisions on the lute substituted for sustained vocal lines. Less well known, Dominus meus et Deus meus (track 11) by Cristóbal de Morales is a Lenten text from John 11:27, quoting Martha's response to Jesus during
the story of the raising of Lazarus. Morales' multi-sectional Salve Regina (track 13) is a model of transparency, and
the ugency and drama of the text likewise adapts perfectly to our format. Oculi Mei (track17), our only motet by Esteban López Morago, is a setting of the text of Psalm 24 and the arrangement for solo voice and lute allows us to sensitively exploit Morago's restless dissonant treatment of the lower parts. Our final motet is Guerrero's Ave Regina Caelorum (track 20), a Marian antiphon sung at the close of Compline. Gregorian chants are interspersed throughout the recorded program and we close with the heartfelt hymn, Ubi caritas et amor (track 21).
The lute interludes consist mainly of duos from mass movements, originally by Josquin, arranged by Miguel de Fuenllana in Orphénica Lyra (1554), and Enríquez de Valderrábano in Silva de Sirenas (1557). These 16th century printed sources are among seven Spanish publications of music for the vihuela, a flat-backed instrument strung, tuned and played like the lute. Diana Poulton and others have demonstrated that the two instruments were used interchangeably in Spain although the vihuela virtually disappeared by end of the century. The vocal texture of the original models translates very well to the lute and offers the instrumentalist the opportunity to indulge in clear and transparent polyphony. Fuenllana's duo settings include Fecit potentiam (track 3) and Benedictus (track 8) from Josquin's Missa Pange lingua, and Pleni sunt coeli (track 14) from Missa Hercule. Valderrábano's Fantasia sobre un Benedictus (track 16) is derived from Josquin's Missa Ave maris stella, and distinctly quotes the chant. Two lute solos are from distinctly non-Spanish sources, Isaac's Benedictus (track 12), intabulated by Hans Neusidler and Josquin's motet Inviolata integra (track 19) by Hans Gerle, are included to illustrate the extent to which Franco-Flemish music was integral to the repertory of Spanish cathedrals. Heinrich Isaac, a contemporary of Josquin, never traveled to Spain but his music was known to Spanish intabulators, and Adam Gilbert
has made a case for Isaac's familiarity with Spanish music, including his mass on the Spagna tune. Josquin's motet, Inviolata integra, appears in Spanish cathedral choirbooks and was set as a duet for plucked strings by Valderrábano.