The three Renaissance masses featured on this recording illustrate the wide range of composition during the sixteenth century, both in terms of compositional approaches (paraphrase, parody, and free composition) and of cultural environment (pre-Reformation security, Counter-Reformation vigor, and post-Reformation persecution of a Catholic minority). And not least, they demonstrate, even within fairly similar stylistic parameters, the almost infinite musical responses evoked by the age-old words of the Catholic Mass.
Extraordinary polyphony, March 28, 2005
Reviewer: Renaissance man "Renaissance music lover" (Midwestern U.S.)
This is an absolutely beautiful CD, with Renaissance Masses by des Prez, William Byrd, and de Victoria (Vittoria). When I compare the performances here with other ensembles, this one is superior. Very highly recommended.
Simply Beautiful, December 18, 2004
Reviewer: Ian Hudson "PianoMan" (North Easton, MA United States)
The Latin Mass is quite possibly the most beautiful collection of choral music I have ever heard. The melodic lines of each part seem to weave in and out of one another, and the effect is absolutely gorgeous. I also love the harmonies and the blend of voices. Definately a must-have for all choral music-lovers.
Love it!, April 11, 2004
Reviewer: A music fan
My interest in old Latin music was triggered from watching Disney's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME , which was absolutely stuffed with these wonderful hymns, psalms, and masses (Get the soundtrack and the DVD! NOW!). So I went and got this disc, and was stunned.
You needn't be a religious Catholic to enjoy these gorgeous Latin masses. I, an all-out Atheist, happen to get a tear in my eye every time I hear them.
JOSQUIN DESPREZ: MISSA PANGE LINGUA
Josquin Desprez (ca.1440-1521) was the undisputed master-composer of the central Renaissance; indeed, his music has set the stylistic benchmark for what we consider "High Renaissance" music. His compositions attained unparalleled renown throughout Europe; the music printer Petrucci in Venice devoted unprecedented numbers of pages to his works, and his pieces were still being published by Attaignant in Paris 30 years after his death, at a time when there was normally no interest in music that wasn't current. The music theorist Glareanus placed him above all contemporaries; he was praised by Rabelais, and equated by one Italian humanist to Michelangelo as a "prodigy of nature;" he was Martin Luther's favorite composer, who called him the "master of the notes, which must express what he desires."
Josquin's biography remains problematic, but the general outlines are secure. He was born in Picardy, a French-speaking area outside the northern French border, and was probably a choirboy there before travelling as a young man to Italy, where he reached his artistic maturity, spending time at Milan Cathedral (1459-1472) and in the papal chapel in Rome (1486-1495). Subsequent posts included the royal court in France and the ducal chapel at Ferrara. In 1504 or so, Josquin retired to the North, taking up residence as provost of Notre Dame at Condé, where he remained until his death in 1521.
The Missa "Pange lingua" is Josquin's last mass, written during his retirement, and it is his most famous--at least in our day, having figured prominently in the early-music revival of this century. With its clear motivic writing, the almost hypnotic repetition of small melodic cells, and tremendous rhythmic drive, it exemplifies Josquin's mature mastery of compositional possibilities. During his lifetime the prevailing method of composing large-scale works had shifted from quoting a pre-existent melody more-or-less verbatim in the tenor voice (cantus firmus technique) to other, more flexible approaches. In this mass, Josquin used "paraphrase" technique, in which motives and gestures are extracted from a pre-existent melody and developed into a "polyphonic fantasia" on the original tune. In this case, the mass is a paraphrase on the famous 13th-century hymn "Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium" by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi--except in the Credo movement, where Josquin makes extensive use of the Gregorian chant setting of the creed. And while the hymn-tune is almost always present somewhere at the edge of our awareness, it does appear whole at the end of the mass (in the last Agnus Dei) in the soprano voice, shining like a setting sun over the final section of this magnificent mass.
TOMÁS LUIS DE VICTORIA: MISSA O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM
The currents of renewal unleashed by the Catholic Counter-Reformation inspired great artistic activity in Rome and elsewhere in the Catholic world. Nowadays the most famous exponent of the "Roman" style of post-Tridentine sacred music is the Italian composer Palestrina (ca. 1525-1594), but another master of the style was the Spaniard Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611).
The son of an important family in Avila (Castile), Victoria began his musical career as a choirboy at Avila Cathedral and his classical education at Santo Gil, a Jesuit school attended by the nephews of St. Theresa of Avila. Around 1565 he received a grant from King Philip II of Spain to continue his studies, and used the funds to enroll in the Jesuit Collegio Germanico in Rome as a singer. He surely knew Palestrina, who was maestro di cappella at the neighboring Seminario Romano, and may well have studied with him. From 1569 to 1587 Victoria held various musical posts in several Roman churches. He was ordained priest in 1575 by the last surviving pre-Reformation English bishop, Thomas Goldwell, and joined St. Philip Neri's new Congregazione dei Preti dell' Oratorio, whose interest in musical presentations would later serve as the cradle of the Baroque oratorio.
By the 1580s Victoria was homesick, and was actively seeking an opportunity to return to Spain. In 1587, Philip II obliged by appointing Victoria chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress Maria, who in 1581 had retired with her daughter to a wealthy Madrid convent, the Monasterio de las Descalzas de Santa Clara. In addition to his chaplaincy, Victoria served for about twenty years as maestro de capilla at the convent, which supported a flourishing and famous musical establishment; thereafter, from 1604 until his death, the aging composer restricted his activities to playing the organ. His music was widely known and printed throughout Catholic Europe, and it played a formative role in the music life of New Spain cathedrals such as Lima, Bogota, and Mexico City.
Victoria's surviving output is entirely sacred, and in general it paints a picture of a committed Catholic composer-priest in the post-conciliar era. There are approximately 60 motets and other liturgical works, and about 20 masses. He seems to have applied different styles to the different categories of compositions: affective, even manneristic writing in the motets, and a more sober approach, textually concise but musically inventive, in the masses. Most of his masses are "imitation" or "parody" compositions; that is, they base their musical fabric on a pre-existing polyphonic model, usually a motet. In a sense, "imitation" masses resemble vast and elaborate sets of variations, here quoting the opening or another moment of a motet practically verbatim, there lifting out a passage for expansion and repetition, or yet again so transforming and elaborating a portion of the model that only a faint echo of the original remains--the whole, of course, woven together with much that is new. "Imitation" or "parody" had been the prevailing compositional technique for a good half-century by Victoria's time, so it is not surprising that his handling of it is subtle and sophisticated.
Victoria based the Missa "O magnum mysterium" (published 1592 in Rome, after he had returned to Spain) on his own motet setting of "O magnum mysterium," the responsory sung after the fourth reading during the Matins service early on Christmas morning. One effect of basing a mass on a motet is that the resulting mass setting has a certain musical "appropriateness" to the feastday to which the motet belongs, so perhaps Victoria intended this music for one of the masses on Christmas Day as well. The opening of the motet, which appeared in his very first publication (Venice, 1572), is echoed as a "head motif" at the opening of the Kyrie and Sanctus movements; the other movements, although not beginning with a direct quote of the motet, do begin with an open-fifth sonority that recalls the motet. Other motifs and textures from the motet are also carried over into the mass, such as the occasional shifts into triple time. Like Palestrina's "Pope Marcellus" Mass (which legendarily "saved" church polyphony from censure by the Council of Trent), Victoria's mass makes liberal use of homorhythmic texture in the Gloria and Credo, thus ensuring that the complicated text of these two movements is plainly intelligible to the listening congregation--clearly an important consideration for a Counter-Reformation-era composer/priest.
WILLIAM BYRD: MASS FOR FOUR VOICES
The Renaissance era of English music reached its finest flower in the works of William Byrd. Byrd was able to imbue his great summation of the English tradition of Latin liturgical music with simultaneous qualities of universality, intense personal artistry, and deep national character--yet all the while, like J.S. Bach a century-and-a-half later, pursuing a very insular, almost circumscribed career.
Born around 1543 at Lincoln, Byrd studied music in his youth with the great Thomas Tallis, and served Queen Mary (reg. 1553-58) as a chorister in the Chapel Royal. Around the age of twenty he was appointed organist at Lincoln Cathedral, and in 1570 he was instated as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He shared with Tallis the position of organist there, as well as a national monopoly on music publishing. By all outward signs, he was as successful as any English musician could hope to be.
But the great inner tragedy of Byrd's life, to which we may perhaps ascribe the special passion and power of his music, was the abolition of Roman Catholicism in Britain. Byrd sought to make a careful distinction between his Catholic faith and his English loyalty, but as anti-Catholic and xenophobic voices grew stronger in British society such nuanced positions became untenable. Those "recusants" who refused to attend the new Anglican liturgies were subject to heavy fines; those who were brought to a public accounting of their religious activities endured dreadful tortures, even martyrdom. Despite protection from Queen Elizabeth herself, Byrd finally left London in 1593 for refuge in Essex, under the protection of various powerful Catholic noblemen for whose secret chapels he composed much service music. He died there in 1623, venerable and greatly respected by his countrymen.
Byrd's Mass for Four Voices (1593) is the first of his three Mass cycles for the forbidden Catholic rite. A central tenet of Elizabethan Catholicism was its historical legitimacy, and Byrd makes an explicit homage to that heritage in his Sanctus setting by quoting the great pre-Reformation Tudor composer John Taverner's "Mean" Mass. Elsewhere, he refers in diverse ways to the English tradition of composing music for the Mass: opening each movement with a reduced numbers of parts; beginning each movement with more-or-less the same music (known as a "head motive"); and a certain archaicism in harmony. More personal elements of Byrd's style include the avoidance of musical models or quotations (excepting Taverner's Mass) so that the Mass unfolds in accord with a free, inner logic; he also exhibits a straightforward, non-elaborative approach to the text. There is very little repetition of the liturgical words, so when Byrd does repeat a phrase (such as in the Credo at "unam sanctam catholicam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam," "one, holy, catholic, CATHOLIC and apostolic church") it is hard to miss that his point is rhetorical (one might even say political), rather than merely musical.
The Quire of Voyces is a non-profit organization dedicated to the performance of sacred choral music in historic settings. The Santa Barbara Quire of Voyces was founded in 1993 by Nathan J. Kreitzer, Director of Choral and Vocal Activities, and Music Department Chairman at Santa Barbara City College. The annually auditioned volunteer group, made up of professional singers from the Central coast area, is dedicated to the highest quality performances of the sacred choral music of the Renaissance and 20th Century, in historic settings. It gives ten concerts annually, and has been featured several times on The First Art, a production of Chorus America on National Public Radio, as well as on Radio KDB 93.7 and KEYT-TV of Santa Barbara. The ensemble has appeared as part of the Midwinter Music Festival, the Gotland Medieval Festival in Visby, Sweden, and at the Music Academy of the West. The enthusiastically received performance in Visby (June 2000) was the highlight of a concert tour that featured performances in seven other cities including Kalmar (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia) and Copenhagen (Denmark). The success of this tour inspired Nathan Kreitzer and the Quire’s Board of Directors to plan for a tour in the year 2003 to Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Most recently the ensemble has been asked to perform with the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra in performances of Mozart's "Requiem" and J.S. Bach's "Bminor Mass". The Quire of Voyces is host to a major annual education and outreach event for high school choruses from throughout California. This Chamber Choir Festival introduces young singers to the literature and performance of great choral music. The choirs are adjudicated by three of California’s most highly respected professional choir directors.