On Harmonia this hour, we’re exploring music composed for the feast of All Saints, celebrated each year on November 1st in the Western church. Music has played an important role for centuries in the celebration of this particular feast. And, on our featured release, we’ll hear the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, under the direction of Graham Ross.
We heard Alonso Lobo’s stunning setting of the text “Versa est in luctum,” performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, under the direction of Graham Ross. That track came from our featured release, the 2015 harmonia mundi recording Requiem: Music for All Saints and All Souls. This funeral motet features Lobo at his best, displaying his total mastery over the art of contrapuntal writing.
For All the Saints
The early days of Christianity were, in many ways, hopelessly tangled with the pagan traditions of the past – much to the chagrin of many church leaders! The Feast of All Saints, celebrated on November 1st, is no exception. After all, why do you think this feast, in which the church celebrates the dichotomy between the living – the Ecclesia militans – and the dead in Heaven – the Ecclesia triumphans – falls so close to our secular celebration of Halloween? The spirit, however, at least as it’s celebrated in the church today, is something completely different – a mixture of funereal reverence and transcendent beauty. The feast serves to remind us, the living, that the dead are still with us.
Glorious music for All Saints has been with us for centuries. In particular, the great Catholic choral composers of the Renaissance contributed an enormous amount of music to this genre. Let’s hear a classic setting, by 16th century English composer William Byrd, of the text “Justorum animae,” performed by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Stephen Darlington. After all, who doesn’t love Byrd?
We heard William Byrd’s five-voice motet “Justorum animae,” performed by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral.
William Byrd’s close contemporary Tomás Luis de Victoria was almost undoubtedly the most famous Spanish composer of the 16th century. Over an unusually long career, spanning nearly fifty years, he specialized almost exclusively in sacred choral music that is, at its heart, profoundly and deeply connected with the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church. In the preface to a book of his motets, he describes his purpose as “enhancing the splendour of the liturgy and exciting the faithful.” Let’s hear his 1572 motet, “O quam gloriosum.”
We heard the Kyrie from Victoria’s paraphrase mass, based on his own 1572 motet “O quam gloriosum,” which we heard prior to the Kyrie. Both pieces were performed by Ensemble Plus Ultra, under the direction of Michael Noone, from their 2011 six-disc collection of Victoria’s sacred works.
Plainsong for All Saints
The relationship between plainsong and the Western church goes back – way, way back, to the very earliest centuries of Christianity. Despite its equally long history, Byzantine chant – the chant of the Eastern Orthodox church – is not typically classified as plainsong. Gregorian chant, named, in a probable case of mistaken identity, for the famous Pope Gregory I, is probably the most common form of Western plainsong, and despite the early church’s enthusiastic attempts to standardize it, many styles of plainsong existed concurrently for centuries. Significantly, the system of musical notation developed to notate plainsong is the first known system to have developed after knowledge of the ancient Greek system was lost.
Let’s hear plainsong for All Saints, performed by the Schola Gregoriana Pragensis with the Choeur Grégorien de Paris.
We heard plainsong for All Saints, from a recording made by the Schola Gregoriana Pragensis, together with the Choeur Grégorien de Paris.
The mass for the dead is a classic feature of All Saints liturgies and concerts. When it comes to contemporary composers, Duruflé’s Requiem – with its notable omission of the dramatic “Dies irae” section – and Fauré’s come to mind. Leaping back a few years, we have, of course, one of the most famous Requiems of all time – Mozart’s. We’ll hear the fantastic “Dies irae” movement now, in a historically-informed rendition conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, with La Chapelle Royale and the Collegium Vocale Gent.
A far cry from the 1950s-style recordings by Herbert von Karajan and his contemporaries, we heard three movements from Mozart’s Requiem, performed by La Chapelle Royale and the Collegium Vocale Gent, under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe.
Music for All Saints and All Souls
Our featured release is the 2015 recording Requiem: Music for All Saints and All Souls, from the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, under the direction of Graham Ross. This recording is a stunning amalgamation of styles, textures, and eras, featuring choral music for All Saints from the 16th century all the way through to the 20th. The playlist, however, leans heavily towards the early music side – with more than half the run time of the album devoted to a complete recording of 16th century Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Officium defunctorum. We’ll hear the end of that work now, the responsorium “Libera me, Domine.”
We heard the responsorium “Libera me, Domine,” from Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Officium defunctorum, performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, under the direction of Graham Ross.
Significantly less well-known than Victoria is his English contemporary Richard Dering. Despite his English birth, he spent most of his life working in the church in Brussels, in the Spanish-dominated South Netherlands, after his conversion to Roman Catholicism. We’ll hear his “Factum est silentium” now, performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, from our featured release Requiem: Music for All Saints and All Souls. The text of this motet, which was first published in 1618, comes from the Bible, specifically, from the Book of Revelation – it depicts the dramatic battle between the Archangel Michael, and a dragon, symbolizing Satan.
We heard Richard Dering’s motet “Factum est silentium,” performed by the Choir of Clare College, under the direction of Graham Ross.
Break and theme music
:30, Morales: Assumption Mass, Orchestra of the Renaissance, Glossa 2001, Tr. 3 Tiento sobre el hymno Ave maris stella
:60, Morales: Assumption Mass, Orchestra of the Renaissance, Glossa 2001, Tr. 1 Exaltata est sancta Dei Genitrix
:30, Mozart: Requiem, Collegium Vocale Gent, harmonia mundi 2008, Tr. 1 Introitus – Requiem aeternam
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal
The writers for this edition of Harmonia was Elizabeth Clark.
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