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Spotlight On The New York Pro Musica Antiqua, Part 3

Wendy Gillespie brings us part 3 of a tribute to the NYPMA. Plus, we'll explore music with words by famous poets and feature a Capella de Ministrers' CD.

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dafne and apollo

Photo: Magnus Manske (Wikipedia)

Detail from Daphne Chased by Apollo, a painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1744. The final recording made by the New York Pro Musica was of Marco da Gagliano’s La Dafne, under the direction of George Houle.

Time capsule for this episode: 1645

Poetic partnerships

Poetry and music have enjoyed a special partnership since time immemorial. “Ah, Robin, Gentle Robin” is a composition from the reign of Henry VIII attributed to William Cornysh the Younger. In this three-voice canon, a lovelorn speaker poses a rhetorical question to the bird. He begs, “Tell me how thy lamen doth, and thou shalt know of mine.” Lemen was an archaic word for “sweetheart” or “lover.”

William Cornysh : Tr. 20 - Ah Robin, Gentle Robin (4’05”)
Sospiri Ardenti — Some Strange Felicity (Kattenberg Recordings , 2011)
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Many words of the famous poet and playwright William Shakespeare have been set to music. The anonymous setting “Fear No More,” gets its text from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline. This consoling song is sung at the death of the play’s protagonist, Imogen.

Anonymous (English, 16th century): Disc 1, Tr. 19 - Fear No More (2’54”)
Paul O'Dette, Paul Elliot — Shakespeare’s Songbook (Azica Records , 2010)
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The composer Claudio Monteverdi devoted years of his life to the composition of madrigals, which incorporated poetry by Petrarch, Torquato Tasso, Giovanni Battista Guarini, and others. Monteverdi published a total of nine books between 1587 and 1651. Anima dolorosa che vivendo is taken from Monteverdi’s fourth book of madrigals (for five voices), published in 1603. Its amorous text, attributed to the poet Battista Guarini, speaks of the pain of longing and the intensity of death.

Tr. 17 - Anima dolorosa che vivendo (3’09”)
La Venexiana — Claudio Monteverdi: Quarto Libro Dei Madrigali (Glossa, 2004)
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Spotlight on the New York Pro Musica Antiqua, Part 3

In its more than twenty years of existence, the New York Pro Musica Antiqua introduced medieval, renaissance and baroque music to a wide audience and inspired many performers to explore this hitherto little known repertory, playing a seminal role in making early music in America what it is today. I’m Wendy Gillespie, and this is the third and final installment of our tribute to this pioneering group.

The New York Pro Musica Antiqua was the inspiration of its charismatic leader, Noah Greenberg—a larger than life presence who came downtown to Manhattan from the Bronx to introduce new repertory to talented musicians. By the late 1950s, the Primavera Singers and Renaissance Band had coalesced into the New York Pro Musica, which became over time a core ensemble of five singers and five instrumentalists supplemented by extra musicians for larger productions, touring the country and the world under the management of Columbia Concerts.

At its apex, the Pro Musica gave 150 concerts in a season. Members were on salary with full benefits, making a full time living from that one ensemble. The Pro Musica received Rockefeller and Ford Foundation grants to develop programs and administer the workings of the group, including paying travel expenses for a renaissance band, a motet choir, and casts of the liturgical dramas along with their costumes, sets and crews. Recordings and performances, some of them costumed and staged, charmed audiences all over the world.

The Pro Musica’s repertory spanned seven centuries and included vocal music, such as this piece from renaissance Italy by Josquin des Pres.

Side 1, Band 4.ii: Vocal (El Grillo) (2’01”)
New York Pro Musica Antiqua, Noah Greenberg — Petrucci, the first printer of Music (Decca Gold Label Series (LP) )
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The Pro Musica also performed and recorded purely instrumental music, as in this seventeenth-century fantasy by the English composer who was born with the name John Cooper but changed his name to Giovanni Coprario to reflect his love of Italian music.

Following the Coprario piece, we’ll hear instruments and singers combine in a performance of what has become mainstream renaissance repertory like this mass movement from the turn of the sixteenth century.

Coprario: Side B, Band 1: Fantasia à 5 (2’50)
New York Pro Musica Antiqua, Noah Greenberg — Instrumental music from the courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James sound recording (MCA Records / rereleased 1980, 1977)
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Side 1, Band 3: Sanctus (from Missa Paschaslis) (4’53”)
New York Pro Musica, Noah Greenberg — Ludwig Senfl : composer to the court & chapel of Emperor Maxmilian I. (Decca Gold Label LP, 1964)
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Tragedy struck the musical world in January of 1966, when Noah Greenberg died very suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 46. (Sheila Schonbrun, who first sang with Greenberg with what would become the Pro Musica as a 16-year old college student, recalled that, “It felt like the bottom dropped out of my life.”)

Richard French, the President of the Board and a close friend of Greenberg, wrote, “At one stroke Pro Musica was cut off from the genius who conceived and nurtured it.” He asked the question: “Could an organization which had been so much the expression of the personality of a single individual survive him?”

The answer is a guarded “’yes.” The ensemble did survive for another eight years, albeit with four different directors attempting to fill the enormous gap left by death of Noah Greenberg. The final recording made by the ensemble was of Marco da Gagliano’s La Dafne, under the direction of George Houle. The fully staged and costumed production went to the Spoleto and Corfu festivals, as well as touring America.

The opera relates the myth in which the god of the sun and music falls in love with the beautiful nymph Dafne. Determined not to let Apollo succeed in his quest to make her his own, Dafne appeals to her powerful father to change her form, and her father transforms her into a beautiful tree, which is, of course, why the bay laurel’s leaves never decay.

Let’s hear Apollo’s lament from the NYPMA recording, followed by a version recorded 20 years later by the Ensemble Elyma under the direction of Gabriel Garrido.

Marco da Gagliano: Side B, (One track): Excerpt from Scene VI : beginning “Dunque ruvida scorsa…” (4:35)
NYPMA, Director George Houle — La Dafne (Musical Heritage Society , 1954)
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Marco da Gagliano: Tr. 8: Excerpt from Scene VI : ending “…e ninfe e dive.” (2:55)
Ensemble Elyma, Gabriel Garrido — La Dafne (K617 , 1995)
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We  heard Apollo’s lament from Marco da Gagliano’s La Dafne performed first by the NYPMA and then by the Ensemble Elyma. Two very different versions of the same, both reflecting the musical aesthetic of their own performers’ time and place, at the same time “reconstructing” a possible performance from nearly 400 years ago. It was, of course, perfectly legitimate even in baroque times to adapt a role to the performer, and the choice of continuo instruments was often left up to the performers, so a good bit of flexibility was built into the music.

The final concert of the New York Pro Musica took place at the Morgan Library in NY for an international Petrarch convention on May 16, 1974. The legacy it left behind consisted of more than 50 performing editions bearing the NYPM name, and more than 40 recordings that were subsequently remixed for stereo, reissued as anthologies, and continue to intrigue listeners and inspire musicians. The Pro Musica’s instruments and library went to NYU, where they are still in active service, and its archives are preserved at the NY Public Library.

But that is not the end of its legacy. The performers regrouped, variously starting new ensembles and becoming teachers to the next generation of early musicians. Many of them are still active, influencing today’s students and continuing to delight listeners the world over. There can be little doubt that the New York Pro Musica Antiqua inaugurated the early music movement in America, and its influence continues to this day, sometimes unbeknownst to young performers. We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the early days of early music in America. I’m Wendy Gillespie.

Featured recording: El Cicle de la Vida

On our featured release, the ensemble Capella de Ministrers, under the direction of Carles Magraner, takes us on a tour through medieval and renaissance Spain on their recording El Cicle de la Vida, or the circle of life.

The CD contains a variety of music, including a song from ancient Greece called the Epitaph of Seikilos, and renaissance works, such as Tomas Luis da Victoria’s setting of the Christmas responsory O magnum mysterium.

Let’s listen to a rarely heard work by Berenguer de Palou, 13th-century Bishop of Barcelona, alongside a piece from the Codex de las Huelgas.

Berenguer de Palou (d. 1241) Tr. 11 - Aital dona (7’53”) / Codex de las Huelgas (13th c.) Tr. 1 - Amor vincens omnia/Marie preconio (3’39”)
Capella de Ministrers — El Cicle de la Vida (CDM, 2012)
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William Cornysh : Tr. 20 - Ah Robin, Gentle Robin (4’05”)
Sospiri Ardenti — Some Strange Felicity (Kattenberg Recordings , 2011)
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album cover
Anonymous (English, 16th century): Disc 1, Tr. 19 - Fear No More (2’54”)
Paul O'Dette, Paul Elliot — Shakespeare’s Songbook (Azica Records , 2010)
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album cover
Tr. 17 - Anima dolorosa che vivendo (3’09”)
La Venexiana — Claudio Monteverdi: Quarto Libro Dei Madrigali (Glossa, 2004)
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album cover
Side 1, Band 4.ii: Vocal (El Grillo) (2’01”)
New York Pro Musica Antiqua, Noah Greenberg — Petrucci, the first printer of Music (Decca Gold Label Series (LP) )
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Coprario: Side B, Band 1: Fantasia à 5 (2’50)
New York Pro Musica Antiqua, Noah Greenberg — Instrumental music from the courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James sound recording (MCA Records / rereleased 1980, 1977)
album cover
Side 1, Band 3: Sanctus (from Missa Paschaslis) (4’53”)
New York Pro Musica, Noah Greenberg — Ludwig Senfl : composer to the court & chapel of Emperor Maxmilian I. (Decca Gold Label LP, 1964)
album cover
Marco da Gagliano: Side B, (One track): Excerpt from Scene VI : beginning “Dunque ruvida scorsa…” (4:35)
NYPMA, Director George Houle — La Dafne (Musical Heritage Society , 1954)
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Marco da Gagliano: Tr. 8: Excerpt from Scene VI : ending “…e ninfe e dive.” (2:55)
Ensemble Elyma, Gabriel Garrido — La Dafne (K617 , 1995)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Berenguer de Palou (d. 1241) Tr. 11 - Aital dona (7’53”) / Codex de las Huelgas (13th c.) Tr. 1 - Amor vincens omnia/Marie preconio (3’39”)
Capella de Ministrers — El Cicle de la Vida (CDM, 2012)
Buy from Amazon »
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:29 Floating Break Music Bed at 17:49: Ludwig Senfl: composer to the court & chapel of Emperor Maxmilian I, Side 1, Band 1: Ich Weiss nit was er ihr Verhiess (excerpt)
New York Pro Musica
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Music under voice: Petrucci, the first printer of Music, Side 1, Band 2.i: (Dalza) Parvana alla veneziana (excerpt)
New York Pro Musica Antiqua, Noah Greenberg
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Theme Music Bed: Danse Royale, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 [ASIN: B000005J0B], T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal
Ensemble Alcatraz
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:59 Midpoint Break Music Bed at 31:29: Instrumental music from the courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James, Side A, Band 4: (Lupo) Fantasia à 6 (excerpt)
New York Pro Music Antiqua
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Music under voice: Instrumental music from the courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James, Side A, Band 3, II: (Morley) Il Lamento (excerpt)
New York Pro Music Antiqua
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Music under voice: Instrumental music from the courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James, Side B, Band 3: (Lupo) Fantasia à 3 (excerpt)
New York Pro Music Antiqua
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:29 Floating Break Music Bedat 44:39: El Cicle de la Vida, Tr. 10: Foia (excerpt)
Capella de Ministrers
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Wendy Gillespie

Wendy Gillespie is Professor of Music, teaching early bowed strings and performance studies, at the Early Music Institute of the Jacobs School of Music, Bloomington, IN and President of the VdGSA. As a viola da gamba player, she has made more than 80 CDs and performed on five continents.

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