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Everything's Coming Up Roses

Red and pink rose

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but would it sound as lovely?  This hour on Harmonia we’re offering a bountiful bouquet of music featuring that age-old symbol of love, the rose.  Even our featured release is coming up roses – we’ll sample tracks from O florens rosa: La rosa nella musica del Rinascimento, a 2017 release by the Italian ensemble La Rossignol.

We heard Les Voix Humaines performing an Intrada and Galliard, instrumental music by German organist and composer Samuel Scheidt.  Germany has a special place in rose lore – what may be the oldest living rose bush, nicknamed the Thousand-year Rose, grows on the wall of a cathedral in Hildesheim, Germany. The bush is nearly 33 feet tall, and its age is documented at around seven hundred years. The cathedral was destroyed by bombs in 1945 during the Second World War, but the roots of the bush survived and it blossomed again out of the ruins.

A Baker's Dozen

It’s difficult to find a more enduring metaphor than the rose.  From ancient times through the present day, roses have signified youth, beauty, purity, passion – and of course, love.  All that symbolism comes at a price: According to the National Retail Federation, over 250 million roses are grown for Valentine’s Day, when florists everywhere increase the cost of their bouquets.

Fortunately we here at Harmonia want to offer you a more economical option – a musical bouquet, featuring a baker’s dozen of rose-themed compositions.

We’ll begin with Petrarch – always a good place to start.  In 2009, the Montreal-based group Les Voix Baroques recorded a setting of Petrarch’s rose-filled poem, “Due rose fresche,” or “Two Brilliant Roses,” by the sixteenth-century Italian composer Andrea Gabrieli.  By the time Gabrieli set Petrarch’s verse to music, his words were already several hundred years old, proving the timelessness of good poetry – and roses.

Poetry by Petrarch and music by Andrea Gabrieli, in a performance by Les Voix Baroques.  We heard “Due rose fresche,” from Gabrieli’s first book of madrigals.

Gabrieli wasn’t the only composer entranced by Petrarch’s roses.  Renowned Italian madrigalist Luca Marenzio also set Petrarch’s poem – and you can decide which flowering of creativity you prefer.  We’ll hear Ensemble Vocale Veneto in Marenzio’s version of “Due rose fresche.”

An Italian madrigal by Luca Marenzio, “Due rose fresche,” performed by Ensemble Vocale Veneto.

Italians weren’t the only rose lovers.  Born in Catalonia, the 17th-century composer Juan Arañés wrote “Un sarao de la chacona,” a rhythmic, celebratory invitation to dance!

We’ll hear an instrumental version of “Un sarao” by the Renaissance wind band Piffaro.  But the text is worth a listen.  It reads, in part:

“There was a dance party one evening in the month of roses.  It offered a thousand pleasures, and was famed both far and wide.  Here’s to the good, sweet life.  Let’s dance a chaconne!”

The Renaissance wind band Piffaro performing “Una sarao de la chacona” by the Spanish baroque composer Juan Arañés.

Who can resist lips like roses?  “Due labbra di Rose,” by the Italian composer Luigi Rossi, two intertwined voices bemoan “two lips of roses” that “make war on my heart.”  We’ll hear a recording by Jerome Correas and Les Paladins.

Music from Jerome Correas and Les Paladins, Luigi Ross’s “Due labbra di Rose."

What's In a Name?

Roses make good gifts and great metaphors; they also, at least in the early music world, make for memorable ensemble names.

The Rose Ensemble, a Minnesota-based choral group, has a globe-trotting discography ranging from Hawaiian vocal music to Shaker spirituals.  Their recording Rosa das Rosa, released in 2014, spotlights music dedicated to the Virgin Mary, a figure who is often associated with roses. We’ll hear two selections from the album, first “Como Poden per sas Culpas,” an anonymous Cantiga from the 13th century, and following that, a motet, Virgo prudentissima, by the Spanish Renaissance composer Francisco Guerrero.

Music by the Minneapolis-based choral ensemble The Rose Ensemble. We heard a Renaissance motet for the Virgin Mary, Virgo prudentissima, by Francisco Guerrero. And before that, “Como Poden per sas Culpas,” from the anonymous Cantigas de Santa Maria.

Another ensemble with a rosy name is the United Kingdom-based Rose Consort of Viols.  In this case, the name is an homage not to flowers, but to a celebrated family of viol makers.  Let’s listen to The Rose Consort playing a complex six-part in nomine by the great English consort master John Jenkins.

Music from the golden age of English consort music: a six-part In nomine by John Jenkins, recorded by The Rose Consort of Viols.

Roses and the Bible

The rose has long symbolized romantic love and carnal passion.  Paradoxically, it has also symbolized purity, virginity, and divinity.

Nowhere is this symbolic tension more evident than in settings of poetry from the Bible’s Song of Solomon, a text that melds sensuality with faith.

The early American composer William Billings received training as a tanner and was mostly self-taught in the ways of composition.  In his choral anthem “I am the Rose of Sharon,” using text from the Song of Solomon, each image receives its own musical treatment, from roses to winter rain. We’ll hear a recording by Paul Hillier and His Majestie’s Clerkes.

Music by William Billings, “I am the Rose of Sharon,” sung by Paul Hillier and His Majestie’s Clerkes.

Roses are often associated with Biblical women – like the Virgin Mary or the Song of Solomon’s unnamed speaker.  But in the German hymn “Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen,” the rose is arguably a symbol for Jesus, a flower sprung from Jesse’s lineage.

We’ll hear two settings of “Es ist ein Ros,” sung by The Monteverdi Choir under John Elliot Gardiner.  First, a simple version by Michael Praetorius, then a four-part canon by Melchior Vulpius.  We’ll follow that with the same ensemble’s version of the anonymous carol “There is no rose.”

Religious roses: We heard two settings of “Es ist ein Ros” by Michael Praetorius and Melchoir Vulpius, as well as the anonymous carol “There is no rose,” all sung by The Monteverdi Choir under John Elliot Gardiner.

O florens rosa: La rosa nella musica del Rinascimento

Everything’s coming up roses!  Or at least it is on a recent release by the Italian ensemble La Rossignol.  The 2017 album is entitled O florens rosa: La rosa nella musica del Rinascimento, and it features musical roses galore!

Let’s listen to three selections from La Rossignol’s rose garden. First, Rosina, a lively dance by the German composer Erasmus Widmann.  After that, a Canzon for organ, “La Rosa,” by the Italian organist Florentino Maschera.  And to close we’ll hear an instrumental version of the famous chanson “O Rosa Bella,” long attributed to the English composer John Dunstable but more recently credited to John Bedyngham.

Three rose-themed pieces recorded by the Italian ensemble La Rossignol from their 2017 album O florens rosa: La rosa nella musica del Rinascimento. We heard a dance by Erasmus Widmann, Rosina, followed by Florentino Maschera’s “Canzon No. 10 La Rosa” for organ, and an instrumental version of the famous chanson “O Rosa Bella.”

Break and theme music

:30, Jenkins: All in a Garden Green, The Rose Consort of Viols, Naxos 1993, Tr. 2 Fantasia in C Minor

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

:60, Jenkins: All in a Garden Green, The Rose Consort of Viols, Naxos 1993, Tr. 3 Divisions on a Ground for 2 Bass Viols in C major: Divisions for two basses in C major

:30, Jenkins: All in a Garden Green, The Rose Consort of Viols, Naxos 1993, Tr. 5 Fantasia in F major: Fantasia in F major, 'All in a Garden Green'

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Anne Timberlake.

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