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Harmonia Early Music

A Next Generation

Thomas Tallis brings us a 40-voice motet, and a new generation of period performers plays music for an unusual combination of instruments, and more.

The early music ensemble Rook.

We’re listening to works of a next generation—of sorts. Thomas Tallis brings us a new generation of the 40-voice motet, and a new generation of period performers plays music for an unusual combination of instruments. Plus, our featured release focuses on music influenced by Arcangelo Corelli.  

Especially popular during the Baroque era, the chaconne, or, in Italian, ciaccona, is a musical form in which variations are layered over a short, repeated harmonic progression. Let’s hear a ciaccona by Pietro Castrucci, an Italian violinist and composer who was a student of the great Arcangelo Corelli.

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We’ll hear more from this CD later in the hour.

Talk Detailed to Me… Spem in alium

On a visit to England during the late sixteenth century, the Italian composer Alessandro Striggio, led a performance of a work he had composed for forty voices. His impressive demonstration of compositional skill also became a sort of international musical contest.

English composer Thomas Tallis rose to the challenge and“generated” his own motet for 40 voices, (a motet 2.0 [two-point-oh], so to speak). Titled “Spem in alium nunquam habui,” or “I have never placed my hope in any other,” Tallis’ setting of just four lines of text unfolds as a tour de force of vocal power and intricacy.

There is far more than meets the ear in this work. Unlike the more chordal style of Striggio’s writing, the forty parts in Tallis’ “Spem in alium” are extremely independent. Perhaps catering to the architecture of the octagonally shaped room in which the work may have been premiered, Tallis splits his forty voicesinto eight groups of five singers each. These five-person “mini-choirs” would have occupied one side each of the octagonal room. The wavelike movement of sound passing from one group to another must have been spellbinding, with the most dramatic moments using the full force of all forty voices.

Also, crafty numerical games occur; 44 beats introduce the first four mini-choirs, followed by another 44 beats that introduce the next four and put all eight choirs together. After that, 22 beats reverse the motion, and finally, the pattern of 44, 44, and 22 ends by a single beat of rest and a closing passage of 32 beats. So we end up with a numerical sequence of 44, 44, 22, and 33!

Let’s hear it now, in a performance by Magnificat, directed by Philip Cave.

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It may seem unusual in our modern culture, but throughout the 16th and 17th centuries it wasn’t uncommon to find brass instruments paired with strings in intimate ensemble settings. The cornetto was still, at the time, a virtuosic king of instruments, with its uncanny ability to emulate the human voice; and the sackbut wasn’t kept too far away either.

A present-day quartet called Rook, made up of a new generation of period performers, is revisting this 400-year-old repertoire. Rook’s debut recording entitled Eleven features performances of music for cornetto, violin, sackbut, bass violin, and harpsichord, with a single appearance by the slide trumpet in Adrian Willaert’s “Baisés moy.”

Let’s hear this short piece by Willaert, followed by a Pavane by Samuel Scheidt that features the cornetto.

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Rook’s core repertoire comes from the baroque stile moderno of the early 17th-century.  Central are two Italian composers, both with close ties to the great St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice—Giovanni Bassano and Dario Castello.

Bassano, a renowned cornettist, was vital to the development of the acclaimed company of instrumentalists at St. Mark’s and a champion of the music of Giovanni Gabrieli. Dario Castello, of whom much less is known, was also employed at St. Mark’s as the head of the instrumentalists under Claudio Monteverdi.

Here again is Rook with Dario Castello’s Sonata No. 4 from his first book of sonatas in the modern style.

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We have time for one more track from Rook’s debut recording, Eleven.

Incidently, the title Eleven comes from a quote in the 1984 rock music “mockumentary,” This Is Spinal Tap. The film is a satirical comedy, and one member of its fictitious – and pretentious – heavy metal band describes his volume control as going beyond 10 on a volume dial. This one goes to 11.

The ensemble Rook uses this allusion to describe what they believe is at the root of the historical performance movement: pushing beyond established conventions.

Let’s hear another example of the ensemble Rook’s “11,” “Susana Pasegiata” by the Spanish Baroque composer and dulcian virtuoso Bartolomé de Selma y Salaverde.

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The members of Rook are violinist Jakob Hansen, sackbutt player Paul Von Hoff, bass violinist Jeremy Ward, harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner, and cornetist Bill Baxtresser.

Corelli’s Influence

The Italian composer and violin virtuoso Arcangelo Corelli was one of the most important musical figures of the high Baroque. His devotion to instrumental forms such as the sonata and concerto grosso, helped elevate them to spectacular new heights, and his numerous students strove to follow in his footsteps. (:25”)

In a recording released by Acis Productions in 2015, violinist Alexander Woods, cellist Ezra Seltzer, and harpsichordist Avi Stein explore the works of Corelli and his associates. A number of works on this release are world premiere recordings, including the one we’re about to hear by Evaristo Felice Dall’abaco, (a composer much in debt to Corelli’s style).

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Break and theme music

:30, Eleven, Rook, CD Baby 2014, Tr. 2 Adrian Willaert – Qui Veult Aymer (excerpt of 1:48)

:60, Eleven, Rook, CD Baby 2014, Tr. 8 Anonymous – Chiccona (excerpt of 3:19)

:30, Corelli’s Influence: Virtuoso Works for Baroque Violin, Alexander Woods, violin; Ezra Seltzer, cello; Avi Stein, harpsichord, Acis 2015, Tr. 2 (Antonio Montanari) Sonata in e minor “Dresden” (excerpt of 6:41)

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

The writers for this edition of Harmonia are Benjamin Robinette, David Wood, and Elizabeth Clark.

Special thanks Rachel Boyd and KTTZ at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.

David Wood

Originally from Leavenworth, Kansas, David Wood moved to Bloomington in 2005. He received his Bachelor of Music from Kansas State University, and his Master of Music from the University of North Texas. He studied ensemble direction at the Jacobs School of Music's Early Music Institute and joined WFIU in 2006 as an announcer. In 2008 he became WFIU's Music Director and also served as Art Bureau Chief from 2008-2013. David’s interests include Irish music and language (particularly traditional singing), music and religion, running, the outdoors, and, of course, classical music!

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