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Kiss Me!

Detail from the painting "Heracles and Omphale" by Francois Boucher, 1734.

From lovers' locked lips to sacred benedictions, kisses have inspired poets and musicians for millennia. A kiss can mean love or death, hello or goodbye. It can be saintly or salacious or shocking! This week on Harmonia, we bring you kisses in all times and tempos.

Let's start with composer and violinist Thomas Baltzar's divisions on "John Come Kiss Me Now," a tune that endeared itself to 16th- and 17th-century England, appearing in well over a dozen surviving collections. Chatham Baroque recorded the arrangement by violinist Julie Andrijeski.

We'll hear another version of this tune later in the show.

Divine kisses

Ah, the kiss. At its best, a meeting of lips, minds, and hearts. At its worst – the kiss of death!

Literature is full with kisses, but music, too, has its share of smooches, and this hour we're listening – and puckering – up!

First kisses first: (Like Madonna, the composer Pérotin gets by with only one name.) Active at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris at the turn of the thirteenth century, the composer Pérotin was among the pioneers of Notre Dame Organum.

In Dum Sigillum summa patri, Pérotin pairs a rhyming Latin poem with a repeated melody, a form called a conductus. And oh, yes, those kisses? They're divine in this case – "O wondrous kiss of virtue!" And they're powerful – prompting the Virgin to bear the son of God.

Let's hear the Hilliard Ensemble singing Pérotin's two-part masterwork.

The Bible, as it happens, is full of kisses. Many masters of renaissance polyphony set texts from the biblical Song of Songs, in which kisses abound. Many scholars have interpreted the Song of Songs as allegory, describing the union between the human and the divine; but this beautiful text is also expressing joy in the physical and erotic aspects of love. Take these lines:

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth / for thy love is better than wine."

We'll hear two composers' settings of this text. First, a five-voice motet, Osculetur me, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. And following that, the Agnus Dei from Orlandus Lassus's Missa Osculetur me.

Kisses don't always end well

Alas, kisses do not always end well, as anyone who's lived and loved knows.

And sometimes, they're thwarted before they begin-as in Josquin Des Prez's secular chanson, "Baisez-moy ma doulce amye."Josquin, the most famous Franco-Flemish composer of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, tells the tale of a frustrated kisser: "Kiss me, my sweetheart," the first speaker begs. But the sweetheart refuses. "If I were foolish," she explains, "my mother might be hurt."

Let's hear an instrumental version of Josquin's chanson.

Other kisses are bitter. In the "The Expiration," composer Alfonso Ferrabosco sets a poem by John Donne in which the kiss is a harbinger of doom:

"So, so, break off this last lamenting kiss/ Which sucks two souls, and vapors both away."

Let's listen to baritone Paul Hillier singing Donne's lament.

[For complete playlist information, including the details of this CD, please click the "Music on this episode" tab at the top of this web post.]

"Kiss me! No, do not kiss me!" The speaker of French poet Pierre Ronsard's poem "Mignonne, baisez-moy" is torn-though not about love.

"While we live, let us love one another," he pleads. Ronsard was dubbed "the prince of poets" in his time, and many of his poems were set to music-this one by the sixteenth-century French composer Antoine de Bertrand.

To kiss or not to kiss? Let's listen as Ensemble Metamorphoses de Paris helps us decide.

Kisses quick and kisses slow

And what would a love story be without a kiss? From Sleeping Beauty to Snow White, kisses are often at the heart of a tale.

The song "When she cam ben she bobbit," a lively tune first published in the late seventeenth century, tells the story of a "collier lassie" who enters a room, curtsies, and kisses a Scottish nobleman.

The song details their extramarital affair, with the singer praising the girl:

"Thy lips are as sweet/ and thy figure complete / as the finest dame in castle or ha'."

We'll hear an instrumental version of the tune performed by Chatham Baroque with flute player Chris Norman.

Sometimes kisses come quickly, and sometimes they're agonizingly slow. The tune "John come kiss me now"-immensely popular in 16th- and 17th-century England-was based on a harmonic progression that wended its way north from Italy, and the song urges John to get on with it:

"Oh John come kiss me now, now, now!/ Oh John come kiss me now/ Oh John come kiss me by and by and make no more ado."

[For complete playlist information, including the details of this CD, please click the "Music on this episode" tab at the top of this web post.]

We have one more type of kiss...the kiss as a gateway to passion. In Henry Purcell's song "When First Amintas Sued for a Kiss," the maiden first pushes her lover away, but ultimately, over the course of the song, yields to a kiss…and more.

Tom Zajac in memoriam

In the last few minutes of our Harmonia program this week, we depart from our lighthearted theme to bid farewell to one of the bright stars in the early music firmament, multi-instrumentalist Tom Zajac, who passed away on August 31, 2015 at the age of 58.

Harmonia is recorded well in advance of its airplay, and in an upcoming episode of Harmonia, we will bring you a much longer program in memoriam-but in the meantime, this week we break away from our usual recent release segment to acknowledge this very great loss to the early music world.

Tom Zajac passed away recently after struggling for several years with multiple brain tumors, and we pause this week to remember him.

Tom Zajac was a lifelong musician whose first instruments were trombone, oboe and percussion. Over the years, his musical experience ranged from drum & bugle to jazz, rock, world music, and of course early music. His forty-plus recordings spanned many eras and genres of early music, and also reached across cultures: Colonial Latin-American music, multicultural pre-expulsion Spain, Polish music, and Turkish music from the Ottoman courts.

Tom's instrumental skills were prodigious, and the list of instruments at which he was adept is very long: recorder, shawm, sackbut, crumhorn, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, harp, and probably at least a dozen more, including a number of Turkish instruments. The music we're hearing, from Piffaro's CD Stadtpfeiffer, is Senfl's "Patientiam Muess Ich Han," with Tom playing harp, and Grant Herried on lute.

[For complete playlist information, including the details of this CD, please click the "Music on this episode" tab at the top of this web post.]

This week we're remembering Tom Zajac, a founding member of Ex Umbris. Tom performed with a veritable who's-who of early music ensembles: Ex Umbris, Piffaro, the Folger Consort, The King's Noyse, The Newberry Consort, The Waverly Consort, Hesperus, The Tallis Scholars, The Rose Ensemble, The Texas Early Music Project, The Boston Camerata...and that list just scratches the surface.

In addition to his very successful career as a performer, Tom Zajac was also a much-loved teacher in both academic institutions such as Wellesley, Mannes College, and the University of Maryland; and at popular workshops such as Pinewoods, Madison, the Texas Toot, San Francisco Early Music Society, and especially the Amherst Early Music Summer Workshop.

Coming up in a few weeks, we will have a longer "in memoriam" program for Tom, and share stories and memories with some of his colleagues.

Tom Zajac was a musician's musician, and a warm and generous soul who was well-loved by colleagues, friends, and family. But while his loss leaves a huge empty space in the early music world, we are very much richer for having the wealth of music he created, and for having known him.

Break and theme music

:30, Orlando Gibbons: Consorts for Viol, Phantasm, Linn 2014, Tr. 9 Peascod Time (The Hunt's Up) (excerpt of 6:03)

:60, Orlando Gibbons: Consorts for Viol, Phantasm, Linn 2014, Tr. 21 Go From My Window, MB 40 (excerpt of 4:29)

:30, Los Ministriles: Spanish Renaissance Wind Music, Piffaro, Deutsche Grammophon 1997, Tr. 9 Francisco Guerrero: Untitled Motet (excerpt of 2:41)

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

The writers for this edition of Harmonia are Anne Timberlake and Angela Mariani.

Special thanks to engineer Rachel Boyd from the School of Music Recording Studio at Texas Tech.

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.

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