Monday, October 31, 2005

More on Early Music

Steve at Hemmeke blog asked me for some recommendations about early music. I replied in the comments section, but it got a bit long, so I copied it here. I am not a musicologist, only a devoted listener. Steve mentioned he had some music by Thomas Tallis and Giovanni Palestrina, who represent in my opinion the Himalayas of Renaissance music. There are no shortage of choirs & recordings of both, but I consider the voices and direction of the Tallis Scholars (Gimell) to be the finest. Important works of Tallis would include "Spem Et Alium," "Mass in 4 Voices," "Lamentations of Jeremiah," and English Anthems (sublimely: "If Ye Love Me," and "Loquebantur"). For Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli, Missa Assumpta Est, Missa Brevis. The Gimell label cds are expensive ($20), but exceed all others in quality. Most of the above are available on Naxos, sung by other lesser, but quite capable choral groups (e.g., Oxford Camerata). has full listings under each composer, which helps greatly.

Staying in the Renaissance, I would like to note the often overlooked, but beautiful works of Josquin des Pres (Missa Pange Lingua), Orlando Lassus (Lamentations), William Byrd (the Great Mass), and the Spaniard Tomás de Victoria (Masses). All are on Naxos and other labels. I would not miss des Pres (sometimes spelled DezPres) and Lassus in particular. Honorable mentions go to Gesualdo and Gregorio Allegri (especially the "Miserere").

Medieval composers were mostly anonymous, but in the 14th century two stood out: Guillaume de Mauchaut (Missa Nostre Dame), and Guillaume DuFay (Missa l'homme arme; Chansons). Dufay is the more important. Hildegard of Bingen, a female theologian and mystic of the 12th century, is also an important composer.

Medieval music is divided into specific periods:
1. Plainchant (e.g., Ambrosian & Gregorian): 6th century onwards.
2. From the 9th to 12th century, there arose the beginnings of polyphony: the adding of another voice to the chant (usually a perfect fourth or fifth), which is called Organum.
3. 13th century formal polyphony (e.g., Léonin, Pérotin) - called Ars Antiqua.
4. Troubadour music ("trouveres").
5. 14th century sophisticated polyphony (e.g., de Vitry, Machaut) - called Ars Nova.
6. Ars Subtilior - a French mannered polyphony, very difficult to sing, which marked the end of the Medieval period. Afterward, music written by DuFay and John Dunstable transitioned to the Rennaissance.

CDs for Medieval music which I would recommend are anything by the Tallis Scholars, Anonymous 4, Trio Mediaeval, and the Hilliard Ensemble. All have "samplers" which contain music of several composers from specific eras. I checked at and found a nice list of some good "sampler" cds.

I hope this is helpful.


Blogger homo unius libri said...

Himalayas? Cold, hard to ascend, not for the amateur? HEEHEHEHE

9:34 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

I prefer "rarified, pristine, exalted" ;)

9:41 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Does the phrase "walking encyclopedia" mean anything to you, Scott?


9:23 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Thank you Steve, how very kind.

My father, whe bequeathed to me a love of both art and early music, emailed me today asking me to warn my readers that Allegri's "Miserere" is like musical chocolate, and one can easily overdose on it. I agree, and liken it to the Pachabel Canon of the Renaissance. It is, however, far more beautiful.

10:11 AM  
Blogger homo unius libri said...

mmmmm chocolate....

11:50 AM  

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