Byrd, T. Tallis, O. Gibbons, T. Tomkins, D. Peebles, J. MacMillan, J. Taverner, I. Lukačić…
Jennifer Sterling – Soprano
Jessica Conway – Mezzosoprano
Nicola Henderson – Mezzosoprano
Ali Croal – Alt
Thomas Henderson – Tenor
Stuart Murray Mitchell – Tenor
Tim Cais – Bass
Alex Shen – Bass
Sing Joyfully – William Byrd (1540-1623)
Salvator Mundi (1575) Thomas Tallis – (1505-1585)
Ave Verum Corpus (1605) – William Byrd (1540-1623)
Laetentur Coeli (1580)– William Byrd (1540-1623)
Factum est Silentium (1618) – Richard Dering (1580-1630)
Ascendit Deus (1612) – Peter Phillips (1560-1628)
Hosannah to the Son of David – Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)
Drop Drop Slow Tears (1623) – Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Short Service – Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
O Clap Your Hands (1622) – Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Crucifixus– Antonio Lotti (1667-1740)
Ascendens Christus (1593) – Rafaella Aleotti (c 1570-c 1646)
Hodie Christus Natus Est – Julije Skjavetić (c 1530 – c 1566)
Hear My Prayer (c.1682)– Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Now is the Month of Maying – Thomas Morley (1557-1602)
The Silver Swan 1612 – Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
El Grillo – Josquin de Prez (c1450-1521)
Data Est Mihi Omnis Potestas – James MacMillan (1959-present)
Gallant Weaver – James MacMillan
The British Choral Tradition has its origins in medieval monasteries where boys and lay singers joined monks as they observed religious duties. This has evolved over time to the present day, where cathedral choirs consist of professional adult singers (or lay clerks) and children who sing services several times a week. Several members of Octavoce learned their craft in these foundations. There are over eighty cathedral and college choirs in the UK, with hundreds of parish choirs and choral societies. In our programme today, we look to explore the beautiful music of the Renaissance period (c1400-1600) and Baroque period (1600-1750).
In the early 1530’s, England separated from the Roman Catholic Church and created the Church of England, which prompted an era of great creativity composing music for Anglican Worship. Musicians including William Byrd and Thomas Tallis rose to prominence. They were both organists at the Chapel Royal during the reign of the Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I of England, Byrd having been taught by Tallis before succeeding him there. Along with their contemporaries, they helped create a distinctive English Renaissance style, as illustrated in Sing Joyfully and Salvator Mundi. Later in life, William Byrd became increasingly involved with Catholicism. This influenced the text he set in his later works, including that of Ave Verum Corpus and Laetentur Coeli. The former is a Catholic meditation of Jesus’ presence in the sacrament and the latter is set to words of persecution, reflecting the position of many Catholics at that time.
Richard Dering, also a convert to Catholicism, and Peter Phillips, a Catholic priest exiled to Flanders, were contemporaries of Byrd and Tallis. They were thought to be acquainted having both lived in Brussels, settling there in large part due to practising the Catholic faith whilst England remained under Protestant rule. Dering’s work Factum est silentium is his best known and is one of the few anthems in English choral repertoire to mention the dragon, a representative of Satan. In Ascendit Deus, the music changes each time the text changes as was common for vocal music during this period. For example, Phillips’ use of rising triads in the opening section depicts the Trinity while drawing our attention upwards to heaven. Later, in the section ‘Et dominus in voce tubae’, the voices mimic trumpets in an energetic fanfare.
As we continue to celebrate British Choral tradition, it is important to feature Thomas Weelkes, who wrote more Anglican services than any other composer of his time. We have paired his anthem Hosanna to the son of David with works of Orlando Gibbons to illustrate the Anglican traditional choral evensong. Choral evensong is centred around the singing of a psalm, canticles, as well as responses, hymns (Drop Drop Slow tears) and a choral anthem (O Clap your Hands). Gibbons died at the age forty-one meaning his musical output was smaller than many of his contemporaries. We are showcasing some of his best work here, including his Short service and later the Silver Swan, which is considered the best-known English madrigal.
Although we have chosen to focus on British music in this programme, we cannot ignore the flourishing choral repertoire that was developing across Europe. Italian composer Antonio Lotti bridged both the Baroque and Classical period. His Crucifixus is part of a much larger work named Credo in F and has particular significance for Octavoce as we performed it in our first concert in 2010. Our only featured female composer, Raffaella (Vittoria) Aleotti, gained fame for her musical abilities after becoming the first woman to publish a book of sacred music. Ascendens Christus was one of the works in her first book of motets, published in 1593. Julije Skjavetić lived in Šibenik in the mid 1500s and conducted the choir in the famous Šibenik Cathedral, where he wrote collections of madrigals and motets for 4-6 voices. An important collection of his motets held in Dresden, disappeared after the destruction of the city in 1945, only to be rediscovered in Krakow in 1993. We will perform his setting of Hodie Christus Natus est.
During the Baroque era, the development of instruments and changes in musical notation became evident in choral music. It became a much more common practice that choral music would be accompanied – sadly for Octavoce who sing mostly unaccompanied! Hear my Prayer, written during this time, is therefore in a minority. Following in the footsteps of the aforementioned acclaimed musicians, Henry Purcell was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal in 1683. He is considered to be one of the greatest English-born composers. No subsequent English-born composer approached his fame until the 20th century.
From 1575 to 1596, there was a monopoly on music printing in England granted by Queen Elizabeth I to William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. When Byrd retired, he left two remaining years of the monopoly to his pupil Thomas Morley. Morley was the most influential figure in the development and promotion of the English madrigal, and he seized the opportunity to publish his work during that period. His light and quick Now is the month of Maying, like many madrigals, has a double meaning with its apparently innocent topic of spring dancing used as a metaphor for sex. This dance-like piece of fun shows progression from previous madrigals which were often slow and sombre – such as Gibbons’ Silver Swan. The Silver Swan presents the legend that swans remain silent until just before their death when they release a most beautiful song. Written in 1612 when the madrigal form was becoming less popular, it is possible that Gibbons was using this piece as his own ‘swan song’ to this musical form.
El Grillo is a ‘frottola’ which was a precursor to the madrigal. This lively piece about a cricket was written by French composer Josquin de Prez who acquired the reputation as one of the greatest composers of the 15th century due to his mastery of the renaissance polyphonic style, in both sacred and secular music.
To conclude our programme, we come right up to the modern day and back to our Scottish roots. Whilst there were a couple of eminent Scottish composers during the renaissance and baroque periods, few of their works survive. James Macmillan is one of the UK’s greatest living composers and his works are heavily influenced by his Roman Catholic faith and by Scottish traditional music. We hope you enjoy his beautiful works, Gallant Weaver and Data Est Mihi Omnis Potestas.