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Designed by Peter Phillips to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War in 1918, a complete Mass provides the framework, put together from war-like sources. These come either from the tradition of the Armed Man (L’homme armé), or are based on a chanson actually describing a battle (La batalla). The peaceful element of the programme is provided by two movements from Victoria’s 6-voice Requiem Mass and partly by some deeply moving funeral motets: Tavener’s work was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana; Mouton’s at the funeral of Anne of Brittany; and Lobo’s at the funeral of Philip II of Spain. In Arvo Pärt’s beautiful The Woman with the Alabaster Box, Christ refers to his own burial.
Soprano: Amy Haworth, Emma Walshe, Emily Atkinson, Charlotte Ashley
Alto: Caroline Trevor, Alex Chance
Tenor: Steven Harrold, Simon Wall
Bass: Tim Scott Whiteley, Rob Macdonald
Supported by the Nemetz Foundation
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War and Peace: A program commemorating all those who lost their lives in the First World War 1914 – 1918.
Kyrie from the Missa L’Homme Armé
Gloria from the Missa Batalla
The Woman with the Alabaster Box
Quis dabit oculis
Credo from the Missa Batalla
Requiem aeternam (from the Missa pro Defunctis)
Sanctus from the Missa L’Homme Armé
Song for Athene
Agnus dei from the Missa Papae Marcelli
Libera me (from the Missa pro Defunctis)
The armed man is to be feared.
In the Europe of the fifteenth century, when the anonymous French song L’homme armé first became popular, war was an omnipresent threat. Many watched aghast as the old order seemed to crumble before their eyes. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire had sacked Constantinople, putting an end to the thousand-year old Byzantine empire. Later that same year, the Hundred Years War between England and France culminated in a bloody battle at Castillon. The song obviously resonated with a people preoccupied with war: the armed man was indeed to be feared.
Composers of the early Renaissance, of whom Josquin des Prez was the most renowned, frequently turned to secular songs as models for sacred compositions. Tapping into contemporary popular songs allowed them not only to pepper their music with familiar motifs, but to allude to the content of those songs, creating multiple layers of meaning. Josquin composed two masses on the L’homme armé theme. The later of the two, in the sixth mode or sexti toni, is a polyphonic tour de force, incorporating several complex canonic and imitative techniques.
Francisco Guerrero, born some years after Josquin’s death, also based mass settings on existing works. His Missa de la batalla ecoutez derives material from a song by Janequin, an extended piece which depicts the sounds of battle in an unusually dramatic way. Guerrero’s mass tempers the exuberance of his source, using passages from the beginning of the song as his main material – though the rapid declamation of the original can be detected in the ‘Qui tollis’ section of the Gloria.
Though written many centuries later, the work of contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt owes much to the Renaissance manner of musical expression. A number of his works set passages from the Gospels, in a narrative manner that eschews overt text expression in favour of lending the words a sort of gilded clarity. The Woman with the Alabaster Box is an almost trance-like recitation, beautiful in its restraint, condensing the texture for Jesus’ words before expanding it again for the climax.
During the Renaissance, musicians often survived by deftly navigating the courts of the noble and wealthy and securing their favour. In return, there was an expectation that this beneficence be recognized in the output of the artists in their employ. Funeral motets were one opportunity for composers to display their gratitude (and help ensure their continued favour with the next generation). The first is a work by Jean Mouton, written to mark the passing of his patron Queen Anne of Brittany, the wife of Louis XII. Quis dabit oculis is appropriately sombre in character, though not without moments of powerful rhetoric, as when the name of Anna causes the voices to pause, as if from deep sadness.
In a similar vein, Alonso Lobo’s beautiful motet Versa est in luctum was written for the funeral of the Spanish King Philip II in 1602. The expressive imagery – ‘my heart is tuned to mourning’ – finds a parallel in Lobo’s musical language, in which the descending lines of the six voices evoke inconsolable grief.
The first half ends with the Credo from Guerrero’s mass. It radiates hope in salvation through the resurrection, a character most evident in the awed full texture of ‘Et incarnatus est’ – the mystery of the incarnation, words whose utterance would have been accompanied by a genuflection.
In 1603, the Dowager Empress Maria, sister of Philip II, died. It was the duty of her chaplain and choirmaster, Victoria, to provide music for her funeral rites. In doing so, he was writing for the twelve singing priests and four boys who comprised the singers of the Royal Convent, a relatively lavish set-up which enabled polyphony in many parts. Accordingly, the Missa pro Defunctis, the Mass of the Dead or simply ‘Requiem’, is in six parts, with divided trebles and tenors. After the intonation Requiem aeternam, given in the treble part, the polyphony unfolds slowly and majestically around the ancient plainchant melody. The plainchant acts as an anchor, a throughline which gives the piece as a whole an awesome solidity.
It is followed by a movement from one of Guerrero’s takes on the L’homme armé mass. Unusually, it is scored for four higher voices, the tessitura giving it an intriguingly weightless feel, and one which suits the character of the Sanctus, which evokes the song of the angels. In the livelier Hosanna, the triple time meter of the original tune is used, with the alto and tenor parts singing it in imitative canon.
John Tavener’s Song for Athene, written after the unexpected death of a family friend, Athene Hariades, became embedded in the public consciousness after it was performed at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. The sincerity and impact of the words, fashioned from a fusion of Orthodox ritual and Shakespeare, together with its radiantly optimistic, alleluiatic conclusion, struck an instant chord with a grieving public.
The Council of Trent, a gathering of the Catholic world which took place in the middle of the sixteenth century, was convened to discuss responses to the movement of Protestant reform sweeping across the continent. Many delegates felt that secular music was an inappropriate model, and that words had become unintelligible. Legend has it that the Missa Papae Marcelli was written to prove that polyphony could fulfil these requirements. The Agnus Dei is classic Palestrina, a seamless and smooth polyphony.
Finally, we return to Victoria’s music for the Requiem Mass, and its closing cry of Libera me. The ancient words – angry, fearful, finally hopeful – remain deeply relevant in a world which has yet to eradicate the threat of armed conflict.
© James M. Potter, 2018
The Tallis Scholars
The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serve the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which The Tallis Scholars have become so widely renowned.
The Tallis Scholars perform in both sacred and secular venues, usually giving around 70 concerts each year across the globe. In 2013 the group celebrated their 40th anniversary with a World Tour performing 99 events in 80 venues in 16 countries and travelling sufficient air-miles to circumnavigate the globe four times. They kicked off the year with a spectacular concert in St Paul͛s Cathedral, London, including a performance of Thomas Tallis͛40-part motet Spem in alium and the world premieres of works written specially for them by Gabriel Jackson and Eric Whitacre. Their recording of the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas by John Taverner, was released on the exact anniversary of their first concert in 1973 and enjoyed six weeks at number one in the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart. On 21st September 2015 the group gave their 2000th concert at St John͛s Smith Square in London.
The Tallis Scholars’ career highlights have included a tour of China in 1999 and 2014; and the privilege of performing in the Sistine Chapel in April 1994 to mark the final stage of the complete restoration of the Michelangelo frescoes, broadcast on Italian and Japanese television. The ensemble has commissioned many contemporary composers during their history: in 1998 they celebrated their 25th Anniversary with a special concert in London’s National Gallery, premiering a Sir John Tavener work written for the group and narrated by Sting. A further performance was given with Sir Paul McCartney in New York in 2000. Composers they have worked with recently include Eric Whitacre, Nico Muhly, Gabriel Jackson and Matthew Martin and Owain Park. The Tallis Scholars are broadcast regularly on radio (including performances from the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2014) and have also been featured on the acclaimed ITV programme The Southbank Show.
Much of The Tallis Scholars reputation for their pioneering work has come from their association with Gimell Records, set up by Peter Phillips and Steve Smith in 1980 solely to record the group. In February 1994 Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars performed on the 400th anniversary of the death of Palestrina in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, where Palestrina had trained as a choirboy and later worked as Maestro di Cappella. The concerts were recorded by Gimell and are available on both CD and DVD.
Recordings by The Tallis Scholars have attracted many awards throughout the world. In 1987 their recording of Josquin’s Missa La sol fa re mi and Missa Pange lingua received Gramophone magazine͛s Record of the Year award, the first recording of early music ever to win this coveted award. In 1989 the French magazine Diapason gave two of its Diapason d’Or de l’Année awards for the recordings of a mass and motets by Lassus and for Josquin’s two masses based on the chanson L’Homme armé. Their recording of Palestrina’s Missa Assumpta est Maria and Missa Sicut lilium was awarded Gramophone’s Early Music Award in 1991; they received the 1994 Early Music Award for their recording of music by Cipriano de Rore; and the same distinction again in 2005 for their disc of music by John Browne. The Tallis Scholars were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001, 2009 and 2010. In November 2012 their recording of Josquin’s Missa De beata virgine and Missa Ave maris stella received a Diapason d͛Or de l͛Année and in their 40th anniversary year they were welcomed into the Gramophone ͚Hall of Fame͛ by public vote. In a departure for the group in Spring 2015 The Tallis Scholars released a disc of music by Arvo Pärt called Tintinnabuli which has received great praise. The latest recording of Josquin masses Missa Di dadi and Missa Une mousse de Biscaye was released in October 2016.
These accolades & achievements are continuing evidence of the exceptionally high standard maintained by The Tallis Scholars, and of their dedication to one of the great repertoires in Western classical music. For the latest opportunities to hear The Tallis Scholars in concert, or for more information on how to purchase CDs, Downloads or DVDs of the group, please visit their website.
Peter Phillips, Music Director
Peter Phillips has dedicated his career to the research and performance of Renaissance polyphony, and to the perfecting of choral sound. Having won a scholarship to Oxford in 1972, he gained experience as an undergraduate in conducting small vocal ensembles, already experimenting with the rarer parts of the repertoire. He founded The Tallis Scholars in 1973, with whom he has now appeared in over 2,200 concerts and made over 60 discs, encouraging interest in polyphony all over the world. As a result of this commitment Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars have done more than any other group to establish the sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western classical music.
Peter Phillips also conducts other specialist ensembles. He is currently working with the BBC Singers, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Choeur de Chambre de Namur. He is patron of the choirs of Merton College (Oxford), Sansara (London), El Leon de Oro (Spain), and of the Festivals of Portsmouth and Clifton; he also hosts the annual Tallis Scholars Summer Course in Avila (Spain). In 2014 he launched the London International A Cappella Choir Competition in St John’s Smith Square, attracting choirs from all over the world.
In addition to conducting, Peter Phillips is well-known as a writer. For 33 years he contributed a regular music column (as well as one, more briefly, on cricket) to The Spectator. In 1995 he became the owner and Publisher of The Musical Times, the oldest continuously published music journal in the world. His first book, English Sacred Music 1549-1649, was published by Gimell in 1991, while his second, What We Really Do, appeared in 2013. During 2018 BBC Radio 3 will broadcast his view of Renaissance polyphony, in a series of six hour-long programmes.
In 2005 Peter Phillips was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, a decoration intended to honour individuals who have contributed to the understanding of French culture in the world. In 2008 Peter began an association with Merton College, Oxford, where he helped to found the chapel choir, and where he is a Bodley Fellow.