Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Music for Ash Wednesday

We hope everyone had a good time celebrating Fat Tuesday yesterday, and today we'll help you recover by suggesting some music for your Ash Wednesday Celebration.

We'll begin with beautiful setting of the Mass Ordinary:

Gaudete in Domino
An English Lady Mass by Thomas Packe (fl. 1487-1499)
Schola Gothia, Ulrike Heider, director

Organa sunt nimis ardua. Ita quod potest, potest sic. (“Those organs were very difficult to play upon. Impossible to do it better.”) This complaint by Thomas Packe made in connection with the Archbishop Morton’s visitation to Exeter in 1492, shows Packe (fl. 1487–1499) concerned about the quality of organ mechanics at the cathedral of Exeter in Devon, England. Packe’s complaint has been taken as evidence that he served as organist at Exeter. It is known that Packe earned a part of his living as priest of an endowment at the cathedral (founded in 1297 by Thomas Bitton), and it was his responsibility to celebrate the liturgy in memory of Bitton inside the cathedral’s so-called “Lady chapel.” This chapel with its altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary might have played a much more musical role in the decade of Packe’s activity at Exeter cathedral known to us (1489–1499).

Since the days of Bishop Brewer of Exeter, from 1224 to 1244, a mass in honor of the Virgin was celebrated daily in the Lady chapel, accompanied with music performed by the cathedral choir. This fact lends a certain probability to the assumption that in addition to his priestly duties in the chapel, Packe was involved in the performance of the music there as well.

The five surviving compositions by Packe that are known to us are preserved in the so-called Ritson manuscript (London, British Library, Add. 5665), a collection of nearly 100 polyphonic compositions in two to five parts composed from around 1450 to around 1500. Most of the works in this manuscript are carols (44) and other settings of Latin texts with liturgical or devotional character (26). In 1538, a royal proclamation ordered the expurgation of the name of St. Thomas of Canterbury from all religious buildings, liturgical books, and calendars in England. Vestiges of this instruction are visible in the two St. Thomas carols of the Ritson manuscript, an indication that the book was still in use at this date, and that someone bureaucratic remembered the book well enough to find the pieces and to fulfil the royal order.

Packe’s two settings of the mass Ordinary contained in the Ritson manuscript probably had their place during the daily liturgy in honor of the Virgin. Both show modest three-part writing appropriate for liturgical occasions of a lesser rank during the annual cycle. The notation pro hominibus xii notes cumpas at the beginning of the mass Gaudete in Domino indicates that this mass was originally intended for three male voices with almost the same range of 12 notes (also an indication that the performing institution had the option of boy’s voices). The two lower voices share a nearly identical lower segment of this range, whereas the upper voice is situated a fourth to a fifth above, an arrangement reflecting fifteenth-century chanson style which gives the upper voice a certain extra glamour. It is unknown which plainchant melody was used as the basis for the lowest voice (tenor) of the mass sections, which receive some unification through recurrent short motives; for example, the descending “major” triad on “G,” audible at the beginning of each. The three-voice texture is sometimes reduced to pairs, often according to the different text passages (listen especially to the Gloria and Credo), a compositional technique which seems to resemble, en miniature, the much more complex techniques of the large-scale choral works from Ritson’s most famous contemporary, the Eton Choirbook (written 1490–1502). The setting of the Marian antiphon, Salve Regina, at the end of this recording, also taken from the Ritson manuscript, goes back stylistically to the first climax of English Renaissance composition: Its threepart sections are based on a piece variously ascribed to Leonel Power (d. 1445) or John Dunstable (1390–1453), but the model for the duets is unknown.

The monophonic pieces on this recording come from very different periods of European chant history. The origins of the offertory Diffusa est—already present in the oldest known manuscripts containing the Gregorian mass proper (ninth century)— may go back to the seventh century (this chant tune has also been sung in honor of other female saints; for example, St. Agatha). The Introit Salve sancta parens (its hexametric text is taken from Sedulius’s Carmen paschale, dating from the fifth century), however, is only known to exist in sources from the twelfth century onwards. It reuses the melody of the classic Epiphany introit Ecce advenit. The Gradual Benedicta et venerabilis—likewise unknown in the earliest manuscripts—belongs to a small group of pieces which share their melody with the Gradual Domine praevenisti (once sung, for example, in honor of St. John the Evangelist). Introit, Gradual, and the late Communio Beata viscera in the high Middle Ages were part of a set of chants titled for its Introit Salve sancta parens and were traditionally performed in connection with the Lady mass from Purification to Advent. Because the mass in honor of the Virgin was treated as a festival mass, an Alleluia and a sequence were always sung, even during Lent. The two Alleluias on this recording are present in manuscripts from around 1000. The sequence Nativitas Mariae virginis, on the other hand, might be dated to the thirteenth century, as it probably has its origins in a Dominican context. Its rhymed text and hymn-like melody certainly belong to the hallmarks of the later medieval style.
—Roman Hankeln

And now, we'll go a little more contemporary!

Solemn Splendor
Adoramus Vocal Ensemble
Aaron Medina, organ
Dolores August, flute
Mark Burrows, director

Adoramus is the premier resident vocal ensemble of First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. This first nationally released recording on Clarion features four world premier recordings. Adoramus has a clear and relaxed vocal sound, and has developed a national following with imaginative and popular programming.


Ave Maria—Javier Busto
Close Now Thine Eyes—Daniel Gawthrop
Notre Père—Maurice Duruflé
With Pipes of Tin and Wood—Alan Higbee *
With Cymbals Praise—Mary Feinsigner *
Svéte Tikhi—Alexksei Shipovalnikov
Ezekiel Saw De Wheel—Spiritual, arr. by Moses Hogan
The Battle of Jericho—Spiritual, arr. by Moses Hogan
Sing Me to Heaven—Daniel Gawthrop
Still, Still with Thee—Fred Gramann
At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners—Williametta Spencer
Magnificat—Robert Evans *
Nunc Dimittis—Robert Evans *
Sleep—Eric Whitaker
Quatre Motets—Maurice Duruflé
Ubi caritas
Tota pulchar es
Tu es Petrus
Tantum ergo

* World premier recordings!

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