Organ Vespers for Eastertide

Monday in the V. Week of Easter
2015.05.04 · 19.30
St Austin Catholic Parish

     Fantasia I. Toni   Christ Church MS 89
office hymn
     Ad cenam Agni providi
     Organ versets   Jehan Titelouze
magnificat   Tone VII
     Organ versets   Jehan Titelouze
     Fantaisie sur le Regina coeli   Charles Raquet

This service will feature rare and beautiful survivals from early seventeenth-century France. We look forward to presenting this magisterial music in its native liturgical context.

Jehan Titelouze (ca 1562–1633) was an organist, composer, and organ consultant whose works – Hymnes de l’Église pour toucher sur l’orgue, avec les fugues et recherches sur leur plain-chant [1623, 1624], and Le Magnificat ou Cantique de la Vierge pour toucher sur l’orgue suivant les huit tons de l’Église [1626], are nearly the only surviving, and by far the most important, organ music from France in his era. As their titles suggest, they are entirely liturgical, consisting of sets of verses to be played in alternation with sung verses of the hymns and canticles at Vespers and Lauds. For the most part they adhere closely to the Renaissance vocal style. The hymn-versets are based closely upon the chant melodies, and tonight’s are typical: in the first verset, the chant, in the lowest voice, is played as a cantus planus (long notes in undifferentiated rhythm) on a trumpet stop in the pedal with accompaniment on the full organ; in the second and third, fugue subjects are clearly derived from the chant melody; in the fourth (perhaps the most elaborate of all his hymn-versets) the chant, in long notes, migrates from one voice to another (tenor–soprano–tenor–alto) against a contrapuntal backdrop (alternating imitative and free sections) that gets more and more animated before ending in a blaze of sixteenth notes.

The Magnificat-versets are less closely tied to the chant, which in the case of the canticles is only a reciting formula, not a melody as such. These works are purposely shorter and easier, and in some cases they are more forward-looking in style, though the familiar four-voiced polyphonic texture is rarely departed from. The present cycle contains one of the notable exceptions: the verset on ‘Suscepit Israel’ is in three voices only, quickly abandoning the customary imitative texture of the opening for a three-way dialogue with running figures; a short triple-time section; and then a presentation of the second half of the reciting formula in long notes. If Titelouze’s Magnificat-versets are not so closely tied to the chant melodies as those of some other composers, their fugue subjects, on the other hand, are constructed with the prosody of the text in mind (which has guided their articulation in tonight’s presentation), showing how fully Titelouze thought in terms of vocal music.

One of the few other French organ works from the period, discovered in 1929 in Mersenne’s own copy of his Traité de l’harmonie universelle [1636], is a single Fantasie on ‘Regina caeli’ by Charles Racquet (1597–1664), written at Mersenne’s request ‘to show what could be done at the organ’. Racquet came from a family of Parisian organists and was organist of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1618; in addition to being a close friend of the aforementioned famous Jesuit scholar and theorist, he also served as musician to Marie de’ Medici and Anne d’Autriche, the Queen Mother. The Fantaisie shows the influence of the Anglo-Dutch school (particularly of Sweelinck) and falls into several clear sections: 1) imitative counterpoint with several countersubjects; 2) imitative counterpoint on an ornamented version of the subject, with faster counterpoints; 3) subject as a cantus planus, stated once in each voice with free counterpoint; 4) a bicinium (two-voice texture in which the cantus planus in one voice is accompanied by faster figuration in the other) building into a four-voice texture; 5) a toccata above a pedal point. Nothing else like it is known from France.

The manuscript now known as Christ Church [Oxford] MS 89 was probably written in the Catholic Netherlands around 1620, possibly by an English exile. It contains a large quantity of mostly short, anonymous versets for the Mass and Office as well as intonations and longer fantasias. Some works are by named composers of the Anglo-Dutch school such as Gibbons, Cornet, and Philips; others, like the fantasia played tonight, are transmitted anonymously and are probably more typical of the kind of music routinely played at the time. Simple subjects, closely spaced and identical entries on the final and dominant, and the gradual abandonment of imitative writing in favor of figuration in parallel thirds, sixths, and tenths demonstrate the closeness of this piece to improvisational techniques; the cumulative rhythm gives it a sense of motion toward a satisfying conclusion.

Giovanni Gabrieli (ca 1554–1612), known mainly as a composer of sacred vocal-instrumental works in the polychoral style which he brought to full flower and which took Europe by storm, was employed as the principal organist of St Mark’s Basilica and another institution in Venice and left several works for the instrument, including a set of brief intonations on the various modes.