Organ Vespers for Candlemas Eve

Eve of the Presentation/Purification
2016.01.05 · 19.30
St Austin Catholic Parish

     Verset on ‘Ave maris stella’   Louis Couperin
office hymn
     Ave maris stella
     Organ versets   Christian Erbach
magnificat   Tone I
     Organ versets   Heinrich Scheidemann
     Tiento 1º tono partido de mano derecha
     sobre el Imno Ave maris stella   Joan Cabanilles

Schola Aliquando and I will present First Vespers of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also kept as the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple) at St Austin Catholic Parish. The proper chants are beautiful, and the feast day is rich with layers of symbolic meaning. Please join us.

Louis Couperin (ca 1626–1661), uncle of François ‘le grand’, rose from relative obscurity to become a prominent musician at church and court in Paris. Though Couperin, long considered one of the greatest and most influential composers for the harpsichord, was known to have written for the organ, his works for the latter instrument were believed to be lost until the 1950s, when a manuscript containing 70 of his organ pieces written in the 1650s came to light. Once these works were published at the end of the century, Couperin began to be recognized as an even more important composer than was previously realized and the originator of many of the genres that became standard in the great flowering of French organ music in the decades following his death. Tonight’s work is in one of the basic chant-based forms: the melody presented as a cantus planus (i.e., in long equal notes) in the pedal, with a polyphonic accompaniment on the full organ played by the hands.

Sebastian Anton Scherer (1631–1712) was organist of Ulm Münster. The composer of sacred and secular vocal music and chamber instrumental works, he also in 1664 produced a volume of toccatas for the organ and sets of very attractive Italianate intonations for all eight church modes. Each of the latter consists of four short pieces, the first a pedal-point toccata, the second and fourth canzonettas, and the third very like Frescobaldi’s and Froberger’s toccatas for the elevation of the Host at Mass. Tonight we draw from the two types of toccata in the appropriate modes to introduce the Psalms and Magnificat.

Christian Erbach (ca 1570–1635) held several prominent positions at Augsburg, where he followed Hans Leo Haßler as city organist. He was highly regarded as a teacher and organ consultant in addition to his stature as a composer of vocal and keyboard works, the latter of which include some chant-based versets for Vespers. His versets on ‘Ave maris stella’ use a mixture of chordal, imitative, and coloratura writing in a style not unlike music of the period for lute or stringed keyboard instruments.

Heinrich Scheidemann (ca 1595–1663) was one of several North German organists of his generation to study with the famous Sweelinck in Amsterdam; he then returned to Hamburg, where he served St Catherine’s Church for thirty years until his death, leaving behind a number of sets of hymn- and Magnificat-versets, as well as hymn-fantasias, free works, and organ arrangements of vocal motets.

Like those of other North German composers, Scheidemann’s Magnificat sets contain fewer verses than are needed for strict verse-by-verse alternation with the sung chant; the organ verses may have replaced only certain sung verses, or been interspersed as interludes among groups of verses (as tonight), or been used in a three-way rotation with sung chant and vocal-instrumental settings. The present set demonstrates several typical techniques: the first verse presents the chant tone as a cantus planus in the tenor voice; the second features a coloratura treble solo over counterpoint based on fragments of the chant tone, followed by a passage of echoes between the two manuals over the second half of the chant tone in the pedal, and finally a cadential coda with cascading figures in the solo voice; the third verse is a more straightforward and austerely beautiful piece of four-voice counterpoint based on the chant tone; and the last, for manuals alone, again treats the tone as a cantus planus, accompanied for its first half by only one other voice, and then in its second half by two voices for a fuller and quite satisfying conclusion.

Joan (Juan) Cabanilles (1644–1712) was the last master of antique Spanish organ music. He spent most of his career as organist of the cathedral in his native Valencia but was apparently well known in France, where he traveled and played several times. Tiento, roughly corresponding to the term Fantasia used elsewhere, was the name given to most Spanish organ works of the period of whatever form or style, and Cabanilles’s vast œuvre certainly runs the gamut from serene sixteenth-century-style polyphony to works pushing the boundaries of formal techniques, length, and temperament.

The present work is formally a coloratura fantasia, a typical instrumental genre of the period cultivated also at the keyboard, especially in Spain, where, though many organs had only one manual and no pedals, most of the stops were divided, allowing for solo and accompaniment to be played on the same keyboard. In this style, each musical paragraph begins with imitative entries in the accompanimental voices, which then proceed in a less strict fashion once the solo voice enters; in this work, each paragraph is based upon a succeeding phrase of the hymn melody. The piece then shifts into another gear with a jig-like figure, enlivened further with some cross-rhythm phrases and further ornamentation.