Organ Vespers for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Holy Cross
2015.09.14 · 19.30
St Austin Catholic Parish

     Tiento del 2º Tono   Santonio de Cabezón
office hymn
     Vexilla regis prodeunt
     Organ versets   Christ Church MS 89
magnificat   Tone I
     Organ versets   A. Gabrieli, Girolamo Cavazzoni
     A Fancie  bk 46   William Byrd

Schola Aliquando and I will present Organ Vespers for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The proper chants, including the hymn ‘Vexilla regis prodeunt’, are beautiful, and the feast day is rich with layers of history and symbolic meaning. Please join us.

Antonio de Cabezón (1510–1566) was the pre-eminent Iberian organist of his generation. Appointed Organist to the chapel of Queen Isabella while still a teenager, he remained in royal service for the rest of his life, traveling with Felipe II’s court to Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and finally to England for the marriage of Felipe and his cousin Mary Tudor (during which time Byrd may have been a chorister in the Chapel Royal and student of Tallis). Tiento was the name given in Spanish to any keyboard work not based on an existing melody or dance form; in this period, most of them display the prevailing imitative-contrapuntal techniques of vocal music, interspersed with varying amounts of nonimitative writing and passagework. Tonight’s work is a late one in Cabezón’s output and is more thematically and stylistically unified than some others, with a main subject appearing through much of the piece, treated imitatively and then accompanied by faster figuration; two other themes emerge towards the end of the piece along with many rich harmonies encountered in passing.

William Byrd is still best known today as a choral composer, one of the finest of his generation anywhere in Europe. But he also wrote a large quantity of keyboard music, also of very high quality, and indeed was first employed (1563–1572) as Organist and Master of the Choristers in the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, though most of his keyboard music probably dates from the 1580s. The present piece is found in a very carefully prepared manuscript known as ‘My Ladye Nevells Booke’, completed by its copyist on 11 September 1591, and is a fine example of the English keyboard fantasia, of which Byrd was a pioneer: a genre encompassing imitative counterpoint, madrigal- and dance-like writing, and more – indeed, whatever struck the composer’s fancy. Though this music may have been intended most immediately for, and played most often on, stringed keyboard instruments, Byrd’s music was influential in the Netherlands, whither it was transmitted by English Catholics in exile, including his student Peter Philips, and was probably played on the organ, large examples of which were to be found on the Continent.

Little is known of the life of Girolamo Cavazzoni (ca 1525—after 1577), other than that he worked at Venice and Mantua and published two collections of organ music before about 1549. He established the forms of imitative ricercars and canzonas which were to remain mainstays of Italian (and much other) keyboard music for a long time to come, but most of his music is liturgical. Here too he was somewhat pioneering in the freedom with which he treated the chant melodies. In his Magnificat cycles, we see the chant tone forming the basis for a highly varied series of subjects for elaboration, much like those of Titelouze (whose music was featured at our last Organ Vespers) nearly a hundred years later; also like the later French master, Cavazzoni reveals himself as a fine contrapuntalist, the equal in his own way and his own milieu of many a more famous vocal composer of his era.

Andrea Gabrieli (1532/33–1585), second organist of St Mark’s in Venice from 1566, is best known as the main developer of the polychoral style that became a primary musical texture of the early Baroque, but he also claimed the largest keyboard output in Italy prior to Frescobaldi. His nephew Giovanni Gabrieli (ca 1554–1612), who brought the polychoral style to full flower, was later employed as the principal organist of St Mark’s and left a few works for the instrument. The intonations played tonight are typical: simple chord progressions elaborated with a few runs and ornaments, setting the pitch and mode for the succeeding piece of music. Antonio Valente (fl. 1565–1580) published two collections of keyboard music at Naples in 1575 and 1580, the second of which, Versi spirituali, was one of the earliest collections of short pieces intended for the liturgy (arranged in the various church modes) not explicitly based upon chant melodies: a genre that was to become much more prominent in the second third of the next century.

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 versets for the Mass and Office as well as intonations and longer fantasias; though some works are by named composers of the Anglo-Dutch school such as Gibbons, Cornet, and Philips, most are transmitted anonymously and, clearly relying on improvisatory techniques, are probably more typical of the kind of music routinely played in services at the time.