BENEDICTUS - CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR REFLECTION AND MEDITATION (Naxos: 8.556705)
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of the Latin Mass forms part of the Sanctus. The latter marks the startof the Canon of the Mass, while the Benedictus itself may be separatedfrom the preceding sentences, to follow the Consecration. The text itself isshort and simple:
Benedictusqui venit in nomine Domini.
Blessed ishe that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna inthe highest.
It is takenfrom St Matthew's account of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, celebrated on PalmSunday, when the people welcomed him with words taken from the Psalms. Hosannato the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosannain the highest.
The Englishcomposer Thomas Tallis enjoyed a long career that began under Henry VIII andcontinued through the changes of monarchy and religion of the sixteenthcentury, ending in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who granted him, with thecomposer William Byrd, an exclusive licence to publish music. For much of hislife Tallis was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, but he had earlier, before theDissolution of the Monasteries, served as organist at Dover Priory and then atWaltham Abbey. His Mass for Four Voices is thought to date from thelater years of Henry VIII, in view of the attention paid to the clarity of words,a preoccupation of the period.
GuillaumeDufay belongs to an earlier generation. Trained at first in Cambrai, he enjoyeda career of distinction in Italy, serving the leading princely families and,for a time, the papal musical establishment, before returning to Cambrai, wherehe remained for the last part of his life, much honoured for his achievements. HisMass L'homme arme (The Armed Man) takes its title from the popularFrench song on which it relies for a cantus firmus, a melody which, inone way or another, forms the basis of its intricate counterpoint.
Aninstrumental Ballet by the German composer Michael Praetorius, scoredfor four viole da garuba and published in 1612 as part of a set of dance-piecesof French inspiration, is followed by Gregorio Allegri's famous setting of the Miserere,a work that remained the exclusive property of the papal choir and was, reputedly,copied out from memory by Mozart at the age of fourteen, after one hearing. Thework dates from the early seventeenth century and is for double choir.
The Frenchcomposer Marc-Antoine Charpentier belongs to the later years of the samecentury. While never officially employed in the Chapel Royal, he neverthelesswas favoured by Louis XIV, providing music for the Dauphin and then for othermembers of the royal family. The Agnus Dei from one of his settings ofthe Mass provides a fine example of his style of writing in a form thatinvolves instrumental accompaniment.
Thefollowing slow movement from a Concerto grosso, a concerto for a small concertino
group, contrasted with the main body of the string orchestra, by FrancescoManfredini, was published in Bologna in 1718 as part of a set of a dozen suchworks. Manfredini served as a musician at the great Basilica of San Petronio inBologna, famous for its musical establishment, before returning to his nativePistoia as director of music at the Cathedral there.
Afterchurch and court appointments, in 1723 Johann Sebastian Bach moved, after somehesitation on his own part and on that of the appointing authorities, to Leipzigto take up the position of Thomascantor, training choristers andproviding music for the principal city churches. He remained in this positionfor the rest of his life. One of his first tasks in Leipzig was to provideseries of cantatas, music for each Sunday and major feast-day in the churchyear. Jesu bleibet meine
Freude is taken from Cantata No.147,written for the Feast of the Visitation in 1723. It is better known in Englishas Jesu, joy of man's desiring. The Latin Mass remained in at leastoccasional use in the earlier years of Lutheranism. Bach's great Mass in Bminor, however, is rather a monument to his own faith than a work for practical,liturgical use. The movements of the Mass were assembled from a number ofcompositions, recent or written much earlier, during the last years of his lifeand provide a work that, through familiarity, has seemed to have a unity of itsown. The setting of the Benedictus was written between 1747 and 1749. Bach'ssettings of the Gospel narratives of the Passion were designed for performancein Holy Week. While Telemann, who held a similar position to Bach in Hamburg,wrote 46 Passion settings, one for each of his years in Hamburg, Bach wrotefour, of which two survive. O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O sacred head sorewounded) is taken from the St Matthew Passion. The excerpts hereincluded from the music of Bach end with a slow movement from a lost oboeconcerto, reconstructed from a surviving version for harpsichord and, in thecase of the present movement, taken from the instrumental introduction to acantata.
For much ofhis life Mozart was, like his father, in the service of the Archbishops ofSalzburg. In his search for a position that might give him greater opportunities,he resigned in 1777 from his post as concertmaster and set out on a journeythat took him to Augsburg, Munich, Mannheim and finally Paris. Whatever effectthe music he heard and the musicians he met may have had on his own writing, hefound nothing to his advantage and his father was obliged to pacify theArchbishop and arrange for his son's return, now as court organist. Hisso-called Coronation Mass, from which the Benedictus is here included,was written in March 1779 and intended, it seems, to mark the commemoration ofthe crowning of a statue of the Blessed Virgin near Salzburg. By 1781 Mozarthad won his freedom, endangering his father and sister by quarrelling with theArchbishop during the course of a visit to Vienna and taking lodgings thereafterwith friends from Mannheim, the Webers, whose penniless second daughter he wassoon to marry Vienna brought challenges and opportunities. Mozart wrote some ofhis greatest music, but could never earn enough to satisfy his needs and thoseof his family. By 1791 matters seemed likely to change for the better, but hetook ill in November that year and died in early December, leaving the Requiem
that he had been comissioned to write to be finished by his pupil S??ssmayr. Thesetting of the Benedictus was provided by the latter, working, presumably,on sketches or ideas provided by Mozart.
Handel'sgreat English oratorio Messiah was first performed in Dublin in 1742 andafter its later performance in London took its place at the heart of Englishchoral tradition. In its three parts it provides an ambitious conspectus ofChristianity. The instrumental Pila, indicating the shepherd pipe, is apastoral movement, suggesting the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem at thetime of the birth of Christ.
While theremay have been elements of Italianate opera in Handel's oratorios, it was leftto Verdi to provide the most operatic and dramatic of all liturgical settingsin his Requiem. The work had its origin in Verdi's unsuccessful attemptto arrange a composite tribute, with music from leading Italian composers, to markthe death of Rossini in 1868. He was able to make use of his own work for thiswhen, in 1874, he was persuaded by his publishers to