PALESTRINA: Missa L'homme arme / CAVAZZONI: Ricercari (Bologna Cappella Musicale di St Petronio/ Sergio Vartolo/ Sergio Vartolo) (Naxos: 8.553315)
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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/6-1594)
Missa L'homme armé (a 5 voci)
Girolamo Cavazzoni (c. 1525-after 1577): Ricercari
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina occupies an unrivalled position in the history of music and in particular in Catholic church music. His style of counterpoint, taken as a model for imitation by later generations, epitomized the aesthetic aims of the Counter-Reformation, the perfection of the stile antico, and has had an even wider influence as an essential element in the traditional teaching of compositional technique.
Palestrina, his name taken from his presumed place of birth in 1525 or 1526, spent the greater part of his life in the nearby city of Rome. His early training was as a chorister at the basilica of S Maria Maggiore, where he had a chance to learn something of the current Franco-Flemish musical tradition at first hand. By 1544 he was serving as organist in Palestrina but in 1551 he returned to Rome, through the agency of Pope Julius III, previously Bishop of Palestrina. Here he was appointed director of music at the Cappella Giulia at St Peter's, established by Pope Julius II. His first book of Masses was published in 1554, with a dedication to the Pope Julius III, and the following year he joined the Cappella Sistina, but the death of the Pope and three weeks later of his successor Pope Marcellus was followed by the enforcement of the rule of celibacy for members of the Sistine Chapel, under the rule of Pope Paul IV, and Palestrina's dismissal, with other married members of the chapel. He now became maestro di cappella of St John Lateran, retaining his position until his resignation in 1560. A period of employment at S Maria Maggiore followed, with the opportunity to undertake further work in the service of Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este and to enhance still further his reputation as a composer. From 1571 until his death in 1594 he was again at the Cappella Giulia, remaining there in spite of attempts by other patrons to induce him to enter their service.
The Council of Trent, assembled in 1545 to bring about a reformation of ecclesiastical and liturgical practice, reflected common humanist aims in its insistence on the clarity of words in liturgical music. In popular legend Palestrina has been credited with saving polyphony, against its opponents in the Council who favoured plainchant, by his composition of the Missa Papae Marcelli. Whatever the truth of the story, the Mass certainly demonstrates the possibility of intelligibility of the familiar words in liturgical music in more florid styles. His knowledge of and interest in the traditional plainchant of the Church is exemplified in the task he undertook in 1577 of revising the chant of the Graduale Romanum and the Antiphonale, work that he left unfinished at his death.
The fifteenth-century secular song L 'homme arme had particularly wide currency over a period from the middle of the fifteenth century until the early seventeenth century as a cantus firmus for polyphonic elaboration, from Dufay, Ockeghem and Busnois to Carissimi. The song itself may be taken as possibly suggesting the exigencies of a crusade:
L ' homme arme doibt on doubter
On a fait partout crier
Que chascun se viegne armer,
d'un haubregon defer
(The armed man must be feared,
It has been declared everywhere
That each should arm himself
with a hauberk of mail)
Palestrina made use of the song twice in his Mass settings, the earlier of which, the present work for five voices, was included in his third volume of Masses, published in 1570, to be followed in the fourth collection of 1582 by a four-voice treatment of the same cantus firmus (Naxos 8.553314). The Mass of 1570 was later taken as an example for detailed analysis by the Italian theorist Pietro Cerone in his voluminous Spanish treatise on contemporary polyphonic practice, El melopeo, published in Naples in 1613.
Palestrina's five-voice setting of the Mass, based on L'homme anne, uses the mixolydian mode, the natural scale starting on sol (= G). In the opening Kyrie eleison the characteristic upward fourth of the song is heard first in the alto, then in the first tenor, the soprano and the bass. It makes its true entry, however, in the second tenor part in augmentation, its note-values considerably extended The Christe eleison makes use of the second element in the melody, a descending and ascending interval of a fifth, heard first in the bass, then the first tenor, alto and soprano, with the true, augmented version left once more to the second tenor. Continuing elements of the song then appear, in the next Kyrie in the first tenor, soprano, alto and bass, with the second tenor now introducing the cantus firmus in diminution, its note-values halved.
The Gloria again introduces the opening of the song from the first tenor, followed by the soprano, alto and bass, each voice extending the characteristic opening figure, to be treated imitatively by the other voices. Once again it is the second tenor that is allowed augmented version of the unchanged theme, a procedure that is followed through the movement.
The Credo again starts with the characteristic opening intervals of the cantus firmus, introduced by the bass, followed by alto, first tenor and soprano, before the greatly augmented version of the song appears in the second tenor. Some of the parts allow a descending fifth or fourth to colour the word descendit at descendit de caelis (he came down from Heaven) and in the passage from Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, (he was crucified also) to cujus regni non erit finis (whose kingdom shall have no end) the second tenor is silent. The following section, Et in Spiritum Sanctum (and in the Holy Spirit) is again in five parts, with the second tenor immediately providing the cantus firmus and concluding it with the final Amen.
The shorter text of the Sanctus calls for a lesser degree of prolongation of notes in the second tenor part, while the soprano seems about to provide the cantus firmus first, before following alto, first tenor and bass in imitation of a figure based on the ascending scale. The section starting Pleni sunt caeli (The Heavens are full) is reduced to the four upper parts, with the bass silent and the second tenor again proposing the cantus firmus in longer note-values. Hosanna in excelsis (Hosanna in the highest) allows the bass, entering with the first tenor, to quote the exact opening of the song, the two voices imitated at a transposed interval, before the second tenor ushers in l'homme armé in its original form. The Benedictus is for four voices, without the second tenor.
In the Agnus Dei the opening of the now very familiar cantus firmus, appears in the first tenor, soprano and alto, before the second tenor offers it in truer form, after which the bass enters. The final Agnus Dei calls for six voices, two sopranos, alto, two tenors and bass, with the second tenor reverting to the cantus firmus in augmentation, bringing to an end a tour de force of strict polyphony, faultlessly conceived and infinitely varied, within the limitations of the form.
Girolamo Cavazzoni, whose four Ricercari are here included, was born about the year 1525, perhaps in Padua, where his father, Marco Antonio Cavazzoni, had then followed his patron, the poet and humanist Pietro Bembo, created cardinal in 1539, but some have placed his birth, probably err