WILLAERT: Missa Christus resurgens / Magnificat / Ave Maria

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Adrian Willaert (c. 1490 - 1562) Jean Richafort (c. 1480 - c. 1547)

Our good his grace gave us in our time Adriano Willaerrt [sic],truly one of the rarest intellects ever to have practised music, who, in themanner of a new pythagoras, studying minutely everything that can occur [inmusic] and discovering an infinite number of errors, has begun to remove them toraise it to that honour and dignity which was once hers.

Gioseffo Zarlino

[Willaert's motets] are not like the harmonies of this said new manner [nuovamaniera] composed by these novel composers: mournful, lugubrious,disconsolate and without beautiful melody at all.

Ghiselin Danckerts

Of all composers of the first half of the sixteenth century, Adrian Willaertis perhaps the most appreciated by contemporary composers and theorists such asZarlino and Danckerts. Occupying for 35 years one of the central positions inthe musical life of Northern Italy, that of maestro di cappella at StMark's, Venice, Willaert made significant contributions to the development ofvocal music both sacred and secular. Not only that, but he was a renownedtheorist and teacher, numbering many of the most important figures of the time -including Cipriano de Rore and Andrea Gabrieli - amongst his pupils.

Neither Willaert's date nor place of birth is known for certain, though thelatter is claimed by contemporary writers as both Bruges and Roulaers. The datecan be inferred from the fact that he was by 1515 a singer in the service ofCardinal Ippolito I d'Este, brother of the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este. Heleft the d'Este family only in 1527 when he was appointed to St Mark's.

Willaert's pupil and greatest enthusiast Zarlino credited him with the inventionduring his years at St Mark's of the famous cori spezzati technique ofdouble- (and later poly-) choral writing. The discovery by modern scholars ofexamples from earlier in the sixteenth century has shown this claim to beinaccurate, but it is undeniably the case that Willaert's double-choir psalmsettings (some written in collaboration with Jacquet of Mantua) are seminal tothe style. In addition to his contemporary pre-eminence in sacred music,Willaert was simultaneously at the forefront of developments in the emergingsecular form of the madrigal. This is not the place for a discussion ofdevelopments in secular music; Alfred Einstein's opinion, expressed in hispioneering 1949 study The Italian Madrigal will suffice.

"To call Willaert the creator of the madrigal would be as absurd as todeny that he played an important part in the creation of the genre...AdrianWillaertsurely belongs in the company of Verdelot, Festa and Arcadelt."

Finally, an illustration of Willaert's advanced knowledge of contemporarycompositional and notational debate gives us an idea both of the esteem in whichhe was held and of the extent to which he expanded the boundaries of musicalpossibility. The quartet Quid non ebrietas, a setting of a drinking-songwritten around 1518, appears from its notation to end on a seventh. Owing,however to a process of modulation into successively flatter hexachords, thefinal interval in fact turns out to be an octave (strictly an augmentedseventh). As Karol Berger has pointed out, this conceit can be resolvedsuccessfully only by a musician thinking in terms of a flat sign as aninflection (as we do now) rather than as an indication of where in the gamut(the system of hexachords devised by Guido d' Arezzo around AD 1000) a noteoccurs. Obscure as this distinction may seem to us 480 years later, it isnotable that contemporary musicians had problems with it as well: writing in1524 about Quid non ebrietas, another theorist, Giovanni Spataro,observes that "the Pope's singers were never capable of performing it; itwas then played on viols, but not very well".

An inspection of Willaert's treatment of his model in this parody Mass givesus some insight into both the ambitions of the two composers and the degree towhich these were achieved. Richafort's Christus resurgens is far fromunusual in form for a motet of the post-Josquin era in its working through of asuccession of largely unrelated polyphonic motifs. As is frequently also thecase, its two sections are linked by means of a shared ending: the words vivitDeo, Allelluia, which bring the motet's first section to a close arerepeated at the end of the piece and are set almost identically, beginning witha striking homophonic passsage. Aside from the opening phrase of the motet - asone would expect in a setting of a text such as Christus resurgens, thisis an upward leaping figure - this burst of homophony is the major feature ofinterest, and not surprisingly these two motifs are the ones most often includedby Willaert in his Mass setting. Two further points draw themselves to one'sattention. first, Richafort makes no attempt to move outside the mode - allcadences are on F or C Second, the part writing contains several moments which,although not noticeably jarring in performance, might well have been frownedupon by contemporary theorists such as the same Zarlino who praised Willaert sohighly The first page of music contains several instances of consecutivesevenths and ninths, for example.

The Mass which is named after Richafort's motet is standard, evenpunctilious, in its practice of beginning each of its five movements withRichafort's opening material; it also, as mentioned earlier, makes reference ontwo occasions to the homophonic material used later in the motet. Apart fromthis, however, the Mass is very largely freshly composed; it is true that the Gloriaand Credo, whose long texts favour a syllabic style as used in themodel, feature two or three other motifs which occur in the motet, but ingeneral these are musical commonplaces (the descending scale which opens themotet's second section, and which Willaert uses at Qui tollis peccata mundi inthe Gloria, is a case in point) and furthermore, they are liberallyinterspersed with Willaert's own material. The later and more melismaticmovements are almost entirely freely composed.

Even when Willaert does use Richafort's original, he takes only the smallestsections before modifying the material to suit his own more fluid style. Theopening motif (only two bars of which are ever used), and the modifications towhich it is later subjected are themselves heavily varied from movement tomovement. So far as the homophonic passage is concerned, it is also restrictedto two bars, eschewing Richafort's fanfare-like figuration after the blockchords. In the Gloria it is used not at the cum sancto spiritu, whereone might have expected it to provide a climactic finale to the movement, but atthe structurally important but less triumphal agnus Dei, filius patris, whereRichafort's fanfares are replaced by an altogether more mellifluous ending tothe section. At every turn we see Willaert amply justifying his superiorreputation by improving on his original.

Oxford Camerata

The Oxford Camerata was formed in order to meet the growing demand for choralgroups specialising in music from the Renaissance era. It has since expanded itsrepertoire to include music from the medieval period to the present day usinginstrumentalists where necessary. The Camerata has made a variety of recordingsfor Naxos spanning the music of nine centuries and in 1995 was awarded aEuropean Cultural Prize.

Jeremy Summerly

Item number 8553211
Barcode 730099421126
Release date 01/01/2000
Category Renaissance
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Willaert, Adrian
Willaert, Adrian
Conductors Summerly, Jeremy
Summerly, Jeremy
Orchestras Camerata, Oxford
Camerata, Oxford
Disc: 1
Ave Maria
1 Christus resurgens (Richafort)
2 Kyrie
3 Gloria
4 Credo
5 Sanctus
6 Agnus Dei
7 Magnificat sexti toni
8 Ave Maria
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