Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Hidden Messages

From The Catholic Herald:
The music speaks through Jeremiah of the Catholics’ deep grief for the lost city. White, to my ear, catches too something of the empty, haunting landscapes of the fens around Ely – a supplementary sense of a place abandoned. Stile Antico skein out the long, anguished lines, with their occasional bitter moments of false relations. It is a curious question about human responses to the arts that we can take profound pleasure from such sadness. 
There were other scriptural texts that could hardly fail to resonate with Catholics in the reign of Gloriana. The exile texts of the Old Testament linked the Hebrews far from Jerusalem with the English Catholics in an officially Protestant nation. 
Philippe de Monte, the chief sacred musician to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, had recently composed music to the words from Psalm 137, Super flumina Babylonis (“By the rivers of Babylon”), perhaps the most memorable of all the biblical exile texts. And in 1583 he sent his piece over to England to the recusant composer William Byrd, who had converted to Catholicism at some point in the 1570s. 
De Monte pointedly included the line “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Perhaps he was asking Byrd whether – living under the Queen whom Pope Pius V had in 1570 officially condemned as a heretic – he would have to hang up his harp. 
Byrd’s reply was the piece that follows de Monte’s on this recording: Quomodo cantabimus in eight voices. The exceptional contrapuntal writing of this motet, with three voices performing a canon by inversion, is not hard to hear as Byrd reassuring his questioner that would do no such thing – even though, at that very moment, his life was in danger from Protestant enemies at court. (Read more.)

No comments: