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before Palestrina and Tallis

Is, in your opinion, the presence in choral repertoire of Motets and
Masses written before 1520 adequate to their importance in the history of
music? (1520, including the works of Josquin, Isaac and de la Rue, seems
good as a conventional date)
Here, in a recent sacred music concert with 8 local Choirs ( each one
performed 2-3 compositions), 2 Choirs included music written before 1520,
in one case the Motet "Alma Redemptoris Mater" by Ockeghem, in the other
"Ave Maria...Virgo serena" by Josquin. In the italian context this number
is not low, but the impression that this music might have a higher presence
in choral concerts remains, considering its importance (and its beauty).
Arrigo Lupo (Pisa, Italy)
arlub(a)libero.it




on June 2, 2002 9:59am
> Is, in your opinion, the presence in choral repertoire of Motets and
>Masses written before 1520 adequate to their importance in the history of
>music? (1520, including the works of Josquin, Isaac and de la Rue, seems
>good as a conventional date)
> Here, in a recent sacred music concert with 8 local Choirs ( each one
>performed 2-3 compositions), 2 Choirs included music written before 1520,
>in one case the Motet "Alma Redemptoris Mater" by Ockeghem, in the other
>"Ave Maria...Virgo serena" by Josquin. In the italian context this number
>is not low, but the impression that this music might have a higher presence
>in choral concerts remains, considering its importance (and its beauty).
> Arrigo Lupo (Pisa, Italy)
> arlub(a)libero.it

Well, Tallis and Palestrina were of different generations, of course, and
more importantly worked in very different circumstances, but I do
appreciate what you're asking.

While Palestrina's style was certainly a later development of the style
established by Josquin's generation, they are very, very different. I
personally prefer the melodic inventiveness and more open textures of
composers from DuFay through Josquin, and among the composers of
Palestrina's generation working in the Counter-Reformation styles, I much
prefer Victoria and Lasso to Palestrina. We must not forget that
Palestrina's "fame" is the artificial fame bestowed by music theorists, who
kept his name alive through the centuries after his death and made his
personal "style" into a set of artificial rules that were not necessarily
followed by all contemporary composers.

There is also the post-Josquin generation of composers, still mainly
trained in northern Europe and responsible for music just as beautiful and
moving as that of Josquin or Palestrina, which Allan Atlas calls the "lost
generation" because music history classes tend to jump from Josquin to
Palestrina without touching down in between.

In the USA you will be most likely to hear performances of the Masses and
motets of c. 1420-c. 1520 in graduate choral conducting recitals and
established ensemble performances by choral ensembles at large shools of
music with numerous choral ensembles, professional faculty conductors, and
an active D.M.A. or Ph.D program in choral conducting. This music is
definitely not neglected, although it may be less likely to appear on the
programs of professional touring ensembles. The former situation is one of
actively wanting to explore music that has been talked about and studied in
music history and literature classes. The latter is one of wanting to
appeal to what the general audience knows and recognizes. The same is
true, of course in Baroque music. The early Baroque music of the 17th
century tends to be neglected for the high Baroque music of Bach's
generation.

John


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html


on June 2, 2002 12:21pm
Dear Arrigo,

In a message dated 6/2/02 12:37:50 PM, arlub(a)libero.it writes:

>Is, in your opinion, the presence in choral repertoire of Motets and
>
>Masses written before 1520 adequate to their importance in the history
>of
>
>music? (1520, including the works of Josquin, Isaac and de la Rue, seems
>
>good as a conventional date)

The simple answer in my experience as a recording producer who hears *a lot*
of choral music is "no." I assume that the reasons lie in the relatively
limited choral education and experience of our (US-based) choral directors in
early music; that the prevailing opinion is that today one must be
"historically informed" to sing early music, and that most directors feel
that they are not; and that the further back you go, the further the music is
away from "comfortable and familiar" styles to both the director, the chorus,
and the audience. I'm sure there are other reasons as well--like
polyphonically conceived music is harder to pull off than homophonic. It's
rare in my experience to even hear much Baroque period music, let alone
Mediaeval and Renaissance (with the exception of Monteverdi and maybe
Palestrina). It's too bad that the roots of great choral literature are not
being sung or heard except by the specialist choruses (and thank goodness for
them). Fortunately, I produce Chanticleer's recordings--so I get lots of
great early music--but they are in the minority as far as I can tell.

I'll be curious what other reactions you get. I hope that I am wrong in my
impression of what is being performed in the States at least.

Best wishes,
Steve

Steve Barnett
Composer/Arranger/Producer
Barnett Music Productions
BarMusProd(a)aol.com

on June 2, 2002 7:10pm
Steve,

My advice is to make an extended visit to NYC. I just left there after
spending the last 16 years there performing recitals, opera and oratorio, and
singing in church choirs, and many church choirs there do little else. In
fact, I found the situation there bordering on the absurd. NYC is chock full
or professional singers with full, vibrant voices and who have church jobs
but wind up having to practically sing "with one vocal cord" because of the
demands of the repertoire and some of the conductors, or are without jobs
because most of the conductors are doing early music and want only small
voices with no vibrato, or because there aren't enough with the right voices,
spend much of their time berating their singers.

I agree that perhaps many directors may be somewhat inhibited by the
historical stylistic requirements, but I think the lack of performance of
music from that period is probably more a result of lack of the proper
acoustics in most churches and auditoriums, and the lack of interest of many
congregations, audiences and singers in hearing or performing a lot of that
music. With the right conductor, singers and acoustic, much of that music is
stunning, but how often does one find all those factors? I don't believe a
steady diet of that and nothing else meets the needs of any congregation in
any church setting, nor does it meet the needs or interests of many
choristers. Just like singing too much heavy Verdi and verismo can make
one's voice inflexible, singing too much straight-toned music, can limit
one's vocal development and range.

With music education so spotty in this country, I see even less of that genre
of music performed in the future, except for large cities perhaps like New
York.

Regards,

Craig Collins
ccoll67202(a)aol.com

on June 3, 2002 8:39am
Dear Craig,

In a message dated 6/3/02 6:14:22 AM, CColl67202(a)aol.com writes:

>Steve,
>
>My advice is to make an extended visit to NYC. I just left there after
>
>spending the last 16 years there performing recitals, opera and oratorio,
>and
>singing in church choirs, and many church choirs there do little else.

I do get to New York pretty often and I am also aware of what goes on there
via the Times and other sources. But I think that this gentleman was asking a
general question about choral neglect of pre-Josquin. New York, Boston,
Chicago, and even the Twin Cities where I live, I think are exceptions--and I
hope that I am wrong. In general, in my experience, choral programming
certainly at the high school level and even at the college level, many choral
singers are never given the opportunity to sing this repertoire (let alone
hear it or even be aware of it unless they are taking music history). Yes, I
know there are smaller specialty groups like madrigal singers, or early music
groups at educational institutions that do get into that repertoire, but
generally speaking, the choral singer is not given the opportunity to sing
great music from the pre-Josquin period. That was the point I was trying to
make. But I was just speaking from my personal experience and I hope that I
am mistaken.

Thank you for writing.

Best wishes,
Steve

Steve Barnett
Composer/Arranger/Producer
Barnett Music Productions
BarMusProd(a)aol.com

on June 3, 2002 10:48am
Craig Collins wrote:
>
> NYC is chock full
>or professional singers with full, vibrant voices and who have church jobs
>but wind up having to practically sing "with one vocal cord" because of the
>demands of the repertoire and some of the conductors, or are without jobs
>because most of the conductors are doing early music and want only small
>voices with no vibrato, or because there aren't enough with the right voices,
>spend much of their time berating their singers.
>
>Just like singing too much heavy Verdi and verismo can make
>one's voice inflexible, singing too much straight-toned music, can limit
>one's vocal development and range.

I certainly sympathize with Craig. He must have a voice that is
naturally--or has been carefully trained to be--more suitable for opera and
oratorio than for vocal chamber music. But perhaps blaming the conductors
for not providing enough work for an oversupply of operatic singers isn't
the most productive way to change the situation. I'm sure there are a much
larger number of aspiring actors in NYC who complain just as much that
producers aren't providing suitable opportunities for them to perform.
It's called the market place, and supply and demand will always rule. (So
why do our music schools continue to graduate several thousand operatically
trained sopranos every year, when maybe 10 of them have a chance at rising
above the entry level in opera?)

A bigger problem, to me, is the simple fact that the choral ensemble of
today is NOT the same musical instrument as the choral ensemble for which
pre-1520 (and much later as well) music was conceived. The words "altus"
or "alto" mean "high," and those parts were intended for male
countertenors. Most female contraltos don't have either the range or the
sound quality that is required. "Superius" or "soprano" parts were also
conceived for male singers, either adult males with a well-developed
countertenor head voice or choirboys (whose voices apparently did not
change until they were 16 or 17 years old). The use of castratos was
limited, as was the supply, but there must have been a few of those as
well. In Josquin's sacred music it is very evident when he was writing for
boy trebles and when for men. In the former case there is usually a
definite sonic space between the treble tessitura and the altus tessitura,
and the boys are written in a range where they can float freely and easily
compared with either a male or female soprano. In the latter case the
superius is often grouped with the other voices in a lower range.

Every human voice is different. No matter what the style a producer or
conductor prefers, she can find singers who can produce it. When someone
asked Robert Shaw how he managed to get the particular soprano sound that
characterized his choirs, he answered, "I hire them." When singers are
trained ONLY to sing with maximum power and free vibrato for the operatic
and oratorio literature, and not ALSO taught to produce the other kinds of
sounds their voices are probably capable of, their teachers have limited
their range of employment, no question about it. And that can be just fine
once you become famous in your one style, but it is certainly a
disadvantage when you are actively searching for gigs, and the gigs that
are available call for a different kind of voice.

Best of luck, Craig, and keep your standards high until the world starts to
recognize your talent!

John


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html


on June 3, 2002 4:28pm

--- John Howell wrote:
> A bigger problem, to me, is the simple fact that th
> choral ensemble of
> today is NOT the same musical instrument as the
> choral ensemble for which
> pre-1520 (and much later as well) music was
> conceived.
John,

That is an interesting observation. What, if
anything, can modern day choruses do to fix this?
Nick

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on June 4, 2002 8:19am
Steve Barnett writes:
...I think that
> this gentleman was asking a
> general question about choral neglect of
> pre-Josquin....
I agree that this is a fascinating and worthwhile
period. However, for many, the amount of scholarship
required (vocal tone? music ficta? provenance of
performance materials? pitch level? gender of singers
for upper vocal parts? et cetera ad almost infinitum)
can be daunting. If someone know of a good source for
quality editions, it would be good to share that with
us. Another factor is that we and our audiences in
general like our renaissance (and before) to sound
more like the common-practice period in harmonic terms
and some may find it hard to "sell" this music that
often has cadences and harmonic language that is out
of the ordinary. That's not a justification for not
programming it but is likely a reason.
Larry Minton
Heritage Singers of Fullerton



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on June 5, 2002 1:39pm
>--- John Howell wrote:
>> A bigger problem, to me, is the simple fact that th
>> choral ensemble of
>> today is NOT the same musical instrument as the
>> choral ensemble for which
>> pre-1520 (and much later as well) music was
>> conceived.

>John,
>
>That is an interesting observation. What, if
>anything, can modern day choruses do to fix this?
>Nick

The underlying problem is that there are existing choruses today--just as
there were existing choruses in 1520--and composers write for those
choruses as they stand. Makes sense both musically and commercially.
Today the typical chorus is SATB, with some church choirs or school choirs
unable to go beyond SAB. In the Renaissance the typical chorus was small
and male only, ATTB in many cases, or SATB with the alto and tenor parts
essentially covering the same range.

One approach would be to reconstruct the kind of church choir that existed
in the Renaissance, with male voices covering all parts. That approach has
been taken by Chanticleer, but would be impractical for an established
choir that already includes female altos. (I have no objection whatever to
using female sopranos on the treble parts, although they will admittedly
sound different from either boys or men, and will have difficulty floating
in the upper range from f" to a" where boys are right at home. It is the
alto parts that present the problem.) Much of the English repertoire has
been published this way.

A second approach would be to re-edit the music to fit the modern SATB
conception of high and low women and high and low men. This can be done in
two ways. One is simply to raise the pitch of the music to make the alto
parts singable by female altos, and since there was no standard pitch at
the time this is not as anachronistic as it may seem. The disadvantage is
that it puts the tenors in a higher range that is easy enough for
professionals but not for amateurs, and projects their part over the alto
part. The second is to rewrite the inner parts, usually those marked
"tenor" and "altus," giving the higher part in each phrase to the altos and
the lower part in each phrase to the tenors.

A third approach would be to program concerts such that not everyone is
expected to sing all the time, and to use the men as they would have been
used in the Renaissance with sopranos on treble parts intended for boys and
altos on treble parts intended for men. The disadvantage is that a
majority of today's male choral singers have neither the training, the
experience, or the desire to develop a head voice to cover the alto parts.

I've used all of these approaches, depending on the music and my ensemble
at the time, and also a fourth: Don't program music when you can't cover
the parts well. Everything is a compromise, including the modern tendency
to have much more pronounced vibrato than Renaissance singers would have
found acceptable. But when we can make a compromise work, the beauty of
the music makes it all worthwhile.

John


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:John.Howell(a)vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html


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