An Englishman Abroad
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About this release
Peter Philips (1560/1 – 1628) has long existed on the margins of English music. Resident in England until 1582, Philips spent the rest of his life in exile in the Netherlands. It is presumed that Philips’s Catholicism was the motivation behind this move, as Catholics were not permitted to openly practice their faith in England at the time. As many scholars have observed, the long-term neglect of Philips’s music has been partly due to his separation from England and its choral tradition. In recent years, Philips has begun to enjoy the acclaim he deserves as choirs rediscover his glorious motets. The present disc is part of this rediscovery, and marks the 450th anniversary of Philips’s birth.
Commissioned Programme Note
Peter Philips (1560/1–1628) has long existed on the margins of English music. Resident in England until 1582, Philips spent the rest of his life in exile in the Netherlands. It is presumed that Philips’s Catholicism motivated this move, as Catholics were not permitted to openly practice their faith in England at the time.
As many scholars have observed, the long-term neglect of Philips’s music has been partly due to his separation from England’s choral tradition. Byrd, also a Catholic, did not suffer the same fate: unlike Philips, Byrd also composed English- language madrigals and Anglican church music in addition to his many Latin motets. Byrd remained linked to the English musical establishment, despite his faith. Besides keyboard music, Philips remained little-known in England. In recent years, he has begun to enjoy the acclaim he deserves as choirs rediscover his glorious motets. The present disc is part of this rediscovery.
After leaving England Philips secured the position of organist at the English College in Rome, and whilst in the city, it is likely that he would have had some contact with composers such as Palestrina, Marenzio, Anerio and Victoria. Philips’s vocal music is indebted to this ‘Italian’ style of composition, and has little in common with his English contemporaries – a further reason for its neglect.
Philips resided in Rome from 1582 until 1585, when he left in the retinue of Thomas Lord Paget (another exiled English Catholic). He settled in Antwerp in 1590, teaching the keyboard and composing instrumental music. In 1597, Philips moved to Brussels to take up the position of organist at the Archducal Court of Albert and Isabella, where he remained until his death. All of his sacred vocal music was published during this period: indeed the scholar David Smith has noted that Philips’s compositional career was carefully tailored to suit his patron’s needs. Read more
The majority of his compositions on the present recording are drawn from the collection Cantiones Sacrae Quinis Vocibus 1612, which contains some of Philips’s greatest music. Within this collection, Philips displays both his natural ability to write in a conservative contrapuntal style, and with experimentation of texture and rhythm which places him more rmly within the mainstream of early 17th- Century composition.
The motets Viae Sion lugent and Pater Noster are excellent examples of the former approach, avoiding sharp contrasts in texture, metre and rhythm in favour of smooth, owing lines. Pater Noster uses the ancient technique of composition based upon a cantus firmus (a plain-chant melody which runs through the entire motet) and is a serenely detached setting of the Lord’s Prayer. Viae Sion lugent displays a canonic texture, but its long plangent melodies also reflect the darkness of the text, taken from the Lamentations for Maundy Thursday. The final bars are particularly moving, as each voice enters to sing the words ‘and she is in bitterness.’
Similar in emotional intensity is Mulieres sedentes, one of Philips’s most beautiful creations. Its striking opening consists of a single major triad, held for five bars, from which the rest of the piece seems to emerge. The two soprano parts intertwine through-out in a heartfelt lament to the entombed Christ. Mulieres sedentes displays Philips’s mastery of the vocal medium, as he uses economy of means to achieve its effect: a mesmerising harmonic progression circles through the final stages of the motet, which ends in tranquility.
Beatus vir qui inventus est, is a complex piece which tackles a long and varied text. Philips responds with a wide variety of textures and rhythmic devices; his love of lively syncopated figures and dancing motifs is evident here! The highly intricate ‘Alleluia’ which ends the motet is a fine moment, as is the contrapuntal (ars perfecta) setting of ‘et perfectus est.’
Similar in approach is Cum jucunditate, which begins with a characteristic section in triple time. A clear sense of structure is in evidence in this motet, as the thoughtful setting of ‘devotissime’ alternates with the virtuosic ‘celebremus.’ More dancing syncopations return in the final section, which affirms the hope that the Virgin Mary will ‘intercede for us.’
Corona aurea and Veni, Sponsa Christi illustrate the heavenly coronation of martyrs with sumptuous music. The text of Veni, Sponsa Christi uses a passage from The Song of Songs to compare the Virgin Martyr being accepted as the ‘Bride of Christ’ with the earthly union described in the Biblical love poem. The opening, set for upper voices, seems to suggest the Bride, whilst the overlapping cantus parts of ‘in paradisum’ create a radiant texture. This motet exhibits a clear structure, with well-defined sections and repetition of material. A similar radiance is felt in Corona aurea, where Philips adds an imitative ‘alleluia.’ More widely known is Ave verum corpus; we have included it on this recording because of the work’s outstanding quality.
Only two pieces from Cantiones Sacrae Octonis vocibus 1613 have been included here. It is believed that Ecce tu pulchra was written for the marriage of Albert, Duke of Austria to Isabella of Spain. Both set texts based upon the Songs of Songs and exhibit a similar use of scalic, fanfare-like guration and chordal exchanges between the two four-part choirs. They are also similar in style to the madrigal Qui sott’ombrosi mirti, which was written in celebration of the marriage. Paratum cor meum, Domine probasti me and O Maria domina nostra are all taken from Philips’s last and largest collection Paradisus Sacris Cantionibus. This was the culmination of his extensive exploration of the solo/ ensemble motet (the previous collections being Gemmulae Sacrae and Deliciae Sacrae).
It has been suggested that these pieces may have been written because of a shortage of singers in the Netherlands and the necessary funds to pay them. Much of this music is unknown, and only a little has been published. The melodic style of Domine probasti me is simple but neat, full of rhetorical gestures and word-painting. In Domine probasti me Philips illustrates the words ‘If I climb up to heaven, thou art there: if I go down to hell, thou art there also’ with aptly rising and falling phrases, whilst ‘extremis’ is given the highest note of the piece.
O maria domina nostra is also harmonically straightforward; much of the melodic and harmonic material is repeated in sequence (rising or falling by step), giving the soloist the opportunity to characterise each individual phrase. It features three dance-like sections in triple time, including a beautiful ‘Alleluia.’ Paratum cor meum is one of Philips’s most adventurous and ‘progressive’ motets, scored for three tenors often singing in close imitation. There are sections in which each voice has a separate ‘solo,’ and the motet ends with a rousing ‘Exultare super caelos.’
Aspects of performance
Contemporary sources reveal that the Chapel Choir available to Philips in Brussels consisted of twelve chaplains, six boy choristers and two or three organists. It is possible that the organists would have sung with the choir. It seems likely (taking evidence such as the Galle Engraving into account) that extra singers and instrumentalists were used at least for important occasions.
In 1617, Philips’s publisher Phalèse issued editions of the 1612 and 1613 collections with organ continuo parts. It has been argued that because the original manuscripts did not contain an organ part, and owing to the number of errors in the 1617 part, continuo accompaniment was not viewed as essential to performance. We may assume that any organist accompanying Philips’s motets would already be familiar with the music, using their memory and ear as much as the written-out part! On the present recording, we felt that, in the absence of brass instruments, the organ accompaniment adds weight and grandeur to the two eight-part motets performed.
Motets from the 1612 collection have been left unaccompanied; their beauty and intimacy is such that instrumental accompaniment seems superfluous. Corona aurea has been recorded with smaller forces to illustrate the adaptability of this repertoire to differing ensembles.
It is my Belief that there is no ‘definitive’ way to perform 16th- and 17th-Century vocal music and that attempts to recreate ‘authentic’ choral sounds are problematic. Contemporary sources suggest that musicians of Philips’s day were flexible, practical and imaginative in performance. The present recording unashamedly uses a mixed-voice choir; using the resources available to us, we aimed to capture the spirit of Philips’s music, rather than an ‘authentic’ sound. The disc was compiled from two separate recording sessions; in both cases the numbers of singers per part range from 1 to 6.
It has been a privilege to explore Philips’s music this year and a wonderful journey for Convivium Singers; we have discovered much about ourselves as musicians through this exceptional music. We hope that our commitment to and enthusiasm for Philips’s music will inspire more performers to explore his rewarding repertoire.
(Alexander Norman, 2011)
About the artists
Alexander Norman is Director of Music at Holy Trinity Church, Coventry. He holds a Master of Music degree from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where he studied Choral Conducting with Paul Spicer. Prior to this, Alex was an undergraduate student and organ scholar at Royal Holloway College, University of London where he accompanied the Chapel Choir for weekly services, broadcasts on BBC Radio 2 and 3 (Choral Evensong), and a recording of music by Rihards Dubra on the Hyperion label.
Alex played the organ for the choir in many prestigious cathedrals and churches, including Evensongs at St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), St. George’s Chapel (Windsor), Washington National Cathedral and St. John the Divine Cathedral (New York). Alex has given organ recitals at Birmingham and Coventry Cathedrals as well as local churches. He studied the organ with Rupert Gough and Alistair Reid. As Artistic Director of Convivium Singers, Alex was producer on a number of recordings for Convivium Records, including CDs of choral music by Malcolm Archer and Margaret Rizza. He directed the ensemble at the Tolosa International Choral Contest and at festivals in Italy, Sardinia and the Czech Republic. Alex returns to Tolosa in October 2018 to conduct Convivium Singers at the 50th Anniversary of the Choral Contest. In 2015, Alex founded the Charpentier Ensemble to explore vocal music of the Baroque Era, involving some of the rising stars of the early music scene. He teaches the piano at Blue Coat C of E School, Coventry and is Musical Director of Wythall Commmunity Choir.
Convivium Singers is an award-winning, critically acclaimed choral ensemble, providing opportunities for young singers at the early stages of performing careers, as well as for talented musicians who have chosen not to pursue careers in music. The ensemble specialises in performing and recording sacred and secular music by living European and American composers. It was recently described as ‘an extraordinarily good choir to listen to’ by BBC Radio 3’s ‘CD Review.’
Convivium Singers have released a number of recordings in recent years, collaborating with companies, including the Baltic Exchange, London, and publishers, notably the Royal School of Church Music. Composer discs include works by Jonathan Dove, Margaret Rizza, Malcolm Archer, Carson Cooman, Hugh Benham and Michael Higgins. They have also delved into early music, and their CD of motets by Peter Philips (Convivium Records) received a Choir & Organ five-star review. The choir was filmed at Portsmouth Cathedral in 2014 for a special Songs of Praise programme on BBC1, as part of the DDay70 commemorations.
The Singers often work with established conductors and composers to introduce contemporary music to wider audiences. They were prize-winners at the Tolosa International Choral Contest (2011, Spain). The ensemble has also performed at Milan’s La Fabbrica del Canto festival and in Hradec Králové at the Czech choral festival Sborové slavnosti.
Convivium Singers have a diverse repertoire from traditional choral music to folk-songs, partsongs and popular arrangements.
- Veni, sponsa Christi - Peter Philips
- Cum jucunditate - Peter Philips
- O Maria domina nostra - Peter Philips
- Viae Sion lugent - Peter Philips
- Ave verum corpus - Peter Philips
- Mulieres sedentes - Peter Philips
- Quae est ista quae ascendit - Peter Philips
- Ecce tu pulchra es - Peter Philips
- Corona aurea - Peter Philips
- Paratum cor meum - Peter Philips
- Confitebor, tibi domine - Peter Philips
- Domine probasti me - Peter Philips
- Beatus vir, qui inventus est - Peter Philips
- Pater noster - Peter Philips
Catalogue number: CR007
Choir Convivium Singers
Organist David Price, Alexander Norman
Conductor Alexander Norman
Photography Tom Kuglin
Engineering Adaq Khan, Adrian Green
Mastering Adaq Khan
Producer Andrew King, David Millinger
Creative Director John Bevan
Executive Producer Adrian Green
Recorded 19, 20, 21 February, 11, 12, 13, 14 July 2011
Venue St Alban the Martyr, Highgate, Birmingham
Total Duration 64 mins