Miserere à Voix Seule – Michel Richard de Lalande
Michel Richard de Lalande (born 15th December, 1657) composed much of the repertoire that crowns the French Baroque era. He was a singer, violinist, organist and harpsichordist though, after being refused a place in Lully’s orchestra, he vowed never to play the violin again. Lalande was the favourite of King Louis XIV; initially appointed as one of the four composers responsible for court music, but as each one retired he was allowed to take over each of their duties until, in 1709, he became the sole composer at the court. The King instructed his court copyists to copy out all his Grand Motets for use in the chapel at Versailles and Lalande is particularly known for these works, of which (among others) ‘De Profundis’ is particularly well known and admired. As proof of their quality they continued to be performed after his death in 1726. This was in no small part down to the very expensive production of a new edition (unheard of for a composer no longer living) in 1729. Despite the success of these motets, his Petits Motets still remain, largely, unknown. The piece recorded on this CD, Miserere à Voix Seule, is possibly the finest example of such a composition. Lalande married singer Anne Rebel in 1684 and their two daughters were both supported, at court, by Louis. Both died of smallpox in 1711 and the King held a memorial service the following year in their honour. After Louis XIV died in 1715, Lalande began to transfer his court duties to his students, eventually requesting that his salary be decreased and that the chapel return to the four composer arrangement of previous years. In 1722, Lalande’s wife died though he remarried in 1723 and had another daughter. Three years later, in 1726, he succumbed to pneumonia and died, leaving some of the finest choral and orchestral music ever written. Read more
The precise composition date of the Miserere à Voix Seule is not known. In Philidor’s Catalogue of 1729 he writes that it was “sung by Les Mesdemoiselles DeLalande to the admiration of all Paris”. This means the work must have existed in some form by 1711, when both daughters died. Like much of Lalande’s output it was revised several times after the initial composition. A version dating from c.1714 includes plainsong harmonisations by S. de Brossard, which are used in this recording. The score contains certain passages marked “pour l’orgue”. There is some suggestion that these may be the remnants of an obbligato violin part, though no such part has ever been found. It is well documented that the Miserere was a stunningly popular work. The number of copies made of it is testament to this, as well the fact that it was still being performed in 1770 long after Lalande’s death.
The work takes psalm 51 as its text and sets verses alternately between solo voice and plainsong chorus. The manuscript is covered with ornamentation, carefully notated to bring life to the text. Much of Lalande’s work is influenced by the Italian school and the Miserere is no exception. The long flowing melismas of Aspergers Me contrasting beautifully with the moving simplicity of Cor Mundum. The petit motet setting of this text shares some music with the grand motet Miserere and this is certainly to its credit. This is surely some of the finest writing, not just of Lalande, but of the whole wealth of French Baroque music.
Pianto Della Madonna – Giovanni de Sances
Giovanni de Sances (born c.1600) is a composer about whom, sadly, very little is known. He was an Italian tenor and composer. He was born in Rome in about 1600 and studied in Bologna and Venice. Having moved to Vienna in 1636, where he was employed as a singer in the Imperial Court Chapel, he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister in 1649. He used this post to stage many of his operas. Today six of these are known, though three have been lost. Sances also wrote a wealth of sacred music including sixty masses, cantatas and other motets, including the Stabat Mater on this CD. In 1689 he became the Imperial Kapellmeister though was only able to carry out his responsibilities until 1673 when he became ill. He died in Vienna in 1679.
The beauty of the Stabat Mater is in its simplicity. Recitative sections give a framework around the constantly repeating ground bass (lasting only two bars) over which the voice part sings. The vocal writing, highly decorative and elaborate, is reminiscent more of a violin part and requires great skill to perform. Some modern performers do, in fact, include a violin part though here it is kept as bare as possible, using just organ accompaniment, to remain faithful to the text. The text is a 13th century Catholic hymn to Mary, mother of Jesus depicting the agony she felt at her son’s crucifixion. Sances’ choice of text is strange, as the poem was suppressed as a liturgical text by the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Nonetheless, it remains one of his best known pieces and is an example of word painting of the highest quality.
Lamentations I: for Good Friday – Jan Dismas Zelenka
Jan Dismas Zelenka (born 16th October, 1679) is a composer about whose music very little has come to light. The Royal Court at Dresden where he worked seemed to have, very carefully, guarded his compositions. Until recently the only music known by him was one of a select number of pieces he gave away during his lifetime, and even some of those are no longer believed to have been composed by him. Zelenka was educated at the Jesuit College in Prague and, so, remained a Catholic despite the prevalence of Lutheranism in Germany at that time. In 1697 the King-Elector Augustus the Strong of Saxony (Dresden was the capital city of Saxony) took the Polish crown. This required him to take the Roman Catholic faith, despite governing a predominantly Lutheran state. For Zelenka, the two religious faces of the Court could not have been more convenient. In 1735 he became the Court Composer of Church Music at the Royal Court, in recognition of the sacred music he composed for the Catholic Church. The deeply Lutheran J.S. Bach, on the other hand, was given the title of Royal Court Composer. It is the Catholic nature of Zelenka’s compositions which may help to explain, also, why his music was largely forgotten. Zelenka’s life was, largely, very uneventful. Apart from a several commissions and his travels to Prague (when, in 1723, he was commissioned to compose for the coronation of Emperor Charles VI) and to Italy (to Venice, to study with Fux) very little of note ever happened to him. He was never married and had no children. He died in Dresden on 23rd December 1745, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery. No trace of his grave is left, but there is now a small plaque in the graveyard to commemorate his life. Perhaps the greatest tribute to the largely forgotten Zelenka, however, is a letter from C.P.E Bach to Forkel in 1775. In it, he states that his father, J.S. Bach, had held the music of Zelenka in the very highest esteem.
The Lamentations recorded on this disk are part of a set of six settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah – two lessons each from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve. Confusion has sometimes arisen because these lessons were from services celebrated as Tenebrae services the evening before each day. Zelenka titled each set for “Wednesday”, “Thursday” and “Friday” respectively. Most editors have now, however, re-aligned the titles to their appropriate days. This particular setting shows clearly the Italian influences on Zelenka, from his time spent studying with Fux (and possibly also with Lotti) in Venice: The arioso style of the Hebrew letters allows the composer to develop the music in his own way, while the actual text of the lesson is delivered in traditional, secco recitiative. Zelenka, here, breaks with convention, and extends and elaborates the final “Ierusalem, convertere!” to create a much stronger, more emotional call to repentance.
(Joe Waggott, 2012)