This is the first of several themed concerts we will be singing this year which will be based on lesser-known composers and works from the Renaissance. During each of the concerts we hope to draw comparisons between the painters and composers of the time, simply because some of the world’s finest art and music came from the late Renaissance period.
Our first programme of the year focusses on music from the Low Countries.
The main composer to feature is Orlando di Lasso, otherwise known as Roland Lassus (c.1532–1594), a Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance.
The fact that he went under two names shows his cosmopolitan existence. Like most composers of his day, he was widely travelled across Europe, working in the Low Countries, Paris and Rome. He knew Palestrina – but was never overshadowed by him. In fact, his polyphonic style is more adventurous than the man famed as “the father” of Renaissance polyphony.
Lassus’ work is more dramatic than Palestrina’s, more sensuous than Victoria’s and Guerrero’s and more complex than Byrd’s. Light and shade were familiar themes in Dutch Renaissance painters – one needs only to think of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring to see the way artists focussed on contrast. Light and shade are familiar themes in Lassus’ writing too, at one moment shadowing the listener in darkness, only to burst into joyous light in the next.
Missa Osculetur Me (c. 1580) is the centrepiece of the programme and is represented as both a sumptuous motet setting of a text taken from the Song of Songs and also as a full mass. This text has an intriguing ambiguity concerning the allegory of love – we’re left wondering whether the writer refers to spiritual or earthly love when he writes “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine.”
The text is from the biblical “Song of Songs” or “Song of Solomon”, a sensuous love lyric taken by believers to be symbolic of the love which exists between God and the soul, or God and Israel, or Christ and his church, or the eponymous King Solomon and his best beloved.
It is this luscious use of language which seems to drive the sumptuous harmonies which Lassus uses in his 8-part writing. This large-scale writing would defeat many amateur choirs but The Renaissance Choir is well-used to such forces and will also utilise the space of St Peter’s church to give a true stereophonic sound.
We will also perform four motets by Lassus, namely Ave Regina Caelorum, Alma Redemptoris Mater, Osculetur Me and Tristis Est Anima Mea, as well as Laudate Dominum by Sweelinck and Versa in Luctum by Gerarde.
In order to provide balance to the intense beauty of these sacred pieces, the choir will also sing some of the jaunty secular pieces commonly heard across Northern Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. These pieces are by Josquin (c.1440-1521), Willaert (1480-1552), Arcadelt (c.1507-1568) and Encina (1464-1523). These fun-loving songs and madrigals are encapsulated in the busy street scenes found in the paintings of the Bruegel family.
The Clarinet and Piano Monington Duo will provide further contrast to the programme, with music from The Netherlands. Clarinettist Rob Blanken is a widely respected player with Dutch origins; his partner, Karen Kingsley, is The Renaissance Choir’s favourite concert pianist.