"Motet Viri Galilaei" - "Magnificat Primi Toni"
Ensemble Vocal Europeen De La Chapelle Royale
Ensemble Organum, Marcel Peres
Direction Philippe Herreweghe
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Palestrina, a musical sermon
The publication dates of Palestrina's works offer no reliable evidence, in the present state of our knowledge, of their exact place in his creative career. A good number of these publications were posthumous, as is the case, for instance, of the Missa viri Galilaei, which was published only in 1601, seven years after the composer's death, in the Missarum... Liber Duodecimus, by Scotto in Venice. Many other works are preserved only in collections of manuscripts in the Capella Giulia : the Magnificat in the first tone for five voices is among them. It is generally considered that the set to which it belongs is earlier than the four-part Magnificats published in 1591 (Magnificat octo tonum, liber Primus, Gardano, Venice). As for the motet, Viri Galilaei, published in 1569 in the Liber Primus Motettorum (by Gardano, Venice), it would therefore seem a work of Palestrina's maturity - born in 1525, he would have been about forty-five at the time - unless it is a youthful work that was included in the collection. If the publication appeared during the "Mantuan" period of the composer, who was both in the service of Cardinal Ippolito d'Estc and continuing his lengthy association with Guglielmo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, there is nothing that could indicate with any precision the date of its composition. Conforming to contemporary usage, the Magnificat primi toni, like the collection of Magnificats of 1591, employs the liturgical practice of the alternatim : the even verses are treated polyphonically, for five voices (verses 2, 6, 10), for lour voices (verses 4. 8), and for six voices (verse 12 and the doxology), alternating with the psalmodic recitation of the odd verses. The "first tone", or Authentic Mode on D, is here transposed upward by a fourth, to G (flattened or cantus mollis). The five voices are all written in treble clefs or chiavette. The psalmodic recitation, easily recognized by its intonation, mediation and ending, is deeply embedded in a close-knit polyphonic texture, diluted in an overall paraphrase and developed in constantly varied imitations. From time to lime one hears the cantus firmus,
especially in the endings sung alternately by the tenor (verses 2, 6, 10 in five voices) and by the superius (verses 4 and 8. in four voices). The las! line of the doxology ("Sicut erat") is distinguished from the others by giving the cantus firmus to one of the voices of the altus, elearly distinctive in its long note-values and by returning it to the "natural" mode in 1) ; but a plagal cadential extension concludes in the principal tone of the oilier verses, in G.
The motet, Viri Calilaei, is in a different category, more independent from liturgical tradition and practice. It owes nothing to plainsong melodies, and even though the words quite clearly make reference to the Feast of the Ascension, they are not those of the Introit of the feast, albeit very close to them. The words of the motet are, in fact, compiled from a variety of texts. The Prima Pars is taken directly from the narrative of the Ascension in Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles, "And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up ; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel ; which also said, Yc men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven ? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven". The beginning of the Seconda Pars then quotes a verse from Psalm 47 (46) (Omnes gentes, plandite) used at Ascensiontide as both the verse of the Alleluia and as the Offertory. Palestrina set the same words in his Offertoria totius anni of 1593, "God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet". Freed from liturgical constraints, Paleslrina treats this text with completely unfettered inventiveness. "In this motel," Pietro Cerone was to say, "... the composition... conforms to the imagination and the pleasure of the composer" (El Melopeo y Maestro, Naples, 1613). The text is cut up into short phrases according to its syntactic structure ; each "unit" is associated with a musical idea, often repeated several times, but always varied and always different in texture. The six voices (superius. altus I and II, tenors I and II, bassus) are united only at rare moments : no more than twice in the Prima Pars (with the exception of the final section on "Alleluia") to utter, in a different manner each time, "Hie Jesus", simultaneously the subject of the action, the object of the questioning gazes, and the object of the essential message of the text, a veritable rhetorical propositio, a theological response ("Hie Jesus... sic veniet..."). In a perpetually changing texture, here in two parts, there in three, four or five, the counterpoint is always very simple, generally note against note, rarely embellished by short, free developments. Only a few passages, like the final alleluia of each section, are the occasion for brief melismatic imitations.
Given this extremely fragmented enunciation of the text, the music is frankly descriptive, suggesting in various ways "ascensional" movements (diesis on "aseendif and "coclo", the ascending line of the motifs for "euntem in coelum", rising intervals on "assumptus est... in coelum") and joy (the same melismata on "jubilationis" and "alleluia"). In the same madrigalistic spirit "in voce lubae" gives rise to the major arpeggios of a fanfare, treated infugato : the repetition of the same ideas in six voices combines them with a pedal point in the bass, an obvious imitation of instrumental writing.
The abundance of musical and literary repetitions and their dynamic force arc evidence of a rhetorical attentiveness to the text. The narrative in the Prima Pars, in its dramatic form, is not uttered in an objective manner : its diction is also assertive. The use of the tutti to stress "Hie Jesu" is not only emphatie : Palestrina is here conforming to the use of the "devout consonances" recommended by Cerone for certain passages of the Mass ("Jesu Christe", "Et incarnatus est", etc.) by and large vertical polyphony, augmented note-values... But the counterpoint is also animated from within : more than the action of the character ("qui assumptus est..."), it is the gazing of which he is the object that is depicted here. The sudden alteration of the 6th note (K flat) on Jesus introduces the rhetorical figure of pathopoeia, the expression of sorrow or pain, but also of sweetness and gentleness (as Thomas Mofley said, "...motions proceeding by half notes, flat thirds and flat sixths, which of their nature are sweet...", A plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke, 1597). As in the double melisma in the two Cantus on the repetition of the same text, we here discover a little nostalgic tenderness...