Back to Basics: Remembering why we do what we do
In collaboration with Ashdown Consort of Viols.
Chant Marian Antiphon: Salve Regina
Viol consort: Orlando Gibbons - In nomine a4
Basics of music
Nobilis humilis - 12th-century Hymn to St Magnus (Earliest polyphonic music in the British Isles)
Sumer is icumen in - 13th-century English rota (First notated music in the English language)
Orlande de Lassus - Ut queant laxis (The hexachord as a foundation)
Josquin des Prez - Illibata Dei Virgo nutrix (Out of simplicity, complexity)
Chant Marian Antiphon: Ave regina caelorum
Viol consort: Orlando Gibbons - In nomine a5, No 1
Basics of our music
Giovanni da Palestrina - Sicut cervus (How many of us first encounter polyphony)
Tomas Luis de Victoria - O magnum mysterium (My earliest memory of singing polyphony)
Thomas Tallis - O nata lux (The first piece by Tallis I ever learned)
William Byrd - Ne irascaris (The first piece by Byrd I fell in love with)
--- Interval ---
Chant Marian Antiphon: Alma redemptoris Mater
Viol consort: Orlando Gibbons - In nomine a5, No 2
Basics of choral sound
William Byrd - Precamur sancte Domine (Singing together, but without rhythm)
Josquin des Prez - Ave maria virgo serena (Choral music at its most distilled)
Michael Praetorius - Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Choral music at its most simply beautiful)
Victoria - Alma redemptoris mater a8 (Choral music as a thick and delicious texture)
Chant Marian Antiphon: Regina caeli
Viol consort: Gibbons In nomine a5, No 3
Basics of human emotion
John Dowland - Lamentatio Henrici Noel, No 7 (Sadness at the loss of a friend)
Claudio Monteverdi - Domine, ne in furore tuo (God’s anger, our helplessness)
Giovanni da Palestrina - Regina caeli a8 (Generosity, confidence, optimism - joy!)
Philips - Ave regina caelorum (Peace)
It strikes me as though all of us, now more than ever, need to go back to basics. As we begin again what we can barely remember as a ‘normal’ musical life, the courage required can be found in reacquainting ourselves with its foundations. We need to hear music that reassures us that the continuities we all love can still be trusted.
When taking music back to basics, there can be no better place to start than with Gregorian plainsong. The four Marian Antiphons that appear in this programme, dividing up the four quartets of motets, have been sung every day in the Catholic church since the 13th century. To so many, they have been loyal companions.
Distributed throughout this programme are also the four In Nomines by Orlando Gibbons for viol consort. These works symbolise a link between vocal and instrumental composition, based as they are on a famous passage from a vocal piece, and remind us that even in the endlessly inventive mind of Orlando Gibbons, going back to the basics of plainsong and looking back to past masters (in this case, John Taverner and his wondrous Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas) inspires great creativity.
Discovering the roots of our music in its most basic harmonic and textual terms allows us to see where we are now and how far we have come. In Nobilis humilis and Sumer is icumen we find two contrasting pieces from the Mediaeval world that shine a light on the bedrock of our musical understanding: intervals, melodies, counterpoint. In the Renaissance, the spine of music was not the 8-note scale we are familiar with now, but three 6-note groups known as ‘hexachords’, the syllables ‘ut re mi fa sol la’ defining the notes. Lassus wrote a lighthearted piece that shows us what these are. Josquin des Prez rounds out this set with one of his incomparable works of genius, constructing an entire work from seemingly nothing: just two notes sung to the syllables ‘la mi la’.
There is of course a difference between the foundations of Western art music as a whole and the foundations of what music means to each of us, personally. The second set of four pieces gives an insight into my own memories of what it was like to encounter and fall deeply in love with the music of the late Renaissance as a teenager. Even though these pieces are well known and often performed, they are some of the greatest works of art ever created.
After the interval we again switch back to a more analytical exploration of the basics of the sound of a choir. Byrd’s Precamur a5 is written without rhythms and is virtually all entirely homophonic. We can thus hear line and harmony in a completely different way. Josquin’s famous Ave Maria virgo serena offers us choral music at its most still, almost causing time to cease entirely. The undeniably simple beauty of hymn-like 4-part choral writing is brought to a pinnacle in Praetorius’ Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, and Victoria shows us that he could treat choral sound like clay or fabric or fur or water - something you can touch - in his Alma redemptoris mater a8.
Of course, any journey back to the basics of music must inevitably lead to us, to our inner lives. This is where music comes from and the reason it exists. John Dowland’s mastery of the melancholy is distilled into one page of music here. Monteverdi’s uncompromising and forthright voice demands to be heard, to be reckoned with. No one does joy like Palestrina! There is no dark corner to be found in his Regina caeli a8 - it’s all pure Italian sunshine. The programme comes to a close with one of my very favourite pieces of music of any genre or era. Peter Philips’ Ave regina caelorum a5 is comforting, loving, assured. I can think of no better way to finish a programme all about reconnecting with what we need to begin anew than this beautiful, life-affirming piece.
Greg Skidmore, January 2022
Texts and translations
Salve Regina, mater misericordiᴂ
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exsules, filii Hevᴂ.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
In hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra,
Illos tuos misericordes oculos
ad nos converte.
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tuis,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.
Hail, queen, mother of mercy
Life, sweetness and our hope, hail.
We call to you, exiles, children of Eve
We sigh to you, groaning and weeping
In this valley of tears.
Therefore please, be our advocate.
Those merciful eyes of yours –
Turn them on us.
And Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb –
Show him to us after this exile,
O merciful, O holy, o sweet Virgin Mary.
Nobilis, humilis, Magne martyr stabilis,
Abilis, utilis, comes venerabilis,
Et tutor laudabilis, tuos subditos
Serva carnis fragilis molle positos.
Noble, humble Magnus, steadfast martyr
Talented, beneficial, revered companion
And praiseworthy protector, save your people
Trapped and placed vulnerably in fragile flesh.
Preditus, celitus, dono sancti spiritus,
Vivere, temere summo caves opere;
Carnis motus premere studes penitus,
Ut carnis in carcere regnet spiritus.
Heavenly one, given the gift of the holy spirit,
You take care to live purposefully;
You strive to push away temptations of the flesh
so that the spirit rules in its fleshly prison.
Turbidus, invidus, hostis Haco callidus
Sternere, terere tua sibi subdere
Te cupit et perdere doli spiculo:
Juncto fraudis federe pacis osculo.
Violent, envious Haakon, cunning enemy
Desires to defeat you, weary you, to subdue
and destroy you with trickery and the spear:
Accompanying a kiss of peace with treachery.
Omnibus laudibus tuis insistentibus
Gratiam, veniam, et eternam gloriam
Precum per instanciam pater optime,
Hanc salvans familiam a discrimine.
May there be all praises from your worshippers
Thanks, pardon and eternal glory
To you, blessed father, who, through prayers,
Keeps this congregation safe from evil.
Sumer is icumen in
Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wood enu
Awe bleteth after lomb
Lhouth after calve cu
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth
Murie sing cuccu
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes thu cuccu
Ne swik thu naver nu.
Summer is starting
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood bursts into leaf again.
The ewe bleats to her lamb
The cow moos to her calf
The bullock leaps, the deer farts
Merrily sing ‘cuckoo’
Cuckoo, cuckoo, you rightly sing ‘cuckoo’
And don’t ever stop now.
Pro vitis vicio,
Non parcens, exposuit
Qui captivos semivivos
Et secum coronat
In celi solio.
Consider, follower of Christ,
With what consideration
The heavenly farmer,
In response to the vine’s defect,
Not sparing, placed him
In the final embrace of death;
He the half-living prisoners,
Instead of punishment,
Endows with life
And crowns them together with himself
On the throne of heaven.
Ut queant laxis
Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum
Solve polluti labii reatum, Sancte Joannes.
Insofar as they can with open throats,
May your servants proclaim the wonders of your deeds.
Absolve the impious from the pollution of their lips, Saint John.
Illibata Dei Virgo nutrix
Illibata Dei Virgo nutrix
Olympi tu regis, O Genetrix
Sola parens Verbi puerpera
Quae fuisti Evᴂ reparatrix,
Viri nefas tuta mediatrix.
Illud clara luce dat scriptura.
Nata nati alma genitura
Pure Virgin, nurse of God,
You, mother of the king of Olympus
Only parent of the Word giving birth,
You were repairer of Eve’s damage,
Watchful intercessor for sinful humanity.
This thing Scripture tells us with clear light.
Daughter of the son you were destined to bear
Des ut laeta musarum factura
Grant that the joyful accomplishments of the Muses
Praevaleat hymnus et sit ave
Roborando sonos ut guttura
Efflagitent laude teque pura
Zelotica arte clamet Ave.
Might prevail in our hymns and be a salutation
By strengthening our singing as our throats will entreat you,
and by pure praise
With the skill of the devout may proclaim ‘Hail.’
Ave Virginum decus hominum
Ave lilium, flos humilium,
Vale ergo tot pulchra
Ut luna Electa
Ut sol clarissima gaude
Salve tu sola cum sola amica
Consola ‘la mi la’ canentes in tua laude.
Hail, glory of Virgins and humanity,
Gate of heaven.
Hail lily, flower of the humble,
Hail, therefore, great beauty
Like the moon, Chosen One
Like the brightest sun, rejoice,
Hail, since you alone are sole friend
Console those singing ‘la mi la’ in your praise.
Ave Maria mater virtutum, veniᴂ vena.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Amen.
Hail Mary, mother of goodness, channel of pardon.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Amen.
O magnum mysterium
O magnum mysterium
Et admirabile sacramentum
Ut animalia viderent Dominum natum
Jacentem in prᴂsepio.
O beata Virgo, cujus viscera
Meruerunt portare Dominum
O great mystery
And wonderful sacrament
That animals should see the new-born Lord
Lying in a manger.
O blessed Virgin, whose womb
Deserved to carry the Lord
Ave Regina cᴂlorum
Ave Regina cᴂlorum,
Ave Domina Angelorum,
Salve radix, salve porta
Ex qua mundo lux est orta.
Gaude Virgo gloriosa.
Super omnes speciosa.
Vale, o valde decora,
Et pro nobis Christum exora.
Hail Queen of heaven,
Hail, Mistress of the Angels,
Hail foundation, hail gate
Through which light came into the world.
Rejoice, glorious Virgin,
Exceeding all in beauty.
Hail, O most worthy,
And pray to Christ for us.
Sicut cervus desiderat fontes aquarum,
Ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.
Just as the deer longs for springs of water
So my soul longs for you, God.
O nata lux
O nata lux de lumine
Jesu redemptor sᴂculi,
Dignare clemens supplicum
Laudes precesque sumere.
Qui carne quondam contegi
Dignatus est pro perditis.
Nos membra confer effici
Tui beati corporis.
O light born from light
Jesus, redeemer of the universe,
Mercifully consider our appeal worthy
Accept our praise and prayers.
You who once were clothed in flesh
Thinking it worth doing for lost souls,
Allow us to become limbs
Of your sacred body.
Ne irascaris, Domine
Ne irascaris, Domine, satis,
Et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrᴂ.
Ecce, respice populus tuus omnes nos.
Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.
Sion deserta facta est.
Jerusalem desolata est.
Do not be angry, Lord, any more
And do not any further call to mind our wickedness.
See, look on your people, all of us.
Your holy city has become abandoned
Sion has become abandoned.
Jerusalem has been forsaken.
Alma redemptoris mater
Alma Redemptoris mater,
Quae pervia cᴂli porta manes
Et stella maris,
Succurre cadenti surgere qui curat populo.
Nourishing mother of the redeemer,
Who remains the pathway and gate of heaven,
And star of the sea,
Come to the aid of fallen people who are trying to rise again.
Tu quᴂ genuisti, natura mirante,
Virgo prius ac posterius,
Gabrielis ab ore sumens illud ‘Ave’,
You who gave birth, to nature’s astonishment,
to the blessed Father.
Virgin before and after,
Accepting from Gabriel’s mouth that ‘Hail’
Have mercy on sinners.
Christe qui lux
Christe qui lux est et dies
Noctis tenebras detegis
Lucisque lumen crederis
Lumen beatum praedicans.
Christ, who are the light and the day
Drive away the shadows of the night.
You are believed to be the light of light
Foretelling the holy light,
Precamur sancte Domine,
Defende nos in hac nocte
Sit nobis in te requies
Quietam noctem tribue.
Blessed God, we beg you
Defend us in this night
May there be rest for us in you
Grant us a peaceful night.
Ne gravis somnus irruat
Nec hostis nos surripiat
Nec caro illi consentiens
Nos tibi reos statuat.
May no terrible sleep attack us
Nor any enemy snatch us away
Nor may our flesh yield to anything
And make us guilty in your sight.
Oculi somnum capiant
Cor ad te semper vigilet
Dextera tua protegat
Famulos qui te diligent.
May our eyes find sleep
May our heart always be alert to you.
May your right hand protect
Your servants who love you.
Defensor noster aspice
Guberna tuos famulos
Quos sanguine mercatus es.
Our defender, look on us
Drive back those who lay traps.
Guide your servants
Whom you redeemed by your blood.
Memento nostri Domine
In gravi isto corpore
Qui es Defensor animᴂ
Adesto nobis Domine.
Remember us, Lord,
In that heavy body of ours
You who are the Defender of the soul,
Be there for us, Lord.
Deo patri sit gloria
Ejusque soli filio
Cum spiritu paraclito
Et nunc et in perpetuum.
Glory be to the Father
And to his only Son
Together with the Holy Spirit
Both now and for ever.
Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum, Virgo serena.
Ave caelorum domina.
Maria plena gratia, cᴂlestia, terrestria,
Mundum replens lᴂtitia.
Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with you, serene Virgin.
Hail Mistress of Heaven.
Mary full of grace, both heavenly and earthly
Filling the world with joy.
Ave cuius nativitas
Nostra fuit solemnitas,
Ut lucifer lux oriens,
Verum solem prᴂveniens.
Hail, the one whose birth
Was our holy salvation
A light rising like the morning star
Heralding the true sun.
Ave praeclara omnibus
Cuius fuit assumptio
Hail, most outstanding in all
The angelic virtues
Whose acceptance into heaven was
O mater Dei, memento mei. Amen.
O Mother of God, remember me. Amen
Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen
Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
aus einer Wurzel zart,
wie uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse kam die Art.
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht
mitten im kalten Winter,
wohl zu der halben Nacht.
A rose has burst forth
from a tender root,
Just as the ancient told us,
Jesse’s line would continue for ever.
And has brought forth a little flower
amid the cold winter
halfway through the night.
Das Röslein, das ich meine,
davon Jesaja sagt,
hat uns gebracht alleine
Marie, die reine Magd.
Aus Gottes ewgem Rat
hat sie ein Kind geboren,
welches uns selig macht.
The little rose I refer to,
And of which Isiah spoke,
was brought to us
by the pure maid Mary alone.
Through God’s eternal counsel
she bore a child
to bring his blessing on us all.
Das Blümelein so kleine,
das duftet uns so süss;
mit seinem hellen Scheine
vertreib’s die Finsternis:
Wahr‘ Mensch und wahrer Gott
hilft uns aus allem Leide,
rettet von Sünd und Tod.
The little flower, so small,
With its sweet scent;
dispels all darkness
with its bright glow:
True man and yet true God
He relieves all pain,
And saves us from sin and death.#
Regina cᴂli, lᴂtare, alleluia.
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
Because the one you deserved to bear, alleluia
Has risen again as he said, alleluia.
Pray to God for us, alleluia.
Domine, ne in furore
Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me,
Neque in ira tua corripias me.
Miserere mei, Domine,
quoniam infirmus sum.
Sana me, Domine,
quoniam conturbata sunt ossa mea
et anima mea turbata est valde.
Sed tu, Domine, usquequo?
God, in your rage, do not condemn me
Nor in your anger rush to judge me.
Have mercy on me, Lord,
for I am weak.
Heal me, Lord
For my bones are disordered
And my soul is very disturbed.
But as for you, Lord, is this forever?