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The Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: Polyphony for travellers, wanderers, and the displaced

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Concert Programme

Orlande de Lassus - Super flumina babylonis

Peter Philips - Ascendit Deus
Cipriano de Rore - Ave regina caelorum

John Dowland - If my complaints
Henricus Isaac - Innsbruck
John Dowland - Come again

Juan Gutierrez de Padilla - Lamentations

Tomás Luis de Victoria - Vidi speciosam

--- INTERVAL ---

Peter Philips - Ave verum corpus
Richard Dering - Ardens est cor meum

Cristobal de Morales - Lamentabatur Jacob

Philipe de Monte - Super flumina babylonis
William Byrd - Quomodo cantabimus

Programme notes

Music and movement. Polyphony and place. Tonight’s programme explores music written by people on the move, composers in transition, and the migration of people, ideas, and cultures. We are all global citizens now, and this brings opportunities and challenges. As we respond to our modern world through the music of the past, it is good to remember that our current problems aren’t new and great art has been inspired by these themes of loss, isolation, excitement, nostalgia, and adventure for centuries.

Each piece on the programme explores this idea in a different way, but there are a few themes that inform the programme from beginning to end. One is the exile of the people of Israel to Babylon in the early part of the 6th century BCE. This complex story involving competing Babylonian and Egyptian armies (contemporary super powers), with the Jewish people caught in the middle, mimics so much of modern day conflict. It has been immortalised in the Bible with the famous words ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept’, which begin Psalm 136. It is also from this psalm that the title of this concert is drawn and this idea of the importance of place to culture and art is at the heart of this entire collection of music.

Orlande de Lassus’ short setting of the first verse of this psalm, Super flumina Babylonis, opens the programme and sets the scene. This text expresses so many of the emotions connected with our theme: loss, memory, alienation, identity, subjection. We return to these ideas again and again throughout this programme, notably in Padilla’s setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, a text written in response to this same period of trauma for the Kingdom of Judea in the early 6th century BCE. Our final two pieces also set this same Psalm 136 text, but here represent a redemption or a way forward: Philipe de Monte and William Byrd wrote their two settings as a sort of cultural dialogue in the late 16th century, a loose collaboration. Byrd’s motet was a conscious response to de Monte’s.

Each composer represented here was himself a traveller. Lassus was born in the Low Countries but spent his entire career in Italy and Bavaria. Peter Philips, John Dowland, and Richard Dering - like William Byrd - were English Catholics in the late 16th century, members of a famously persecuted group. Unlike Byrd, however, Philips, Dowland, and Dering all moved to continental Europe and cultivated successful careers there. Cipriano de Rore was another of the celebrated Flemish ‘international globetrotting’ musicians, who, like Lassus after him, Henricus Isaac before him, and his contemporary Philipe de Monte (all represented on tonight’s programme), found his fame and fortune in southern Europe, in both Italy and the Holy Roman Empire. The pull of Rome as a place of pilgrimage is represented here by Spanish composers Victoria and Morales (though many of our other travellers also spent time here), but the most extreme travels undertaken by any composer on tonight’s programme were also that of a Spaniad, Juan Gutierrez de Padilla. Padilla relocated to Mexico and established his career as maestro de capilla of Puebla Cathedral in the early 17th-century. His story brings with it the complex history of European colonisation, an important ‘case study’ of the broader migration story.

The text of Morales’ Lamentabatur Jacob brings us back to an intensely personal response to forced exile and separation. A father weeping and pleading for his two lost sons, taken away from him, is a story that has played out for centuries, but is no less moving as a result.

But our programme is about singing ‘The Lord’s Song’, and there are ways of bringing travellers together, ideas that stay the same even over vast distances. Both Marian devotion and the broader liturgy of the Catholic church represent this continuity on tonight’s programme, in the paired settings by Philips, de Rore, and Dering toward the beginning of each half. Victoria’s Vidi speciosam, one of a great tradition of Marian motets drawing from the Biblical Song of Songs, represents the joy that can be found in this continuity, when commonalities are found. The three short secular pieces in the first half by Dowland and Isaac remind us both that love is as universal as the pain suffered when it ends.

There are so many threads that can be drawn together here, and it is our hope that this collection of music serves to emphasise the things that bring us together in our world of travel, change, and cultural disruption. Place is important to culture, and displacement of any kind is always painful. Art, however, allows us to express and perceive the commonalities that inevitably lead to a greater understanding.

Greg Skidmore, January 2022

Texts and translations

Super flumina Babylonis
illic sedimus et flevimus
dum recordaremur tui, Sion.

Beside the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept
while we shared our memories of you, Sion.

Ascendit Deus in jubilatione
et Dominus in voce tubae, alleluia.
Dominus in caelo paravit sedem suam.

God has gone up amid rejoicing
and the Lord amid the sound of the trumpet, alleluia.
The Lord has prepared his home in heaven,

Ave regina caelorum,
mater Regis angelorum.
O Maria, flos virginum
Velut rosa vel lilium,
funde preces ad Dominum
pro salute fidelium, amen.

Hail, queen of heaven,
mother of the King of angels.
O Mary, flower of virgins,
like a rose or a lily,
pour out prayers to the Lord
for the salvation of the faithful, amen.

Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen
Ich fahr dahin mein Straßen
In fremde Land dahin.
Mein Freud ist mir genommen,
Die ich nit weiß bekommen,
Wo ich im Elend bin.

Innsbruck, I must leave you,
I am on my way
To foreign lands.
My joy has gone
I know not why
And I am in despair.

Groß Leid muß ich jetzt tragen,
Das ich allein tu klagen
Dem liebsten Buhlen mein.
Ach Lieb, nun laß mich Armen,
Im Herzen dein erbarmen,
Daß ich muß dannen sein.

Great sorrow weighs me down,
Of which I alone do complain
To my sweetest Beloved.
Dearest love, now pity me
In your heart
Because I must leave you.

Mein Trost ob allen Weiben,
Dein tu ich ewig bleiben,
Stet treu der Ehren fromm.
Nun muß dich Gott bewahren,
In aller Tugend sparen,
Bis daß ich wiederkomm.

My comfort above all other women,
I will forever remain yours,
Staying true in pious honour.
May God protect you,
And in all virtue spare you,
Until I return.

Vidi speciosam, sicut columbam,
ascendentem desuper rivos aquarum,
cuius inæstimabilis odor erat nimis
in vestimentis eius.
Et sicut dies verni circumdabant eam
flores rosarum et lilia convallium.
Quæ est ista quæ ascendit per desertum
sicut virgula fumi ex aromatibus
myrrhae et thuris?

I saw a beautiful lady, like a dove,
rising above the streams of water,
Whose priceless fragrance deeply permeated
her garments.
And like a spring day, there clustered round her
the blooms of roses and lilies of the valley.
Who is this, who rises over this barren land,
Like a plume of scent from
myrrh and frankincense?

Padilla: Lamentations

Here begins the lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah.

Quomodo sedet sola civitas
plena populo:
Facta est quasi vidua
Domina gentium,
princeps provinciarum;
Facta est sub tributo.

How isolated sits the city
once full of people:
She has become like a widow,
The former Mistress of the tribes
head of the provinces;
She has become subjugated.

Plorans ploravit in nocte,
Et lacrimae eius in maxillis eius.
Non est qui consoletur eam
ex omnibus caris eius.
Omnes amici eius spreverunt eam
et facti sunt inimici.

Weeping, she has cried in the night
And her tears are on her cheeks.
There is no-one who can comfort her
out of all those dear to her.
All her friends have spurned her
and have become enemies.

Migravit Iudas propter afflictionem,
Et multitudinem servitutis.
Habitavit inter gentes,
nec invenit requiem.
Omnes persecutores eius apprehenderunt eam inter angustias.
Jerusalem, convertere
ad Dominum tuum.

Judah has departed because of the disaster
And the extent of her slavery.
She has gone to live among heathens
And does not find rest.
All her oppressors
have seized her in her distress.
Jerusalem, return
to your Lord.

Ave verum corpus,
natum de Maria virgine, vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine.
Cuius latus perforatum
unda fluxit sanguine.
Esto nobis praegustatum
In mortis examine.
O dulcis, o pie, o Jesu fili Mariae,
Miserere mei.

Hail, true body,
born from the virgin Mary,
Having truly suffered, offered up
on the cross for humanity.
His side was pierced,
from it flowed a wave of blood.
May it be tasted by us
before the final pang of death.
O sweet, o holy Jesus, son of Mary
Have mercy on me.

Ardens est cor meum.
Desidero videre Dominum meum.
Quaero et non invenio.
Ubi posuerunt eum?
Si tu sustuli eum, dicito mihi,
Et ego eum tollam.

My heart is on fire.
I long to see my master.
I seek him but do not find him.
Where have they placed him?
If you have taken him away, please tell me
And I will collect him.

Lamentabatur Jacob de duobus filiis.
‘Heu me, dolens sum de Josepho perdito
Et tristis nimis de Benjamin
Ducto pro alimoniis.

Jacob was in mourning over two sons.
‘Woe is me, I am grieving for my lost Joseph
And exceedingly sad over Benjamin
Led away to slavery because of food rations.

Precor caelestem Regem
ut me dolentem faciat eos cernere.’
Prosternens se, Jacob
vehementer cum lacrimis
pronus in terram et adorans ait:
‘Heu me, dolens sum de Josepho perdito
Et tristis nimis de Benjamin
Ducto pro alimoniis.
Precor caelestem Regem
ut me dolentem faciat eos cernere.’

I pray the heavenly King
To allow me in my grief to see them.’
Falling to the ground, Jacob
Amid floods of tears
face down on the ground and praying said:
‘Woe is me, I am grieving for my lost Joseph
And exceedingly sad over Benjamin
Led away to slavery because of food rations.
I pray the heavenly King
To allow me in my grief to see them.’

Super flumina Babylonis
illic sedimus et flevimus
dum recordaremur tui, Sion.
Illic interrogaverunt nos
Qui captivos abduxerunt nos
Verba cantionum.
Quomodo cantabimus canticum Domini
In terra aliena?
In salicibus, in medio eius
Suspendimus organa nostra.

Beside the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept
while we remembered you, oh Sion.
There they questioned us -
those who had carried us off as prisoners –
about the words of our hymns.
How will we sing the hymn of the Lord
in a foreign land?
In the willow grove, in its midst,
We hung up our instruments.

Quomodo cantabimus canticum Domini
In terra aliena?
Si oblitus fuero tui, Jerusalem,
oblivione detur dextra mea.
Adhaereat lingua mea faucibus meis
Si non meminero tui,
Si non proposuero Jerusalem
In principio laetitiae meae.
Memor esto, Domine, filiorum Edom
In die Jerusalem.

How will we sing the hymn of the Lord
in a foreign land?
Should I ever forget you, Jerusalem,
May my right hand be made useless.
May my tongue stick in my throat
If I do not remember you,
If I do not firmly establish Jerusalem
As the main precondition of my happiness.
Be mindful, Lord, of the descendants of Esau
On that day in Jerusalem.