Liturgical Music Preview

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Next Sunday, March 17th

Two motets from the 1560s exemplify the tendency toward dramatic text painting in Italian sacred music of the late Renaissance: Timor et tremor by Orlandus Lassus (to be sung at Sunday Mass) and Adesto dolori meo by Giaches de Wert (to be sung at Sunday Vespers). Both motets call upon God’s help in a time of distress, using surprising chromatic melodies and unexpected chord changes to portray the heightened emotions of the text. Lassus’s motet is one of his most famous pieces, and it seems to have had some special significance for the composer: rather than taking a continuous passage from Scripture or from the texts liturgy, he created a unique cento text by combining verses from several different psalms:

Timor et tremor venerunt super me,
et caligo cecidit super me: (Ps 55:5)
miserere mei, Domine, miserere mei,
quoniam in te confidit anima mea. (Ps. 57:1)
Exaudi, Deus, deprecationem meam, (Ps 61:1)
quia refugium meum es tu (Ps. 71:2)
et adjutor fortis. (Ps. 71:6)
Domine, invocavi te, non confundar. (Ps. 31:19)

(Fear and trembling came upon me, and darkness fell over me: have mercy upon me, O Lord, have mercy, for my soul trusteth in thee. Hear my prayer, O Lord, for you are my refuge and my strong helper. Lord, I have called upon thee, let me not be confounded.)

Motets like Timor et tremor were sometimes referred to as musica reservata in sixteenth-century sources. This phrase literally means “reserved music,” a cryptic term that seems to have been used to describe pieces whose refined expression and experimental harmonies reserved them for the private enjoyment of connoisseurs. In our more democratic age, of course, the vivid expression of these pieces can be a powerful part of our Lenten observance, allowing them to be enjoyed by a much larger audience than they would ever have had in the sixteenth century.

Other polyphony sung this week will include Rheinberger’s Meditabor, a lushly Romantic setting of the Offertory for the Second Sunday of Lent, and the Missa De mon triste desplaisir by Jacquet of Mantua, which adapts music from a then-popular French chanson by Jean Richafort.

By Aaron James, Director of Music, the Toronto Oratory

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