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Sacred Masterpieces of 16th Century Seville

Workshop for singers and instrumentalists directed by Pam Smith, St. John's Church, West Bay, Dorset, 1st August 2015

Forty or so musicians braved the gusty and not-so-summery south coast weather on 1st August to experience a fascinating day inside St John’s, sampling some musical tapas from some of the greatest Spanish composers from renaissance Seville. With a welcoming team to meet, greet, and ensure we were all fully equipped with the correct music, we were off to a well organized, prompt start.

What a wonderful selection of music we were able to study and enjoy, led by Pam Smith’s skilful, experienced handling of the arrangements, instrumentation and direction! å Following an interesting introduction to the background and historical context of this genre, Pam led us through our initial reading of the Missa El Ojo by Francisco de Peñalosa (c 1470–1528), including the contrapuntal complexities of the Sanctus and Benedictus sections. Pam’s delicate handling of the rhythmic intricacies and bar-less nature of the musical flow greatly enhanced our understanding of this fascinating genre.

Our familiarity with renaissance counterpoint was extended with our next piece, Duo Seraphim by Francisco Guerrero (c 1528–99), a composer whose chronology followed hot on the heels of his predecessor. With some challenging and sometimes exposed vocal entries, we worked hard to bring this piece together, the two solo soprano roles being ably encompassed by singers selected from our ranks, Alison Suter and Wendy Carnell.

Moving forward again chronologically, we immersed ourselves in Versa est in luctum by Alonso Lobo (1555–1617), who was appointed Assistant Music Director to Francisco Guerrero at Seville Cathedral, and stood in for him during his leaves of absence to travel to the Holy Land. Lobo’s best-known work, Versa est was written on the death of Philip II of Spain, and comprises mesmerising through-composed polyphony.

Rounding off our day with another Alonso Lobo 6-part motet with madrigalian-like qualities, the beautiful O quam suavis est, Domine (1607), we all much appreciated the benefits of being provided with full score, facilitating our sight-reading and bringing the piece to near-performance level at the first reading!

Towards the end of the day, we had the opportunity to perform to an appreciative audience of friends and family (and a well behaved sheepdog!) who joined us for our plenary concert.

- Lucienne Suter




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Last modified: 14 December 2015