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Monteverdi 4-part Magnificat and 5-part Madrigals and Josquin's Missa L'homme Arme

Choral workshop directed by Venetia Caine and Tony Bevan, Glastonbury, 30th January 2016

This was my first SWEMF workshop in Glastonbury, attracted by the chance to brighten late January with Monteverdi madrigals! As an opener, Venetia Caine skilfully took us through Monteverdi’s four-part setting of the Magnificat, from Selva morale e spirituale (published c.1640.) She encouraged us to pay strict attention to the beat and gave us the opportunity to grapple with Mensurstrich notation (perhaps more of a novelty for me than for some). After a full run-through, and coffee, I was pleased that we still had time to look in some detail at two lovely five-part madrigals from the fourth book of madrigals for five voices (pub.1603): Quel augellin che canta, with it’s light and virtuosic lines, and Si ch'io vorrei morire, with exuberantly sensuous exclamations. It was a tribute to the skill and musicality of both the director and my fellow participants that we were able to manage a scratch performance of both these pieces within 60 minutes!

After lunch Tony Bevan faced a slightly larger group of singers, to read through Josquin’s Missa Sexti Toni super L'homme Armé, probably written in the last decade of the 15th century. Josquin, who spent much of his working life in Italian and French courts, was one of several Netherlandish composers, perhaps in close contact with each other, to treat the theme of L’homme armé. In sexti toni the melody appears at various speeds and rhythms in all the voices through the work. Largely in four parts, though featuring duets and trios, there are many ingenious contrapuntal devices, including an amazing six-part Agnus Dei III, in which the theme is presented both backwards and forwards simultaneously, with close canons interweaving the longer note values. We expressed our thanks to Chris Lovell for the labour that went into preparing a clear edition of such a complex work.

Tony was a very calm, unruffled director who was willing to trust us to find our way back when we went astray. And usually we did, more or less! His encouraging and competent assistance with difficult moments led to a creditable run through after a reviving tea break. Inevitably, in two and a half hours, we were only able to get an approximate overview of the complete work. It inspired me to investigate Josquin’s style a little further, and I hope the mass might reappear on another occasion.

- Steve Walker




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Last modified: 08 April 2016