On a bitterly cold day in March, more than 50 assorted voices and instruments assembled at this small harbourside church. We were there to study some of the music from this illustrious court when under the direction of Orlando di Lasso. We began with Spem in Alium numquam habui by Cristobal de Morales (c 1500–53), a Spanish composer whose church music ranks him with Palestrina and Victoria as a master of polyphony. Spem in Alium was a good example, with long, arching phrases flowing out of each other. For the second sing-through, Nancy introduced musica ficta alterations, which added a certain spice.
We were able to produce two well-balanced choirs for the next piece, Beati Omnes qui timent Dominum, by Orlando di Lasso himself. He wrote it for a wedding, the words from Psalm 127 being particularly appropriate. Having studied rhetoric, Lasso knew how first to engage his listeners and then to develop his theme.
After considerable rearrangement, we settled into the three choirs necessary for Plaudite Omnis Terra by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557–1612). This proved quite a challenge, but the impressive array of curtal, two cornetti, dulcian, bassoon and sackbut, as well as recorders and viols, brought this exciting music to life. St John’s reverberation is only one second at most, not remotely like St Mark’s, Venice, where the reverberation lasts up to 7 seconds, but the final section, which brought the three choirs together, was particularly thrilling.
Lastly, arranged in two choirs again, we worked on another piece by Lasso: In Convertendo (Psalm 126 Vulgate, KJ 125). This opened with the two choirs tutti, then continued with alternating choirs. This cori spezzati (spaced choirs) was a technique developed in St Mark’s, where various groups were stationed in different galleries. The text of this psalm gave plenty of scope for word painting, and here again the woodwind and brass added greatly to the sound.
The day was challenging at times, but we had been introduced to glorious music which most of us had not had the chance to perform before. Our thanks are due to Nancy—a welcome return visit—for her enthusiasm and patience; to Wendy for her very efficient organization and particularly for producing and printing the music, of which we all had copies, in named folders, already on our chairs; and also to Peter for keeping us all going with tea, coffee and biscuits. It was a memorable day.- Clavell and Brenda Tripp