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A Polychoral Tour of Europe

Workshop directed by Alison Kinder, Thornbury, 17th June 2017

NB: where voice parts are indicated below — SATB etc. — these are the composers’ original voicings, not necessarily as we performed the works, with instruments replacing voices rather than doubling!

Alison decided to explore how contact with renaissance Italy had influenced non-Italian composers of the time, and firstly tackled Hans Leo Hassler’s (1564–1612) Jubilate Deo, a work joyful and majestic in tone. She master-managed the three choirs (twelve voices in all), recorders of all pitches, sackbuts, viols and bass dulcian required for this sonorous amalgam of the Germany of Hassler’s birth and the Italy of his studies. As a young man of 20 he studied with Andrea Gabrieli and enjoyed a happy friendship with Giovanni Gabrieli, Andrea’s nephew. A welcome coffee break softened what had been rather a hard shock to the system, albeit an artistic one. We realized this was going to be a hardworking day!

On to Peter Philips (1561–1628), Ecce Vicit Leo for two choirs, both SATB. Not knowing this I was expecting a lovely English work with familiar cadences and progressions, but was again transported to renaissance Italy, where Philips studied 1582–85. A faithful Catholic, later to be ordained and exiled from his native land, the music of Philips lost much of its 'Englishness' (apart from his keyboard works) during his exile in the Netherlands. This work bears the indelible mark of his sojourn in Rome and is distinctly Italianate in flavour.

After lunch and the business of the SWEMF AGM, Alison gently led the three choirs grouped as SSAB, SATB & SATB, and instruments (no descant recorder) into the lovely Missa Laetatus Sum by Tomas Luis de Victoria, based on his own psalm-setting of 1583. Victoria lived and worked in Rome for some twenty years from 1565 and certainly met Palestrina, and was influenced by the sacred music style then prevalent in Rome. He never, however, lost the Spanish modal edge to his vocal settings. As expected, all the performers responded to Victoria, and Alison, with joyous enthusiasm; a treat to sing and play and a glorious spiritual work.

We ended with the thrilling Giovanni Gabrieli (1553-1612), Omnes Gentes for sixteen voices, recorders, viols and sackbuts. The very unusual combination of the four choirs, SSABa, TBaB1B2, ATBaB, ATBaB, suggests that the voices were always doubled by instruments, to very uplifting and exciting effect. We did our best to propel ourselves back in time to St Mark’s of 1600... Alison’s masterly leadership left me breathless, so effortlessly and skilfully did she control all the multifarious threads in the tapestry! Our heartfelt thanks go to her and to all the willing SWEMF helpers for a truly inspiring and uplifting day.

- Louise Adams




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Last modified: 04 September 2017