Palestrina Improperia, with abbellimenti
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,266
    Attached is an edition of the Palestrina Improperia (Popule Meus), for two choirs, a8, with abbellimenti (ornaments) as sung by the Cappella Sistina.

    The sources are the MS now in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (catalogue no. D-14499), Collection de musique Tire'e de la Chapelle Sixtine, appartenant 'a Mesplet, ca. 1799; and a sketch in a letter of Felix Mendelssohn from when he heard the Holy Week Services in the Papal Chapel in 1831. I believe that this gives a reasonably accurate rendition of how this piece was performed by the Cappella in the early 19th Century, during the directorship of Giuseppe Baini.

    My choir sang this version of the Improperia on Good Friday last year: it is very effective.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,706
    Thanks for posting to CPDL as well! I'd love to know which parts come from which of two sources, though.
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  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,266
    Most is from Mesplet's MS*. "Agios o Theos/Sanctus Deus" is from Mendelssohn's sketch, which is skeletal, but clearly outlines the faburden between the Canto Primo and Alto (Canto 2o, comes and goes in the sketch). Mendelssohn's sketch is also, like his sketch of the abbellimenti of the Allegri, transposed up a fourth to B-flat Major.

    Much of the embellishments seem to be standard embellishments employed by the Cappella Sistina when singing Falsibordoni. I am currently working on a paper on Sistine ornamentation from the 17the century through the time of Domenicio Mustafá.

    * There is a interesting and sordid history about Mesplet's MS, which is outlined in Graham O'Reilly's paper on Allegri's "Miserere".
  • ...ornamentation from...
    I, and, I should think, others, would be very interested to see your edition. I have heard recordings of Sistine Chapel Holy Week singing of the early XXth century, and have heard simulations of it by modern singers. The degree of so-called 'ornamentation', slipping, sliding, and scooping, not to mention moaning and groaning, yields an incredibly corrupt and degenerarate style of singing which challenges belief. There were, it would seem, aspects of past performance practice which we likely would not want to imitate. One might suggest that this sort of excessively emotive praxis is a musical version of the excessive blood and gore of much statuary and religious art of Spain and the Latin world of the renaissance and baroque eras.
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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,706
    I have to disagree with MJO, both on the point that Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen is out of place or 'degenerarate', and that it is a peculiarly Latin trait, as no one who has spent time at Colmar or Carlsruhe will easily agree. But for some paroxysms of its history there might be plentiful examples to point to in England as well. Come to think of it, is there anything in Guerrero approaching the gruesomeness of Cornysh's Woefully arrayed? I find myself in a little sympathy with the Youtube commenter who complains of "an unwavering, unvarying, wearying mezzo-piano and they have sacrificed interpretation for a homogeneous, blended uniformity. "
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,266
    What I find interesting about our modern idea of Renaissance performance practice is how unhistorical it actually is. We know that much 'a cappella' vocal music was sung accompanied either by an instrumental consort or by keyboard, even the performance of polyphonic pieces as pseudo-monodies (there are, in fact, pieces intended to be performed as such), and yet nobody does this, unless they are playing Gabrielli or Monteverdi. We know that singers (and instrumentalists) embellished their parts with trills, divisions, etc., and yet, we have nothing but "slavishly accurate" (apologies to Fr. Z.) renditions of the score, to the point that there is little point buying more than one recording of a given piece. After all, the Victoria "O Magnum" sounds exactly the same, whether it's sung by the Cambridge Singers, The Sixteen, Tallis Scholars, King's, New College, Christ Church, Ely, or Westminster (either one). I think that the art of decoration needs to be revived---and not only in 16th & 17th century music: I think Mozart & Co. would be shocked, amused perhaps at it's quaintness, but shocked never the less, by the robotic way that we play their music, never daring to depart from the printed page, in spite of the scores (no pun intended) of lessons and treatises expounding the subtleties of the art of decoration.
  • Tasteful decoration? Sure.

    I think, though--after having surveyed fifty years of the output of the "historically informed performance" crowd--that we need to stop idolizing the exact conditions and practices of the past when we have the capability to do so much more with the level of training and knowledge we have nowadays. Were singers typically accompanied back then for some pressing artistic need, or merely to keep them in tune? The biggest example of this in my experience is the oboe part in Handel's Messiah, which ruins the texture of four equal polyphonic voices to nonsensically double the sopranos for intonation reasons. Such a contrivance is obviously practical, rather than musical, in construction. If your singers can keep in tune perfectly well on their own, I'd much rather hear their mathematically perfect intervals than the necessarily imperfect compromise of an organ's equal temperament.

    I similarly don't buy that the particular style that people like Bartolucci champion is anything other than antiquated. His performances of much of the Renaissance repertoire may be as lusty as they were in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but they make it impossible to focus on the actual music itself because their downright self-indulgent method of performance obscures any sense of tonal relationship or linear interplay in the polyphony. Such an approach can only be described as hopelessly dogmatic.

    In fact, I would argue that the performers who are impossibly out of touch with the true meaning of the music they play, and unfortunately monotonous, are the same ones who are so slavish to "exact performance practice", trying to follow every scholar's recommendation and every line in a period treatise while sheepishly pushing out the notes as though the whole score is under museum glass--and the ones who are the most emotionally expressive are those who, in the moment, could not care less what some bookworm thinks and merely approach the music with sheer intensity and honest feeling for all the emotions and interplay of basic elements contained within the score.

    There is no such thing as a "recipe" to a perfect performance--something that I fear we have become obsessed with ever since the recording age kicked off. If you approach the music honestly and with the deep feeling it deserves, and take any additional period knowledge of the composer as relative to the score and to that feeling itself, and if you can inspire your fellow musicians to do the same as well, then you will arrive at a musicianship which nobody's pedantic criticisms will be able to assail. But if you are either too self-indulgent or uncaring (as I suspect many of the "sloppy" musicians of the past often were), or too devoted to exactly reproducing what some scholar thinks the music sounds like (as I suspect far too many musicians of our generation are), you cannot hope to become a proper artist.
  • All quite true.The literary evidence alone would tell us that the way in which we perform the polyphony of any past period would be the equivalent of playing Couperin without the ornaments. Yet, the literary record also reveals that one can, and many did, reach a point of excess.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,011
    After all, the Victoria "O Magnum" sounds exactly the same, whether it's sung by the Cambridge Singers, The Sixteen, Tallis Scholars, King's, New College, Christ Church, Ely, or Westminster (either one).

    This strikes me as quite an exaggeration. Here are a few YouTube performances by most of these groups, as well as some others. I find quite a variation in performance. The performances which exceed 4 minutes by very much are, to my taste, too slow. The range 3m30s-4m00s seems about right to me, at least in most cases. The old saw that in most Renaissance pieces the tactus should be approximately 60bpm goes out the window with all of the performances (at that tempo, the work would come in well at about 2 and a half minutes!).

    Cambridge Singers (4m17s): https://youtu.be/9xPh-fXYAc4
    Cambridge Singers (4m01s): https://youtu.be/udVeFKw095E
    The Sixteen (3m28s): https://youtu.be/eDAQtZz1yf4
    Voces8 (4m01s): https://youtu.be/1sKEF1xilOY
    Robert Shaw Festival Singers (4m14s): https://youtu.be/zSPaJLXfd-w
    Robert Shaw Chorale (3m31s): https://youtu.be/7wWcnCb6Yjg
    King's College, Cambridge (3m24s): https://youtu.be/wro_AYqnKpc
    Carols from King's, 2016 (3m17s): https://youtu.be/uJNeuF_eiyU
    Chanticleer (old, 3m47s): https://youtu.be/hg1l65xiGkY
    Chanticleer (newer, 4m00s): https://youtu.be/CRGWPuMHCSw
    Voices of Ascension (3m38): https://youtu.be/fxwf_YlUDPg
    St John Cantius Choir of Saint Cecilia (3m08s): https://youtu.be/VgSJ1ywG4ME
    New College Oxford (3m52s): https://youtu.be/ZcaoAwfaTg4
    New York Polyphony (3m25s): https://youtu.be/JGXERrZKOC0
  • .
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,266
    There is a bit of exaggeration--otherwise it wouldn't be hyperbole!

    I have to say, that of all of those performances, my favorite is Harry Christophers's rendition.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,450
    when we have the capability to do so much more with the level of training and knowledge we have nowadays.

    I'd be very cautious about making that claim. Early performers only had the music of their own time to deal with. And they had all day to work on it. They wouldn't have known the science of voice production, but they probably knew the art of it.

    I think that Historically-Informed Performance can fuel great musicmaking, but in the Church, we do Liturgically Informed Performance. To adopt the performance practice of the 16th century (or the repertoire of the 16th c.!) in hopes of inciting the piety of the 16th century would be a lot like adopting the liturgy of the 1st Century to incite the piety of the 1st century...and we see where that devilment led.
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  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,266
    [A]dopting the liturgy of the 1st Century to incite the piety of the 1st century...and we see where that devilment led.

    Save that we don't have the liturgy of the 1st century, we have the liturgy of the mid-20th century, masquerading as the liturgy of the 1st century.

  • I'd be very cautious about making that claim. Early performers only had the music of their own time to deal with. And they had all day to work on it. They wouldn't have known the science of voice production, but they probably knew the art of it.


    I get this a lot. Then again, if one holds ideals such as homogeneity of section and of ensemble, clarity of line, and overall beauty of sound in high regard, one would be hard-pressed to look past the ensembles that the modern era has produced, at least those with genuine artistic feeling and not half-voiced inoffensive mediocrity.

    Bach's choir and orchestra was pathetic, even by his standards (let alone what's necessary to properly perform his music), and the Sistine Chapel Choir's...mediocrity had been known for centuries. I can't agree that merely emulating these conditions or their performance practices is the best way to experience the music, just like filling a chorus with hundreds of worn-out, self-centred opera singers who can't be bothered to listen to each other is not the best way to experience Romantic choral works.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,706
    To adopt the performance practice of the 16th century (or the repertoire of the 16th c.!) in hopes of inciting the piety of the 16th century
    No, not hoping for that at all.image
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  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,266
    ...ornamentation from...

    Jackson, Attached is Lassus Mode VI Falsobordone (musical text from the Barenreiter edition), set to the "Glory Be" which my choir will be singing in the Introit of the Mass on the Third Sunday per annum, as a sample of the application of some standard ornaments: this is very simple music with some very simple ornaments, because, there is a difference between Historically Informed Performance and Liturgically Informed Performance, as Jeffrey quite rightly says.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,011
    ... as a sample of the application of some standard ornaments

    Well, I'm sorry to add something negative about this but: putting the same ornament in all voices at the same time strikes me as some sort of artificial overkill or ... to put it differently ... just out of place.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,266
    That's what Spohr said. Mendelssohn said that the ear became accustomed to it. It certainly is, when sung, a very interesting effect. But I actually find it to be rather beautiful when sung: When I put the edition of the Improperia together I transcribed those parallel ornaments, assuming that I would end up asking the lower three parts to remove them; I was surprised, pleasantly, when I heard them sung.

    Whether one does this or not, is a matter of personal preference: I just put this out there as an example of what could have possibly been done. Is it a bit over-kill? Possibly. But so are most things from the Baroque. (The B minor Mass comes to mind.)