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Thread: Palestrina

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    Default Palestrina

    I was enjoying listening to several of Palestrina's masses and it struck me that I had not seen any posts on him.

    I am listening to the collection by the Tallis Scholars. They point out that he wrote 104 masses (the same number as Haydn's symphonies) but that very few have been recorded or studied.

    While I do not listen to him every day, I do enjoy them occassionally and wondered if others shared the same interest and if they had any recommendations.

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    Senior Member Romantic Geek's Avatar
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    Palestrina masses not studied? That's a really false statement given that almost every modal/16th century counterpoint textbook models themselves after Palestrina's music.
    B.M. Music Theory - University of Connecticut
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    They were referring I guess more to the order they were written in, the changes that took place over time and why - stuff like that.

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    As there seemed to be some interest in this aquisition I thought I'd do the decent thing and offer some comments. It arrived today and I've listened to about half of it. It's definitely amongst the best Palestrina recordings I own -though probably not a match for the outstanding version of the Missa Viri Galilaei by Herreweghe's Chapelle Royale. What I've listened to includes the 8 part Stabat itself which I guess is what people are interested in. I've listened to it twice and so I'll offer a comparison with the other two versions I own which are these:



    The Oxford Camerata go at it with their characteristic energy. I believe they use more than one voice per part. The homophonic passages have a ponderous solemn quality with pauses that is a bit churchy (by which I mean English churchy) which is perhaps unsurprising given that this is really a choir rather than an ensemble. The other two groups seem to flow through these sections a bit more and I wonder what a top class Italian group like De Labyrintho would sound like doing this. They're also able to really get the most out of the peaks in terms of drama, and the extra numbers no doubt help here.

    Pro Cantione Antiqua as real pioneers in this field get a lot of respect. They certainly deserve it but I'm not always convinced by their approach as they tend to trundle along in one gear and sometimes don't really expose any 'architecture' to the polyphony so that everything sounds the same. This isn't one of those cases though, despite them clocking in at more than two minutes longer than the other two versions. There's quite a lot of reverb such that I sometimes struggled to be sure it was 1V/P but it helps make the recording the most atmospheric of the three. At the points where the polyphony really flowers their singing style enables them to produce by far the most intimate effect of the three versions that is genuinely moving.

    This Cardinall's Musick disc is now out of print as the Gaudeamus label is no more. They are a good deal clearer than either of the other two with much more transparency such that this sounds much 'more' polyphonic than the other two. There are vocal lines that you might well miss in the other versions that you won't here. It's still a warm sound that you'd expect with this group and nothing like as crystalline as you'd get from someone like The Tallis Scholars. It's very well balanced and really you just feel that you get more of the piece from it. They don't fall far short of the camerata on power or Pro Cantione on passion and clearly win out on the technical side. Overall I'd say it's the best version.

    These are all fine versions and can hold their heads up. I don't think anyone need rush out to get another version if they have one of these. Which one you want really depends on what qualities you value most but my recommendation would be to start with The Cardinall's Musick (if you can get it) as I think it ticks all the boxes and really exposes every aspect of the music whilst remaining vibrant and powerful.

    Cheers
    Last edited by hocket; Aug-04-2011 at 23:28.

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    Senior Member kg4fxg's Avatar
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    I have really enjoyed albums such as Stile Antico & The Sixteen and Harry Christophers.
    No, it's a Bb. It looks wrong and it sounds wrong, but it's right - Vaughan Williams.

    Bill Carter, CPA

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    Quote Originally Posted by kg4fxg View Post
    I have really enjoyed albums such as Stile Antico & The Sixteen and Harry Christophers.
    Both much admired groups. I'm in two minds about Stile Antico myself. They're very atmospheric but I sometimes feel that they sacrifice form and pace for it (compare their version of Sheppard's Media Vita with The Tallis Scholars' for instance). There's no denying the atmosphere though -sometimes I think I can feel the draught in the church when I listen to them...

    I recently got The Sixteen's new Palestrina album, which is excellent though very different in approach to The Cardinall's Musick. I'd say their style is more akin to the Oxford Camerata who I suppose The Sixteen are really a more upmarket version of.
    Last edited by hocket; Aug-04-2011 at 22:30.

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    Hocket,

    Thank you. I can't explain exactly why I stumbled on to Stile Antico or Harry Christophers and the Sixteen? I think there was an article in either Gramophone or BBC Music. I subscribe to three classical music magazines. Anyway, I just bought the essential Tallis Scholars and I was extremely impressed!

    Some other works I have enjoyed are the San Francisco Girls Chorus - Music from the Venetian Ospedali. I am sort of a Vivaldi fanatic, and would enjoy hearing what those girls sounded like in the Ospedale della Pietà at his time. Those poor virgin girls who were orphans. You would hear them sing and marry one and if they did not get married they became nuns.

    Back to the subject, I don't know how I missed the Tallis Scholars before?
    No, it's a Bb. It looks wrong and it sounds wrong, but it's right - Vaughan Williams.

    Bill Carter, CPA

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    Hocket,

    Thanks for the post. I tried to find the Cardinall's Musick on Spotify, but no luck.

    I've pulled out my copy of Bruno Turner's recording. For some reason, I haven't paid much attention to their Stabat Mater recording until now. Their set of Palestrina masses is hit and miss, as you indicated, but this one is lovely.

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    I don't know how I missed the Tallis Scholars before?
    They are, along with perhaps The Hilliard Ensemble, the 'market leaders' in this field. Both groups took up the baton from Pro Cantione Antiqua and transformed the way Renaissance music is regarded and really set the standard for all who followed them. Due to their eminence they tend to be either praised unreservedly or nakedly pilloried. I sometimes have issues with their approach and/or performances myself but I also have many recordings by them that you'd have to wrestle from my grasp. I think a lot of people make the mistake of underestimating Peter Philips. I tend to prefer tighter ensembles like The Hilliards (or better still The Orlando Consort) but The Tallis Scholars always feature some of the most famous voices and prior to her untimely death their signature sound for 25 odd years was that of the glorious Tessa Bonner which is hard to resist (yeah, that's her floating floating across Spem in Alium).

    PS: Are you a fan of the other Italian violin wizards or is just Vivaldi?
    Last edited by hocket; Aug-04-2011 at 23:02.

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    Palestrina's 29 Motet settings of the Song of Songs are fantastic.



    And a favourite Palestrina motet of mine:



    Thought this thread deserved a bump since Josquin is currently up on the front page and I don't see much conversation about Palestrina 'round these parts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yardrax View Post
    Thought this thread deserved a bump since Josquin is currently up on the front page and I don't see much conversation about Palestrina 'round these parts.
    There's not much discussion about any music before 1700, unfortunately for those of us wanting to learn more about it.

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    It is a shame. There doesn't seem to be much information on the internet in general about Palestrina. Most of the information I know I've gathered from documentaries on sacred and renaissance music. I did find this list on IMSLP which has all the collections of Palestrina's works with the dates on which they were published which I thought was pretty neat:

    http://imslp.org/wiki/Opera_omnia_Io...ierluigi_da%29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yardrax View Post
    It is a shame. There doesn't seem to be much information on the internet in general about Palestrina. Most of the information I know I've gathered from documentaries on sacred and renaissance music. I did find this list on IMSLP which has all the collections of Palestrina's works with the dates on which they were published which I thought was pretty neat:

    http://imslp.org/wiki/Opera_omnia_Io...ierluigi_da%29
    I have studied Palestrina's music in great depth. Although he is widely acclaimed the "purest" of composers, there seems to be very little interest in the bulk of his work. Having pored over the 33 volumes that you referenced [it was a major obsession for many months], it's unthinkable to me how much there remains of his that drifts only in the obscurity of an admittedly fine collection. Yet even that collection is incomplete! Many scores of works have been discovered in the 20th century, most especially by the great Palestrina scholar Knud Jeppesen.

    Although his excellence was recognized in his own day, he was not the only great polyphonist around, and he hardly dominated the entire European sacred musical landscape [although it would be a grave falsehood to say that he had little influence!]. In the two centuries that followed him, his reputation was secure, yet his works [outside Rome itself] were not performed as frequently as one might think. Fux's great work, the "Gradus", was a very imperfect approximation of Palestrina's style, but the ideal of Palestrina remained.

    While there are surely still many who think Palestrina the very perfection of the high polyphonic style, and understandably so, I consider Lassus and Victoria still more interesting.

    Still, his "Lamentations of Jeremiah" is a towering monument of glory to the whole of the Roman School style!

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    Senior Member Yardrax's Avatar
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    Funny you mention Jeppesen, I have his textbook on modal counterpoint.

    I think one of the things about Renaissance polyphony in general is that it's free and flowing musical phrases are a world away from the periodic phrase structures that have been etched into our collective musical consciousness since Haydn and Mozart. This might make it difficult for some listeners to immediately 'get' the music and go someway to explaining the relative lack of interest outside the worlds of academia and sacred music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yardrax View Post
    Funny you mention Jeppesen, I have his textbook on modal counterpoint.

    I think one of the things about Renaissance polyphony in general is that it's free and flowing musical phrases are a world away from the periodic phrase structures that have been etched into our collective musical consciousness since Haydn and Mozart. This might make it difficult for some listeners to immediately 'get' the music and go someway to explaining the relative lack of interest outside the worlds of academia and sacred music.
    His work is truly outstanding, and you're absolutely right about the substantial difference between the polyphonic music, initiated by modality rather than tonality, at least tonality as academics would regard it. Of course there exists harmonic function in this voice leading-oriented music but each line is circumscribed by that function, creating a vast and complicated nexus of co-existing functions varying with one another in refreshingly unexpected ways, yet very highly regulated and controlled.

    I freely admit that this "novelty" was what kept me from exploring the rich domain of pre-Baroque music for years. Monteverdi is a fascinating composer, and not only because he is generally regarded as the most prominent figure in the transition from strictly contrapuntal to generally harmonically-oriented music. His polyphonic works are every bit as masterly as many of the greats that preceded him, and his harmonically-oriented works still have inspiration drawn somewhat from the polyphonic modes, though they are surely still closer to, say, Mozart than to Palestrina.

    If you haven't already, you might also greatly enjoy the music of the Venetian School! The Gabrieli's are my favorite of the bunch. Every bit as different from the Roman School as the Netherlandish School(s).

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