For centuries, themes of courtship, sensuality, loss, and mending have captivated the imaginations of artists. Music of the European Renaissance was set ablaze with settings of centuries-old Biblical texts; contemporary Italian translations of Psalms; operas revisiting ancient Greek figures; and English, French and Italian madrigals all depicting that most universal drive. With selections from the 15th through the 17th-centuries, this program expresses the effervescence of new love, the overwhelming sensation when lovers’ lips first touch, the gut-wrenching pain and grief of betrayal, and the ultimate resilience of the mended human heart.
Our program begins with music overflowing with life, with “Bonjour mon coeur” depicting love as Spring renewed, our lover comparing the object of his affection to an immaculate Goddess, and ultimately being overcome with emotion. The next two pieces speak to the lover who is overcome with infatuation, willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill their longing desires. At the end of this first set, “Fyer fyer” paints of picture of someone so in love that he is completely ablaze, with seemingly no one to help our poor lover extinguish the flames.
The second portion of the program moves to the touch between two lovers. Between two more lighthearted English and French pieces is Palestrina’s setting of a text from the Song of Songs, “Osculetur me.” Although this text may be understood as a metaphor for God’s love for his people, this piece focuses on the very tangible interactions between two lovers, kisses on the mouth and breasts as sweet as wine. Just as sweet yet much lighter is the frustration one feels when thwarted by one’s mother (to protect the child’s innocence, of course), which Des Prez depicts in his chanson, “Baises Moy.”
Just as the affections of love are varied, so are the betrayals of human and sacred love. A versatile composer of all of the prominent genres of Renaissance Europe, di Lasso’s piece, “Così Talhor” from his Lagrime di San Pietro depicts the heavy burden St. Peter felt after denying Christ. Another poignant piece is Monteverdi’s “Lamento della Ninfa.” Although this piece comes from his Eighth Book of Madrigals, it could easily be mistaken for an early Italian opera scene. This piece comes from a period in which Monteverdi introduced his forward-looking harmonies and unprepared dissonances. “Come Sable Night” was composed as “a mourning song for Prince Henry,” and makes use of symbolic gestures in the music to depict the whole range of sorrow and sadness.
The mended heart conveys a message of renewed hope. “Construe My Meaning” begins with a pointed chromatic descending line in all four voices to depict a sort of wandering, perhaps as one’s misconstrued intentions with their lover. Between what some may consider more obscure English composers, we find Tallis’ “When Shall my Sorrowful Sighing Slake.” Known better as an instrumental piece, it is a setting of a text by a noble Englishman who suffered a rather abrupt end; death by beheading at the hands of King Henry VIII. Rounding out the theme of this evening’s program is “Come Away Sweet Love” by Thomas Greaves. Much like the opening pieces, it carries a renewed sense of light and effervescence. Shrugging off grief and sadness are numerous invitations to run about at the invitation of various nymphs. More specifically, this piece explores the feelings one can convey without words. Much like the “Basies Moy,” there is a complexity not immediately obvious to the listener. Contained within this piece, and the greater whole in which this piece originates, is extensive numerology with deep sacred and biblical connotations. Examples of this include using only seven of the eight church modes, consistent scoring for seven voices, and an overall organization scheme distributing various pieces according to order and mode.