Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Canzona in Camden: Mater Ecclesiae's Annual Assumption Mass

I've been trading emails with the eminent Dr. Timothy McDonnell, princeps musicorum Philadelphiensis, who is returning to the fair banks of the Delaware River once again to conduct the music for Mater Ecclesiae's annual Mass of Thanksgiving at Camden's Immaculate Conception Cathedral on Friday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, at 7pm. This is an event that is not to be missed. Tim has graciously forwarded to me both the Ordo musicae and his program notes which will be published in the booklet which will be distributed to the attendees at the Mass.

First, the Ordo musicae:
Liturgy Title Composer
Procession Repeat, My Soul Music: WOODLANDS

Walter Greatorex

Text: Timothy McDonnell

Interlude Canzon XII à 8 Giovanni Gabrielli
Introit Signum Magnum Gregorian chant
Kyrie Messa della Cappella (1641) Claudio Monteverdi
Gloria Messa della Cappella (1641) Monteverdi
Gradual Audi, filia Gregorian chant
Alleluia Assumpta est Gregorian chant
Credo III Gregorian chant
Et Incarnatus Anonymous Guatemalan Composer XVI cent.
Offertory Inimicitias ponam Gregorian chant
Sonata Sopra “Sancta Maria” Monteverdi
Sanctus Messa della Cappella (1641) Monteverdi
Benedictus Messa della Cappella (1641) Monteverdi
Agnus Dei Messa della Cappella (1641) Monteverdi
Communio Beatam me dicent Gregorian chant
Motets Venite Populi W. A. Mozart
Sonata No. 1 in Eb Major, K67 Mozart
Pulchra est amica mea Palestrina-Bassano
Ave Maria Harold Boatrite
Recessional Hymn Sing We of the Blessed Mother Music: ST. THEODORE 87.87.D

Timothy McDonnell

Text: G. B. Timms

Postlude Sonata No. 12 in C major, K. 263 Mozart

And, finally, Dr. McDonnell's program notes:

The music chosen for the Solemn Mass of the Assumption, 2008, blends contrasting yet complementary styles from the great heritage of Catholic sacred music. Proceeding with a decidedly Venetian theme, the central work for the liturgy is the Mass in F written in 1641 by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), La Serenissima’s first famous composer-priest (the second being Antonio Vivaldi). It is drawn from a collection published under the title Selva Morale e Spirituale (“Moral and Spiritual Wilderness”). This compendium features some of Monteverdi’s loftiest contributions to sacred music. The Mass is a work in four voices and will feature brass accompaniment colla voce (i.e. ‘with the voice’), which was the Venetian practice in the 17th Century.

One of Monteverdi’s most imaginative works – Sonata sopra « Sancta Maria » – will also be performed during the Offertory of the Mass. The vocal part is a simple invocation in one voice: “Holy Mary, pray for us.” This simple vocal thread is part of a rich poly-choral texture of instrument groups that play brilliantly off one another. It is conceived on a grand scale (written in 8 parts!) and typifies the florid Venetian style of the early Baroque.

A precursor to Monteverdi in the Venetian School, Giovanni Gabrielli (1554-1612) was the composer whose genius built the stylistic bridge between the Renaissance and Baroque styles in Venice. His technical flair and conception of instrumental forms established Venice as the epicenter of a musical movement that would dominate until the death of J.S. Bach. Gabrielli’s genius is represented in the Assumption liturgy by the Canzona XII à 8 for two instrumental choirs (strings and brass) which will be played at the vesting.

One of the more interesting works featured at the Mass is the Motet to be sung during Communion, Pulchra es, which is a ravalement of Palestrina’s choral original by the Venetian Giovanni Bassano (1558-1617). Bassano elaborated Palestrina’s motet with an embellished instrumental line in the soprano (played on violin) and the bass (played on ’cello). Bassano is known to posterity principally for his virtuosity on the violin, to which this ornate frame on Palestrina testifies.

The program also comprises three works by W. A. Mozart (1756-1791). It would seem that Mozart’s clean lines represent the complete antithesis to Venetian exuberance, but a cultural kinship among these works appears upon further reflection. For example, Mozart’s lively Communion motet Venite Populi is written for two choirs: a clear descendant of the poly-choral idiom of old Venice. We will also play two of Mozart’s “Epistle Sonatas”. While these works bear the stylistic impression of the later 18th Century, the tradition of liturgical instrumental music found its first flowering in Baroque Venice. Mozart, like all latter-day composers, owes an incalculable debt to his forebears.

Another work of great interest is the Et incarnatus est setting which will be performed by the choir during the singing of the Credo. This is the work of an anonymous Guatemalan composer of the 16th Century, and exemplifies the universal scope of Catholic culture. The cathedral culture of Meso- and South America was remarkable for the musical prodigy demonstrated so far from its European roots. This short work is a small fragment of a formidable body of Western-Hemisphere liturgical music, which is just now gaining due notoriety.

Finally, we would like to call attention to a work that has become Mater Ecclesiae’s particular anthem: Harold Boatrite’s (b. 1933) Ave Maria. Composed in the first year of this new millennium, it is not only a testimony to the enduring lyrical spirit so beleaguered in the last century, but also the portent of a hopeful future for new Catholic liturgical music in the 21st Century.

Dr. Timothy McDonnell is Assistant Professor of Music at Ave Maria University.

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