Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tallis Choir of Toronto to Recreate Venetian Midnight Mass in San Marco, 1605

The Tallis Choir of Toronto has an intriguing offering this Advent: the Gabrieli Midnight Mass of 1605 in which they set out "to recreate the splendour of Christmas Eve in the ducal chapel of San Marco in Venice."

They provide the following notes:

Midnight Mass in Renaissance Venice

“Music … so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupefy all those strangers that never heard the like!”

So wrote an astonished 17th century English visitor after hearing high mass in San Marco in Venice. Today even concert musicians are looking at the original liturgical context to shed light on the great choral music of history. Paul McCreesh pioneered the reconstruction of the music of historic liturgies on CD and in concert. The Tallis Choir of Toronto has presented several popular concert recreations: Sarum Vespers of the Purification with the music of Thomas Tallis, Monteverdi Vespers of Christmas Eve, and the Victoria Tenebrae of Good Friday.

On Saturday, December 4, the Choir will present its most ambitious reconstruction to date: Midnight Mass as it may have been celebrated on December 24,1605 in St. Mark’s in the presence of the Doge and Senate of Venice under the direction of Giovanni Gabrieli. Choir, soloists, organ and period orchestra will catch an echo of the splendour of Renaissance Venice.

Researching the event has provided vivid insight into the liturgy of the period. For instance, it was a Venetian tradition to write settings of the Ordinary as individual movements which could be mixed to produce a collective mass, unlike the more common cyclical settings of Palestrina. Vivaldi’s famous “Gloria” is a later example of a work that could be inserted into a mass setting on a festal occasion.

Gabrieli placed his various choirs in the galleries above the sanctuary and in the choir screen pulpit which was nicknamed the “Tub”. Hidden passageways above the reredos allowed musicians to redeploy musicians in new configurations. Equally-balanced choirs could suddenly resound as a dialogue of upper and lower voices. Surprise and delight were constant features of Venetian masses.

Perhaps the most curious tradition was the substitution of motets for the prescribed texts of the Proper. On festal occasions, little Gregorian chant was heard. The rubrics were of course fulfilled by the clergy’s sotto voice recitation. These parallel sequences can be seen as late as the works of Mozart who wrote many Proper substitutes. Gabrieli’s motets are on the largest scale imaginable: Salvator Noster has three five-voice choirs.

Another unexpected tradition were the choral settings of the mass responses. Orlando di Lasso published a set of polyphonic settings of the responses at the Collect, Gospel, even the Sursum corda of the Canon. And no Gabrieli mass would be complete without the famous brass canzonas filled with fanfares to welcome the Doge or acclaim the reading of the Gospel. The concert will not be able to recreate the cannons that were fired at the Elevations!

Students of musical and liturgical history will find this a feast for the ears and imagination. For more information about this concert, check the Tallis Choir’s website: HYPERLINK "http://www.tallischoir.com" www.tallischoir.com

Douglas Cowling

The concert takes place on Saturday, December 4th at 7:30PM at St. Patrick's Church, McCaul St. in downtown Toronto.

For those who are not in the area, but are interested in this choir, do visit their webpage, including their page of recordings.

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