John Eliot Gardiner : el Camino de Santiago


John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir did something pretty special in 2004.  They attempted the pilgrimage to Santiago as it might have occurred in the Renaissance period.

Gardiner said at the outset:

This will be our 40th anniversary year, and I cannot envisage a more fitting way of celebrating this milestone than by undertaking a new musical pilgrimage, this time following the oldest and most famous of pilgrimage routes, el Camino de Santiago.”

The group, Gardiner and 24 of singers, departed from a point in southwest France that brought them first to Conques, then to other churches along the way, where they stopped to sing these works of sacred music.  The trip produced two recordings, Santiago a Capella and Pilgrimage to Santiago the first done prior to departing, anticipating the places and churches where they would sing this music and the second after they had completed the journey informed by memories of the experience.

francisco_guerrero_57771-jpg_1306973099Two of the period’s leading figures, though overshadowed today by the towering reputation of Victoria, were Francisco Guerrero and his successor as maestro de capilla at Seville Cathedral, Alonso Lobo.

Francisco Guerrero served at Seville Cathedral, one of the best endowed musical establishments in the peninsula, from 1542 until his death over fifty years later, first as an alto, then as assistant to the long-lived maestro de capilla Pedro Fernández, and from 1574 as chapelmaster himself. In 1555 he published a collection of motets (Sacrae cantiones) in Seville, but since music printing failed to gain more than a temporary foothold in the city he took subsequent volumes of his works, in part underwritten by the Seville cathedral chapter, to be printed in those major centres of music publication, Rome and Venice.

By the latter part of the sixteenth century Guerrero had more than sufficient musical resources at his disposal in Seville to compose and have performed polychoral pieces such as his setting of Duo Seraphim for twelve voices distributed in three choirs. This impressive work was first printed in Venice in 1589 and shows his awareness of spatial effects and of contrast yet balance in vocal scoring. The motet Ave Virgo sanctissima is written on a smaller scale but was undoubtedly one of his best-known works. The text hints at the then disputed doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin; with its distinctive canon in the upper voices the motet is extraordinarily beautiful, and was to serve as the model for parody Masses by Géry de Ghersem and Juan Esquivel.

Guerrero : Ave Virgo sanctissima

21530054_135408197895-1The volume of masses and motets published in Madrid in 1602 by Alonso Lobo, Guerrero’s assistant and, slightly later, successor as chapelmaster in Seville (1604-17), was less widely circulated internationally, though it was acquired by many ecclesiastical institutions throughout the Iberian world. His funerary motet Versa est in luctum, written for the exequies of Philip II in 1598, is one of the most poignant and moving polyphonic settings of the Golden Age. Lobo’s superb control of dissonance within the six-voice contrapuntal texture creates a sense of inner weeping and loss perfectly in keeping with the despair of Job’s words. His setting of the Lamentations for the first lesson of Holy Saturday is preserved in an eighteenth-century copy at Seville Cathedral; here the sentences of Jeremiah are set in a quasi-recitational manner punctuated by the more melismatic and sustained polyphony of the Hebrew letters Heth, Teth and Jod. These interjections serve as moments of repose and contemplation, the whole being framed by the arching phrases of the opening and closing sections.

Lobo, Versa est in luctum

This is a disc whose value goes beyond the subject or the contents of the program. It has an appeal far greater than many other discs that focus on the pilgrim road to Santiago, the shrine to St. James the apostle at the northwest tip of Spain. The contents are not much like the other discs, for there are only six selections from the Codex Calixtinus (the two most familiar selections along with four chants less familiar) and one from the Llibre Vermell. The rest are motets spanning Renaissance Europe along with one of the most frequently recorded masses of Victoria, Missa O quam gloriosum (lacking the Credo). (Fanfare, 30:5)

Victoria, Missa O quam gloriosum – “Kyrie”

For these 24 pilgrim singers, the music expresses the spirit of Santiago as it was felt a millennium ago as much as today among the pilgrims, some of whom showed up regularly at the periodic concerts that the group gave along the way.

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