Renaissance Organ Music: 1448-1623. Programme notes.

St George’s, Hanover Sq, 20 October 2015
Renaissance Organ Music: 1448-1623
Andrew Benson-Wilson

SGHSThe start of the Renaissance is difficult to define. In organ music, around 1450 seems a reasonable date, with music from the likes of the Buxheimer Orgelbüch and the Faenza Codex combining elements of Medieval and Renaissance styles.

The first two pieces (by Adam Ileborgh von Stendal) demonstrate this transitional phase.  Ileborgh compiled his Tabulature in 1448 – its full title is Incipiunt praeludia diversarium notarum secundum modernum modum subitliter et diligentor collecta cum mensuris diversis hic infra annexis per fratrem Adam Ileborgh Anno Domini 1448 tempore sui rectoriatus in stendall. It include five tiny pieces called Praeambulum (the earliest known example of that title) and three variations on the popular song Frowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed. The Praeambulum super d a f et g is the longest of these, but still only last about 50 seconds. A meandering and seemingly formless melodic line unfolds over a drone-like double pedal. It will be played today on the equivalent of the late-medieval ‘Blockwerk’ organ sound, as described by Henri Arnaut de Zwolle around 1440. The first of Ileborg three variations on Mensura trium notarum super tenoremFrowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed’ has the folk melody in the bass (referred to as ‘tenor’ in the title, below a second lower voice, above which a melodic line elaborates on the same melody in a free form.

Conrad Paumann (c1410-1473) was born in Nuremburg, but built his career as Court Organist in Munich. He spent time in Italy at a time of musical advance, notably through Josquin des Pres. His Fundamentam organisandi Magistri Conradi Paumanns Ceci de Nüremberga Anno 1452 contain several keyboard pieces and the extensive opening instructional sequence demonstrating how to elaborate on a simple bass line. The samples played today feature a ten-note rising and falling bass line and a similar one rising and falling in thirds.

Arnolt Schlick (c1460-c1521) was, like Paumann, blind. He was born in Heidelberg, the son of a butcher and became Court Organist for the Elector Palatine. His detailed treatise on organ building, Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten, was published in 1511. It described his ‘ideal’ organ, with two manuals and 18 stops, and suggestions that contrasting and distinctive sounds should be used. The following year he published a collection of music, the Tabulaturen etlicher lobgesang und lidlein uff die orgeln un lauten, which includes the devotional song Maria zart, a fine example of Renaissance imitative part writing for two manuals and pedals. He was a contemporary of the famous organist and teacher Paul Hofhaimer, organist to the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors in Innsbruck, Passau and Augsburg where he was ennobled by Emperor Maximillian I.

Hans Buchner (or Hans von Constanz, 1483-1538) was a pupil of Hofhaimer and organist of Constanz Cathedral. His enormous collection of organ music includes this powerful Resurrect et adhuc tecum sum. The chant is first heard in the bass below intertwining imitative upper lines, and then in the tenor voice, after some fanfare-like passages introduced by dramatic flourishes. A similar dramatic flourish opens the following Gloria patri in la quarto toni, a monumental piece written in five-parts with double pedal.

SGHS main organHans Kotter (c1485-1541) was also a pupil of Hofhaimer (they were collectively referred to as ‘Paulomites’). He collected organ pieces by several composers and composed several short Praeludia. His curiously bouncy Kochersperger Spanieler, is an almost Mediaeval take on a Spanish song. It is found in the enormous collection of music made by the Swiss humanist Bonifacius Amerbach between 1513-1532.

Another pupil of Hofhaimer was Dionisio Memno. He became organist of St Mark’s Venice before moving to England in 1516 where he spent ten years as director of Henry VIII’s musician. Sadly, there seems to be no record of his time in England, but he is very likely to have influenced the flourishing of organ music in England in the early to mid 16th century, of which the anonymous Offertory: Felix Namque (from manuscript Roy.56, c1530) is a fine example. The first half is written in 5/4 time, before reverting to a more familiar 3/4. The chant is in the treble voice above increasingly complex rhythmic contortions (typical of the English style of the period), including successively 3 against 2, 4 and 8.

Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566) was organist and chamber musician in the Court of Maximillian’s son, and inheritor of the title of Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V King of the unired Castile and of Aragon. He travelled widely, including a visiting England when Philip (Charles V’s son) was married to Queen Mary. His Diferencias sobre el canto llano del Caballero are an example of the secular variation form which he helped to develop, and which possibly influenced Tallis and Byrd. The theme is heard in the treble tenor and finally, the bass.

Andrea Gabrielli (c1532-1585) was, like Dionisio Memno, organist of St Mark’s Venice where he developed the influential polychoral style of choral and instrumental composition. His Canzon Ariosa (from the Libro Terzo, 1596) combined secular song with Venetian grandeur, its three themes building in intensity.

Franscisco Correa de Arauxo (1584–1654) was born in Seville and was organist at the Cathedral there and in Segovia. His enormous treatise and collection of organ music, the Libro de Tientoes y Discvrsos de Mvsica practica, y Theorica de Organo Intitulado Facultad Organica was published in1626. Its 69 pieces demonstrate a vast array of technical matters. Although appearing to be in the Baroque style of treble melody (or, in the case of the Tiento de medio registro de dos tiples de Segundo Tono, two melodies) and accompaniment, his Tiento’s are in fact strictly polyphonic, the melodic lines just being highly ornamented versions of one or more of the polyphonic lines. I do wonder if the evocatively winding melodies are a reminder of Spain’s Moorish past.

Jean Titelouze (1563-1633) was the first French organist to publish books of their music, a custom that grew enormously in the Baroque era. Titelouze published two books, the first (Hymnes de l’Eglise 1623) being in what by then was becoming a rather old-fashioned Renaissance polyphonic style. He was organist at Rouen Cathedral and a noted expert on organ design. He was responsible for the rebuilding of the Rouen organ, producing the prototype for the large-scale French Baroque organ, a style that was to remain constant for nearly two centuries. His three-verse setting of the plainchant hymn Pange Lingua is an early example of the Baroque form, albeit composed in a strict polyphonic idiom.
© Andrew Benson-Wilson

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