Monday, February 11, 2013

Ash Wednesday: Miserere nostri (Thomas Tallis)

Here sung by Stile Antico.

Have mercy on us Lord, have mercy on us.

From CPDL:

Miserere nostri is an astoundingly ingenious canon. Most obvious is the canon between the two top voices (mentioned at the foot of page 1), which sing the same line throughout but half a bar apart. Meanwhile, however, a different and less audible canon is in progress between four of the five lower voices: all start singing the same melody at the same time but at four different speeds, two of them in inversion. By bar 6, the Second Bass has already sung the whole of the part assigned to the slowest singer, the First Bass. Amazingly, this fiendish process not only works but produces convincing harmonies which sound as if they are the very raison d’être of this understandably short piece. To enjoy them to the maximum, the music should be taken fairly slowly, so as not to skate over the passing dissonances.

(from the score of CPDL #6605): Original key: F major. Pitch in 16th century England was likely very high and this key is probably closer to the actual performance pitch. This likely earlier work was probably part of a full setting of the Psalm [122/123], but this section is all that remains of this setting. It demonstrates surprising rhythmic complexity. Note values and barring have been adjusted for modern notation. It is particularly important in this antiphon to sing through the barlines, allowing the rhythmic and natural accent of the text to guide phrasing.

Links to Stile Antico sites at YouTube:

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