Composer Spotlight Palm Sunday: Josquin Desprez

April 7, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Palm Sunday: Josquin Desprez

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Palm Sunday (April 9th) will be:

  • Orlando Gibbons – Hosanna to the Son of David
  • Tomás Luis de Victoria – Pueri Hebraeorum
  • Plainsong – The Passion according to Matthew
  • G.P. da Palestrina – Improperium expectavit
  • Josquin Desprez – Sanctus de Passione
  • G.P. da Palestrina – Stabat Mater

– Blog Editor

 Orlando Gibbons was born at Oxford in 1583. As a young man, he sang in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, during his brother Edward’s tenure as Master of the Choristers. In 1605, he won for himself a place in the Chapel Royal choir, and by 1615 was sharing the duties of or-ganist there. In 1623, he became organist of Westminster Abbey. He died an untimely death at the age of 42. His exuberant setting of Hosanna to the Son of David, the opening anthem of the Palm Sunday liturgy, is one of his finest compositions.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is thought to have been born in Palestrina, a town in the Sabine hills near Rome, in 1525, and he died in Rome the 2nd of February in 1594. His first musical training seems to have been in Rome at S Maria Maggiore, where he was listed as a choirboy in October 1537. In October 1544, he was appointed as organist at the cathedral of S Agapito in Palestrina, where he remained until his appointment in 1551 as maestro of the Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s in Rome. In 1554, Palestrina published his first book of masses, dedicated to Pope Julius III. In January 1551, he was admitted to the Cappella Sistina, the Pope’s official chapel, on orders of the Pope without examination and despite being married. Three months later Julius died and was succeeded by Marcellus II, who in turn died within about three weeks. The next pope, Paul VI, insisted on full compliance with the chapel’s rule on celibacy, and Palestrina was dismissed in September of 1555. In the following month, Palestrina was appointedmaestro di cappella at St. John Lateran, where he stayed until he left in 1560 following a dispute with the chapter over the financing of the musicians. His next known employment was again at S Maria Maggiore, where he passed the next 5 years combining this post with work for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este and teaching at the Seminario Romano. In April of 1571 he took up his last appointment and returned to the post of maestro of the Cappella Giulia, where he remained to his death.

The Stabat Mater dolorosa is a hymn, describing and commenting on the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the cross, which originated in the Middle Ages and which was subsequently prescribed as a sequence for the Feasts of the Seven Sorrows of the BVM. The “sequence” originated as a form of chant, usually fairly extensive in length as well as range, which was interpolated into the liturgy of the mass after the Gradual and Alleluia. By Palestrina’s time, it had become traditional to sing a setting of the Stabat Mater during communion at High Mass on Palm Sunday in the Sistine Chapel. Palestrina set the proper offertory text for Palm Sunday, Improperium expectavit for five voices.

Josquin Desprez was arguably the greatest composer of the high Renaissance. His works – including 18 completed masses, nearly 100 motets, and dozens of secular pieces – represent a synthesis and summation of polyphonic art of the late 15th and early 16th century. The object of admiration from both literary and musical figures of the day, Josquin was a favorite composer of Martin Luther, whose famous quote praises him as “master of the notes…while other composers must do what the notes dictate.”

From 1489 to 1495, Josquin was a member of the papal choir, first under Pope Innocent VIII, and later under the Borgia pope Alexander VI. He may have gone there as part of a singer exchange with Gaspar van Weerbeke, who went back to Milan at the same time. While there, he may have been the one who carved his name into the wall of the Sistine Chapel; a “JOSQUINJ” was recently revealed by workers restoring the chapel. Since it was traditional for singers to carve their names into the walls, and hundreds of names were inscribed there during the period from the 15th to the 18th centuries, it is considered highly likely that the graffiti is by Josquin – and if so, it would be his only surviving autograph

Josquin’s Sanctus de Passione was intended to be sung at masses during Passiontide. The setting is extra-ordinarily restrained, with one of the simplest settings of the words “Hosanna in excelsis”.

Composer Spotlight: Josquin Desprez
Here is a link to his Missa Pange lingua – based on the hymn we sing on Maundy Thursday during the procession to the altar of repose.

And for his setting of Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus. We use Allegri’s setting on Ash Wednesday. But in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it would have been sung at the conclusion of the Tenebrae service.

– David Shuler, Director of Music

Composer Spotlight Lent III: Frei Manuel Cardoso

March 17, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent III: Frei Manuel Cardoso

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 19th) will be:

  • Constanzo Porta – Oculi mei
  • Manuel Cardoso – Aquam quam ego dabo
  • G.P. da Palestrina – Sicut cervus/Sitivit anima

– Blog Editor


The Portuguese monk and composer Frei Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650) was renowned not only for his musical skill, but also for his humility, a fact the more noticeable on account of the close connections he maintained with the royal house of Braganza.  He was praised by Philip IV of Spain as well as the Duke of Braganza, the future John IV of Portugal (whose setting of Crux fidelis is sung each year at St. Luke’s on Good Friday), who may have been his student.  Aquam quam ego dabit is from a series of motets for various feasts preceding Easter, culminating in a series of responsories for Holy Week, found in the Livro de vários motetes, published in Lisbon by Craesbeeck in 1649, which the composer described as a “child of my old age”.  The text will be found in Sunday’s Gospel reading.

For more information about Cardoso and his style here:

Here is a link to his Requiem, unbelievably beautiful:

And his Lamentations:

– David Shuler, Director of Music

Composer Spotlight Lent II: Orlande de Lassus and Heinrich Schütz

March 11, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent II: Orlande de Lassus and Heinrich Schütz

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Second Sunday in Lent (March 12th) will be:

  • Plainsong – Reminiscere miserationem (Introit)
  • Orlande de Lassus – Missa In die tribulationis
  • Heinrich Schütz – Sicut Moses serpentem in deserto exaltavit

– Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt

– Blog Editor


Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) was born at Mons (in present-day Belgium) but spent his formative years in Italy.  His parents had eventually allowed him to leave home at the age of twelve, to join the household of Ferdinando Gonzaga, Viceroy of Sicily, as a boy treble.  In 1553 he was appointed maestro di cappella at the Lateran Basilica in Rome, but left after six months to return to his dying parents in Flanders.  In 1556 he was engaged by the Duke of Bavaria as a singer and joined the Court Chapel in Munich where Ludwig Daser wasKapellmeister.  In about 1563 Lassus was promoted to the latter post, which he occupied until his death.

He achieved enormous success as a composer of both sacred and secular music which appeared throughout Europe in more than 500 different contemporary publications.  He was granted a patent of nobility and coat of arms in 1570 by Maximilian, and created a Knight of the Golden Spur by Pope Gregory XIII in 1574.  He was capable of writing in any and every genre current in his lifetime (although he wrote little purely instrumental music) from villanellae at one extreme to massive polychoral motets at the other.  His output was prodigious, his technique impeccable, the level of inspiration consistently high, and he was in charge of the largest musical establishment of the late 16thCentury which totaled over 70 singers and players at its peak.

Lassus’s Missa In die tribulationis is a parody mass based on a motet by Jacquet de Mantua (1483-1559), a French composer active in Italy and one of the leading composers of sacred polyphony between Josquin and Palestrina.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) was the Electoral Saxon Kapellmeister at the court of Dresden from 1617 until his death.  He can be regarded as an honorary Italian in today’s company, having studied both with Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi in Venice.  Their influence on Schütz is unmistakable.  Sicut Moses serpentem is found in a collection entitled Cantiones Sacrae published in 1625.  The 35 Latin motets of the Cantiones Sacrae display an extraordinary intensity of feeling in response to the words.  At the beginning of Sicut Moses, the words “serpentem in deserto exaltavit” (“lifted the serpent in the desert”) is set to an arresting rising scale passage of over an octave.

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (‘For God so love the world’), SWV 380, is from the 1648 collection entitled Geistliche Chormusik. is is the briefest of all the motets in the collection, and is mostly homophonic and more in the character of a hymn than the complex counterpoint of the other pieces.  It is almost as if Schütz wanted to treat this iconic cornerstone text as a congregational creed of faith rather than as a commentary.

For listening, I’d suggest Lassus’s Lamentations (for Tenebrae services):

and the motetMedia vita (‘In the midst of life we are in death…’)


For Schütz, Selig sind die Toten (‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’)

– David Shuler, Director of Music

Composer Spotlight Lent I: Cristobal de Morales

March 3, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent I: Cristobal de Morales

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the First Sunday in Lent (March 5th) will be:

  • The Great Litany in Procession
  • Cristobal de Morales – Missa Si bona suscepimus (Kyrie)
  • Manuel Cardoso – Angelis suis
  • Cristobal de Morales – Parce mihi

We will be using this space in Lent to highlight a composer from the upcoming Sunday’s schedule of choral music. This week’s composer spotlight is Cristobal de Morales.

-Blog Editor

‘No Spanish composer of the sixteenth century was more lauded during his lifetime and for two hundred years after his death than Morales.’

So writes the leading modern expert on the subject – a remarkable claim when one considers the talent and number of Spanish composers in the High Renaissance, not least Victoria. For someone as culturally Spanish as Morales, writing music meant more than just borrowing from the prevailing Franco-Flemish or Italian styles. Morales, like Victoria, never lost that mystical intensity of expression which found its roots in Spanish Catholicism.

Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553) spent the beginning and end of his career in Spain, with a crucial ten years in the middle singing with the Sistine Chapel Choir in Rome. He was appointed to the Papal Choir on 1 September 1535 by Pope Paul III, the same day that the Pope commissioned Michelangelo to paint The Last Judgment. Since Morales did not return to Spain until 1545, and Michelangelo finished his great work in 1541, the composer would have had the privilege of watching The Last Judgment come into existence, more or less day by day. In fact there was little chance of his being influenced by Michelangelo’s almost- baroque Italian style: Morales was sufficiently proud of his origins, especially of Seville where he was born, to follow his own muse.

Although his Missa Si bona suscepimus was almost certainly written in Rome, and shows something of the consummate smoothness of the international polyphonic idiom Rome hosted during the papacy of Paul III (1534-1549), it is not an Italianate work.

A sign of the seriousness with which Morales approached the composition of his six-voice Missa Si bona suscepimus is the way it is introduced in the source – the Missarum Liber Primus, published in Rome in 1544 under his direct supervision. Before the first stave of music is a woodcut of the Prophet Job naked, with the motto spread around him ‘The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away’. This is a quotation from Job (1:21) which Verdelot included in his motet Si bona suscepimus, which Morales in turn very deliberately chose as his parody model. Verdelot’s text continues from Job in this despairing state of mind, including the remark (Job 2:10): ‘If we have received blessings from the hand of the Lord, why then should we not endure misfortune?’ Obviously something in these challenging words and in Verdelot’s sparse setting of them appealed strongly to Morales, who anyway considered Mass composition to be the most important aspect of all his work. With this material as his starting-point he produced his most substantial and arguably his most heart-felt composition.

Parce mihi is the first lesson in Morales’s setting of the Officium defunctorum, The Office for the Dead. The motet acquired some notoriety when it was included in the album Officium, released in 1994 by Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the early music vocal group The Hilliard Ensemble. The album sold more than 1.5 million copies.


You will see from the note that the Morales Parce mihi was on a recording that was an unexpected hit. There are three versions on the recording, one voices a cappella and two with a saxophone improvisation on top of the choral music.

Voices alone:

With saxophone (this is pretty cool…):

This is good introduction to his choral music:

This is the Sanctus from the mass for Sunday.

– David Shuler, Director of Music

Composer Spotlight Lent I: Thomas Tallis

February 11, 2016 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent I: Thomas Tallis

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the First Sunday in Lent (February 14th) will be:

  • The Great Litany in Procession
  • Cristóbal de Morales – Missa Mille regretz (Kyrie)
  • Cristóbal de Morales – Inter vestibulum et altare
  • Thomas Tallis – Absterge Domine

We will be using this space in Lent to highlight a composer from the upcoming Sunday’s schedule of choral music. This week’s composer spotlight is Thomas Tallis.

-Blog Editor


‘Tallis is dead, and music dies’: the conclusion of the lament on Tallis’s death set by William Byrd, his devoted pupil. Music died not simply because Tallis was perhaps the greatest English composer of his generation. He was a man of rare integrity, who had weathered the shifting religious and musical currents of the Reformation period and was a living link with the old, settled Catholic orthodoxy which that period had toppled. By the end of his long life he had become a kind of father-figure to church musicians, and his passing seemed to mark the end of an age, like the passing of an Elizabeth or a Victoria.

Tallis was born in about 1505, and we hear of him first in 1532 as organist of Dover Priory. Thereafter he served at St Mary-at-Hill in London, Waltham Abbey in Essex, and Canterbury Cathedral, before being appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in about 1543, a post that he held until his death in 1585. His life encompassed the reigns of four monarchs, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, a time of unparalleled change in both the style and the function of English church music. Composers gradually abandoned the extended and brilliantly florid but emotionally detached style of the early Tudor period, and, towards the and of Henry’s reign, they adopted in its place features that had been established earlier on the Continent such as the use of imitation as a structural rather than a merely decorative device, homophony (chordal writing) and a more subjective and expressive response to texts. (These differences can be clearly heard between the earlier Videte miraculum and the later O nata lux and Absterge Domine.)

Early in Tallis’s career, the Votive Antiphon, an extended composition often with a devotional text in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the major musical form outside the Eucharist or mass.  With its decline in Henry’s later years, a new kind of composition began to take its place as. Responds, or Responsories, were sung to plainchant as part of the daily Office. Formally, they are all built round the alternation of sections chanted by soloist(s) and by full choir. The main section, the Respond proper, is begun by soloists and continued by full choir: the soloists then sing a Verse, and the choir responds with a shortened repeat of what it sang before; in the more important examples, the soloists then sing the first half of the Gloria Patti to essentially the same music as the Verse, and there is a final choral reprise of the Respond, which is sometimes further shortened: an ABA, BA form.

Taverner almost certainly invented a new type of Responsory form with his settings of Dum transisset sabbatuum. In these the solo sections which are left in plainchant while the sections assigned to full choir are adorned with polyphony, the chant remaining clearly audible as an equal-note cantus firmus, usually in the tenor. The progressively shorter repeats of the Respond are exploited to give a new kind of formal coherence. This distinctively English style of setting was popular towards the end of Henry’s reign but was also presumably revived under Mary. Tallis, in his Responsory settings of this type, such as Videte miraculum, creates a fundamentally syllabic style by extensive word-repetition, and shows great skill in presenting his ideas in imitation against the cantus firmus. The texture of all these settings is very sonorous, with an atmosphere of solemnity and restraint which is characteristic of most of Tallis’s music. (Tallis at some stage revised one of his own Dum transisset sabbatum settings to work in a compliment to Taverner, taking the means briefly above the trebles in the Alleluia section to sing a short but instantly recognizable quote from one of the older master’s settings.)

The enchantingly simple O nata lux is a setting of two verses from the hymn at Lauds on the Feast of the Transfiguration, but was obviously not designed for the liturgy: it makes no use of the chant, sets only the first two verses, and has an unliturgical repeat of the last two lines. Taking his earlier hymns as its starting point, it is homophonic throughout and perfect in its subtle harmonic and melodic touches and the repeat of the final section is in the manner of Tallis’s English anthems.

Absterge Domine was one of Tallis’s most popular settings appearing in four contrafacta sources as well as the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae. Deeply penitential in character, it falls into a number of short sections some of which are repeated for dramatic effect. Tallis’s sure hand for drama is obvious throughout, allowing the motet to rise and fall, using minor and major modes to heighten and release the dramatic flow.

– David Shuler, Director of Music

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