What we sing

CRSP performing Sicut Cervus – an Italian Renaissance choral work

 Notes about our Repertoire

Renaissance music, like later repertoire, has characteristic forms. Here are the ones most
commonly sung by the CRSP.

Liturgical (sacred) forms:

  • Zanobi Strozzi, Camaldolese Friars in Choir, 1450-55Mass: Usually the Ordinary of the Catholic mass (texts used for the mass regardless of occasion), in Latin, consisting of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. In the Renaissance period, most masses were set to music with a common melodic theme in all five sections, demonstrating the composer’s ability to develop coherent and interesting variations on the theme. Mass music is serene and contemplative — it was not supposed to be startling, as its purpose was to enhance prayer.  Examples: Palestrina’s masses.
  • Motet:  A short Latin liturgical form for four or more voice parts, usually taken from a Psalm text or from the Proper of the Catholic mass (Antiphon and Responsory texts that vary according to the occasion). Motets are often highly dramatic, featuring strong contrasts of dynamics and/or rhythm, although they may also be in the more serene style of the Mass. They feature imitative polyphony, in which each voice part dialogues in parallel phrases with the other parts, and may contain text painting (see Madrigal). Examples: Palestrina “Sicut cervus”, Victoria “O vos omnes”.  The Medieval motet is quite different from the Renaissance version. It usually has three voice parts, and may feature a different rhythmic structure in each. Rather than the smooth imitative style of the Renaissance motet, it features considerable contrast between voice lines. Medieval motets may be sacred or secular.
  • Anthem: The anthem is the Anglican version of the motet, texted in English. Anthems were written during and after the time of Henry VIII (early 16th century through 20th century), and may be either polyphonic or homophonic. The term is derived from “antiphon”. Example: “Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake”, “O Lord, increase my faith”.
  • Lutheran chorale: Many of our Christmas carols and hymns from the 16th and early 17th centuries are actually chorale tunes — congregational hymns — from the early Lutheran church. These hymns eventually formed the themes for the full-length chorales of Bach and other German Baroque composers. Texts may be in German or a combination of German and Latin. Examples: “Lo how a Rose (Es ist ein Ros)”, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice (In dulci jubilo)”.
  • Plainchant: also known as “Gregorian chant”. Monophonic music with a contemplative tone, written according to traditional melodic patterns (modes). Rhythm is not indicated in the notation, so notes are basically given approximately equal value with variations improvised according to the accentuation of the Latin text. The line should never sound rigid; it needs to flow gracefully and convey the text clearly. Chant is best sung softly and with reverence.

Secular forms:

  • Bartolomeo Veneto, Woman Playing a Lute, 1520Madrigal: Musically, the madrigal is much like the Renaissance motet. It features imitative polyphony and dramatic text painting, in which the music illustrates the words (e.g. moving up the scale on the word “ascending”, or suddenly dropping in volume on “softly’.) Madrigal texts may be in Italian or English, and usually speak of love from a man’s point of view. Madrigals are composed part-songs, although they may imitate the style of folk songs. Examples: “Tutto lo di”, Lassus “Matona, mia cara”, Morley “Now is the month of maying”. (In the madrigal “family” is a variety of forms like the canzonetta, ballatta, and ayre. For our purposes, they’re basically madrigals.)
  • Chanson: The chanson is a French part-song. The music may be polyphonic or homophonic (contrapuntal or chordal), and it often imitates the style of folk music. Chanson texts may be about love, lust, drinking, trips to town, politics, or practically anything else. They are often racy, comical, or satirical, and sometimes present a woman’s point of view (or a man’s notion of what a woman might think). Examples: “Il est bel et bon”, “Belle qui tiens ma vie”.
  • Carol(e): An English form of the 15th century, originally a song to accompany circle dancing. The “Christmas carol” was a later derivation. The musical structure may be folklike, or it may be complex counterpoint, often at cross rhythms, for two or three voice parts. Texts may be devotional, topical, or amatory, and may be in English, Norman French, or Latin, or a combination of languages. Examples: “Boar’s Head Carol”, “Deo gracias anglia”. (see also: Lutheran chorale)