Over the coming months there will be four blog posts for each city on the Davis High School Baroque Ensemble’s 2020 England-France Tour tour: Place of Interest; Concert Venue; Music; History of the city. This week’s post, the seventh of the series, is on Baroque music in Cambridge.
The second concert of the DHSBE tour will take place in Trinity College Chapel, University of Cambridge.
Many of the Cambridge University Colleges have a long history of choral singing, with King’s College Choir probably being the best known. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, it was his intention that a choir would provide music for the daily offices and celebrations of the Mass. The College Statutes of 1453 stipulate that the choir would consist of ten secular chaplains, six stipendiary lay clerks (or ‘singing-men’) and sixteen choristers. Henry VI specified that the choristers were to be poor boys, of strong constitution and of ‘honest conversation’. They had to be under twelve years of age when admitted, and able to read and sing. In addition to their choral duties, singing daily Matins, Mass and Vespers, they were to wait at table in Hall. The boys were provided with meals and clothing, and eight pence a week for their board. They were not allowed to wander beyond the College grounds without permission from their Master or the Provost. Except for a few years in the 1550s under Edward VI, and during the period of the Commonwealth (Civil War) in the 1650s when choral services in the Chapel were suppressed, the Choir has been singing services continuously for over 500 years.
Allegri was a late Renaissance/early Baroque Italian composer who worked at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. His Miserere is his best known composition, and has been frequently recorded. In 1770, 14-year-old Mozart, on a trip to Rome with his father, heard the Miserere only twice and transcribed it faithfully from memory, thus creating the first known unauthorised copy. Roy Goodman, a former colleague in the Academy of Ancient Music in 1980’s, was a boy chorister, age 12, in Kings College Chapel choir. He was one of four boys specially prepared to sing the very demanding treble solo in the Miserere in 1963 for a recording. The chorus-master had told the four boys that only immediately prior to the start of the recording would he say which one of them would sing the solo. Roy, covered in mud after playing rugby, arrived at the chapel just in time to put on his cassock and join the other boys in the choir. He was chosen to sing the solo which continues to be one of the most remarkable performance of the piece:
Choir of King's College Miserere Part 2(recording 1963)Look for Part I. Regardez pour la 1e partie.
Miserere by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (also called "Miserere mei, Deus" - English "Have mercy on me, O God") is a setting of Psalm 51 (50) composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during matins on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. It was the last of twelve falsobordone Miserere settings composed and chanted at the service since 1514 and the most popular: at some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music and it was only allowed to be performed at those particular services, adding to the mystery surrounding it. Writing it down or performing it elsewhere was punishable by excommunication. The setting that escaped from the Vatican is actually a conflation of verses set by Gregorio Allegri around 1638 and Tommaso Bai (1650 - 1718, also spelled "Baj") in 1714.
The Miserere is written for two choirs, one of five and one of four voices. One of the choirs sings a simple version of the original Miserere chant; the other, spatially separated, sings an ornamented "commentary" on this. Many have cited this work as an example of the stile antico or prima pratica. However, its constant use of the dominant seventh chord and its emphasis on polychoral techniques certainly put it out of the range of prima pratica. A more accurate comparison would be to the works of Giovanni Gabrieli.
Mozart was summoned to Rome by the Pope, only instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius.
Burney's edition did not include the ornamentation or "abbellimenti" that made the work famous. The original ornamentations were Renaissance techniques that preceded the composition itself, and it was these techniques that were closely guarded by the Vatican. Few written sources (not even Burney's) showed the ornamentation, and it was this that created the legend of the work's mystery. However, the Roman priest Pietro Alfieri published in 1840 an edition with the intent of preserving the performance practice of the Sistine choir in the Allegri and Bai compositions, including ornamentation.
The Miserere is one of the most often-recorded examples of late Renaissance music. A famous, "celebrated" recording of Allegri's Miserere was that made in March 1963 by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, conducted by Sir David Willcocks, which featured the then-treble Roy Goodman. This recording of the Miserere was originally part of an LP recording entitled 'Evensong for Ash Wednesday' but the Miserere has subsequently been re-released on various compilation discs. (From Wikipedia.
Letter from Leopold Mozart to his wife
[Sent from Rome, dated April 14, 1770. Only parts of the letter relevant to the transcription episode are given here.]
We arrived here safely on the 11th at noon. I could have been more easily persuaded to return to Salzburg than to proceed to Rome, for we had to travel for five days from Florence to Rome in the most horrible rain and cold wind. I am told here that they have had constant rain for four months and indeed we had a taste of it, as we went on Wednesday and Thursday in fine weather to Saint Peter's and to the Sistine Chapel to hear the Miserere during the mass, and on our way home were surprised by such a frightful downpour that our cloaks have never yet been so drenched as they then were...
You have often heard of the famous Miserere in Rome, which is so greatly prized that the performers in the chapel are forbidden on pain of excommunication to take away a single part of it, to copy it or to give it to anyone. But we have it already. Wolfgang has written it down and we would have sent it to Salzburg in this letter, if it were not necessary for us to be there to perform it. But the manner of performance contributes more to its effect than the composition itself. So we shall bring it home with us. Moreover, as it is one of the secrets of Rome, we do not wish to let it fall into other hands, ut non incurramus mediate vel immediate in censuram Ecclesiae.
--translation by Emily Anderson, in her The Letters of Mozart and his Family; London: Macmillan, 1938.
Many of the Cambridge colleges also have ‘organ scholars’ – a part time student assistant to the principal organist. The students are provided with playing, and music directing experience, and work under the direction of the college chapel Director of Music. Organ scholar, Trinity College Chapel:
Trinity College Chapel - Jeremy Cole (Organ Scholar) plays Bach Ricercare à 6, BWV1079Trinity's magnificent mechanical-action organ is regarded as one of the finest organs in the United Kingdom. It was completed in 1975 by the Swiss firm Metzler Söhne within the original cases of the 1694 and 1706 'Father' Smith organs.
- For information about becoming an Organ Scholar see: http://www.trinitycollegechoir.com/join/
- To hear live webcasts of services from Trinity Chapel see: http://www.trinitycollegechoir.com/webcasts/