Pre-Order Our Venice in the East Recording Today!

Venice in the East
Venice in the East: Renaissance Crete & Cyprus

Cappella Romana’s next recording Venice in the East will be released on August 30!

Pre-order your copy today, and help put this record on the Billboard Classical Charts. You can also add the recording to your Wishlist, and make sure to share it with your friends!

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Venice in the East: Renaissance Crete & Cyprus

This profoundly moving and powerful music bears witness to how ancient Greek and Latin liturgical traditions were richly embellished during the Renaissance on the islands of Crete and Cyprus, all within the shared cultural space of Venetian rule. First performed by Cappella Romana at the Early Music Festival in Utrecht (Netherlands).

Cappella Romana to Receive $15,000 Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

Alexander Lingas leads Cappella Romana

San Francisco, Calif.—National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Mary Anne Carter has approved more than $80 million in grants as part of the Arts Endowment’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2019.

Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $15,000 to Cappella Romana to support its ongoing concert series in San Francisco. 

In 2018-19, Cappella Romana launched a new series of concerts in San Francisco, supported in part by an NEA Art Works grant. Following the success of that series and single concerts there in prior years, Cappella Romana will continue to increase its impact in San Francisco by producing a new series of three concert programs there in 2019-20. 

“We are grateful to the NEA for its generous support and endorsement of our work,” says Mark Powell, executive director of Cappella Romana. “This grant supports what Cappella Romana can uniquely contribute to further diversify and enrich the musical and cultural ecology of the Bay Area.”

These performances for the general public will be produced in partnership with St. Ignatius Church (on the campus of the University of San Francisco), one of the city’s most notable venues for choral music. 

Led by music director Alexander Lingas, the 2019-20 series will feature music for which Cappella Romana has been critically acclaimed over its 28-year history, both in concert and on recording: Byzantine chant, Slavic choral works, and new music inspired by these traditions. The performances will be accompanied by pre-concert talks, with audience participation, to deepen the audience experience.

CONTACT: Mark Powell, Executive Director, 503-236-8202

**

Art Works is the Arts Endowment’s principal grantmaking program. The agency received 1,592 Art Works applications for this round of grantmaking, and will award 977 grants in this category. 

“These awards, reaching every corner of the United States, are a testament to the artistic richness and diversity in our country,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Organizations such as Cappella Romana are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create, and be inspired.”

For more information on this National Endowment for the Arts grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.

Why Is There Water Dripping down My Face? A Night at Pop-Up Magazine.

“my whole body shivered and the tears started up.”

Before the onslaught

Review from the Stranger, Seattle:

Still, it wasn’t just the sad stories that triggered crying. Sam Harnett brought along the Cappella Romana choir, a vocal ensemble based in Portland that sings ancient religious chants. The singers were brilliant on their own, but then Harnett told us about this new technology that mimics the acoustics of the Hagia Sofia, and when the choir chanted with this audio effect, my whole body shivered and the tears started up. … During the Cappella Romana choir, as voices reverberated across every surface and light filtered through the smoke behind the singers (really, they brought a smoke machine), I looked around and saw many cheeks that were glistening. I wasn’t alone. It was everywhere, these tears, so I decided to stopped trying to hide it, and just listen. 

—Katie Herzog, The Stranger

“Lovely becomes transcendent” – Cappella Romana in Playbill

“Dust particles pumped onto the stage swirl in golden light. The choir intakes breath again, but this time, the reverberation transports the entire audience to Turkey. They sing and it’s 537 A.D. This is what it must have felt like—nearly. Lovely becomes transcendent.”

Read the whole review of Cappella Romana in Pop-Up Magazine here.

CAPPELLA ROMANA SINGS MEDIEVAL BYZANTINE CHANT IN:

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Northwest Focus Spotlight!

Cappella Romana sings

Seattle’s KING FM is highlighting Cappella Romana on the Northwest Focus program Monday-Thursday this week (5/6-5/9/2019).

Cappella Romana sings "Carol of the Bells" as an encore, Dec. 22 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland

Date

Time

Music

Monday, May 6
8:07pm
Attinen: Saata, oi Kristus
Tuesday, May 7
9:20pm
Plousiadenos: Kontakion for St. Thomas Aquinas
Wednesday, May 8
9:04pm
Tragodistes: O Great and Most Sacred Pascha
Thursday, May 9
8:02pm
Zes: Introit to Pentecost

Psaltikon: The Day of Resurrection

Cappella Romana Presents Psaltikon

The Historical Development of Easter

The celebration of Easter (i.e., Pascha) for Orthodox Christians commences on Saturday morning with a Vesperal Liturgy that comprises psalms, hymns, and Old Testament readings, followed by the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Pascha is formally inaugurated several hours later, at midnight, in a rush of blazing candles, exuberant Paschal greetings (“Christ is Risen!”), and hymns of ancient provenance (“Christ is risen from the dead”). As on Saturday morning, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, typically ending in the early hours of Sunday morning.  

Tickets

Seattle
FRIDAY, 3 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

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Portland
SATURDAY, 4 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Mary’s Cathedral

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Portland
SUNDAY, 5 MAY, 2:00 PM
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral

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These services, in their current form, are the result of a gradual process of development and mutual influence between the two most important liturgical centers of Eastern Christianity, the Cathedral of the Anastasis1 in Jerusalem and Justinian’s Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, with influences from the monastic communities of St. Sabbas in the Judean desert just southwest of Jerusalem, and Stoudios on the outskirts of Constantinople.

In Jerusalem of Late Antiquity, the physical presence of shrines connected to events in the life of Jesus Christ enabled the liturgical reenactment of these events. This resulted in a “stational liturgy” involving litanies and processions between shrines across the Holy City. Our knowledge of these rituals is based on over a dozen sources from the fourth to the twelfth centuries, including the travelogue of Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim who visited Jerusalem around 384, the Armenian and Georgian lectionaries, which describe the liturgy of seventh century Jerusalem, and the typikon (liturgical manual) MS Hagios Stavros (HS) 43. Copied in 1122 during a period of Latin rule of Jerusalem, HS 43 describes the Anastasis Cathedral services as they would have been performed in the tenth century, before the Holy Sepulcher complex was destroyed by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim and the Arab conquest of 1009. 

The First Resurrection

The celebration of Pascha as described in HS 43 preserves the ancient (i.e., fourth century) commemoration of the “first resurrection” at the Cathedral of the Anastasis in several respects: its place on Saturday in the late afternoon or evening, the presence of extra-scriptural hymns commemorating the Resurrection along with a cycle of Old Testament readings typologically related to the Resurrection, and the mass baptism of catechumens at some point before the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. 

In HS 43 we also find a description of the reception of the Holy Fire by the Patriarch, a ritual that continues to this day at the current site of the Church of the Anastasis. The earliest explicit account of the miraculous appearance of the Holy Fire dates to 870, but scholars believe that the seed of this ritual activity lies in the primitive lucernarium (lamp-lighting) ceremony conducted by the Patriarch in the Cathedral of the Anastasis, described in Egeria’s fourth-century account. By the tenth century, the lucernarium had expanded to include a public supplicatory prayer by the Patriarch, the chanting of the kyrie eleison by the faithful surrounding the Anastasis, and a procession to Constantine’s basilica (part of complex of the Holy Sepulcher) following the appearance of the fire and its distribution to the faithful. The gradual expansion of this ritual demonstrates the increased importance of the symbolism of light in connection with the celebration of the Resurrection at the tomb of Christ, which seems to be the discursive result of the increased popularity of the miracle of the Holy Fire.

The Paschal Canon

The first half of tonight’s program features poetry and hymns from the Orthros (i.e., Matins) of Pascha, as it would have been celebrated in tenth century Jerusalem in the early hours of Sunday morning. The most important development in this service from the earliest sources of Jerusalem worship is the addition of the Paschal Canon sometime around the seventh or eighth century. The canon was an extended, strophic poem that typically consisted of eight or nine odes. The odes were thematically linked to – and interpolated with – the nine biblical canticles that were sung as part of morning worship in Jerusalem. Thus, the heirmos of Ode 5 of the Paschal Canon reads, “Let us arise in the early dawn and instead of myrrh give praise to the Master,” an echo of Canticle 5, the Prayer of Isaiah, “Out of the night my spirit arises to you, O God.” Each ode had one model melody called an heirmos and to each heirmos were attached several metrically and musically identical hymns called troparia

This genre, which developed out of earlier Greek and Syriac models, matured around the seventh century during a flourishing of literary creativity promoted by monastic hymnographers attached to the Cathedral of the Anastasis. These hymnographers, the likes of Sophronius, Cosmas, and Andrew of Crete, wrote hundreds of Canons for the feasts of the liturgical year, a tradition that would be exported to Constantinople and emulated by the monks of Stoudios, who would write thousands of their own hymns, many of which would find their way back to Jerusalem as early as the tenth century.   

The Paschal Canon is attributed by tradition to arguably the most important of these new hymnographers, St. John of Damascus (ca. 675-749). A Syrian by birth, John of Damascus was a Greek-speaking theologian and poet, the author of several widely transmitted theological treatises and over 1000 hymns of different genres, including at least 115 canons. However, while the Greek manuscript tradition as early as the tenth century names John Damascus (or at least, “John the monk”) as composer, earlier sources of the old Georgian hymnal (the Iadgari) contain elements of the Paschal Canon without attribution. 

The work of St. John Damascus or not, the Paschal Canon was transmitted rapidly throughout the Byzantine world shortly after its composition. Not only did it become the central element of (cathedral) Paschal Orthros in Jerusalem by the seventh or eighth century, but as early as the ninth century it shows up in Stoudite liturgical documents in Constantinople, and soon thereafter it has penetrated cathedral worship in imperial environments in the capital. The treatise of Pseudo-Kodinos, which describes Byzantine imperial traditions of the thirteenth century, states that, after the “Christ is risen” is sung outside of the church of the imperial palace, the Paschal canon is sung by the high priest and the cantors as the clergy and faithful process into the church for the celebration of the Paschal Orthros.

Paschal Orthros: Outside the Anastasis

Tonight’s concert starts with the chanting of the prologue from the Kontakion of the Resurrection by St. Romanos the Melodist, which was sung just outside of the great doors of the Anastasis Cathedral prior to the start of Orthros, according to HS 43. Romanos, born in Syria and active in Constantinople during the first half of the sixth century, is most well-known as an author of kontakia, multi-stanza poems named after the scrolls they were written on. These dramatic, poetic exegeses of Scripture were originally performed as “sung homilies” in urban cathedrals between Vespers and Orthros of major feasts. By the tenth century, their use had been reduced to just two stanzas (the prologue and oikos), for which there coexisted two melodic traditions, one brief and one extended. Here, we sing the brief melody from the thirteenth century codex MS St. Petersburg gr. 674.

The concert continues with the chanting of the Paschal troparion Χριστὸς ἀνέστη (“Christ is Risen”), a hymn of ancient provenance, ubiquitous in liturgical celebrations of Orthodox Easter throughout the world today. The first “Christ is Risen” melody sung tonight, transcribed by Ioannis Arvanitis, is from the fifteenth century codex Sinai 1251. We do not know the specific melody of Christ is Risen that was sung outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the tenth century, but we can be sure that, as with other popular hymns, simpler “congregational” versions coexisted with more elaborate melodies to be enjoyed by trained cantors and their audiences.

After the singing of the Christ is Risen, HS 43 indicates the Patriarch and the faithful processed into the church, the Patriarch and his archdeacon continuing to the Holy Sepulcher itself, where they were met by certain myrrh-bearing women. After the exchange of a Paschal greeting, the women prostrated, arose, censed, and sang an acclamation to the Patriarch. This ritual, an anachronism by the time HS 43 was penned in the twelfth century, was then followed by the singing of the Paschal Canon.

The Paschal Canon: Words and Music

The author of the Paschal Canon draws heavily on the Biblical canticles to which the odes are attached, to New Testament accounts of the Resurrection, and perhaps most closely, to the homilies of the fourth century theologian, St. Gregory Nazianzus, whose first Paschal homily shares an opening phrase with the Canon (“The Day of Resurrection”). 2 While the Canon’s text merely echoes the Biblical canticles, the paraphrases of Gregory are more direct. For example, the Heirmos of Ode 1 (“…passing over from earth to heaven…”) refers by means of allegory to the Hebrew passage over the Red Sea, without lifting directly from Canticle 1 (Exodus 15).  On the other hand, the second troparion of the Ninth Ode is a direct paraphrase of the end of St. Gregory’s paschal homily:3

Ἀλλ ὦ Πάσχα, τὸ μέγα καὶ ἱερὸν, καὶ παντὸς τοῦ κόσμου καθάρσιον! ὡς γὰρ ἐμψύχῳ σοι διαλέξομαι. Ὦ Λόγε Θεοῦ, καὶ φῶς, καὶ ζωὴ, καὶ σοφία, καὶ δύναμις! χαίρω γὰρ πᾶσί σου τοῖς ὀνόμασιν. 

(But, O Pascha, great and sacred and the purification of the whole world – for I will speak to you as a living person – O Word of God and Light and Life and Wisdom and Power – for I rejoice in all your names.)4

The entire Canon is imbued with expressions of light, radiance, and brilliance, as the poet exhorts his audience to participate in the festivities with the involvement of  their full sensory palette, to “see Christ in the early dawn,” to “hear the radiant angel’s voice,” to  “feast death’s slaughter,” and to “partake of the vine of divine joy,” while “singing the triumphal hymn” and “dancing for joy.” 

The music of the Paschal Canon is similarly festive, being in the first mode, considered by at least some Byzantine and post-Byzantine commentators as “more joyous” than all the other modes. Melodies for the heirmoi of the Paschal Canon are first found in notated manuscripts called Heirmologia, the earliest of which date to the tenth century. By the middle of the twelfth century, Byzantine chant neumes have developed enough precision that they can be transcribed with melodic accuracy. In tonight’s concert, we chant the Paschal Canon based on melodies transcribed from MS Cryptensis Ε.γ. ΙΙ,a voluminous Heirmologion written in 1281 and containing nearly 2,000 heirmoi. 

Our rhythmic interpretation of the heirmoi is based on the pioneering work of Ioannis Arvanitis, who developed a detailed theory and method of transcription for the medieval Heirmologion, arguing that the heirmoi were sung in duple meter, with rare exceptions of triple meter. Because the troparia are melodically and rhythmically identical to their heirmos, it is possible to reconstruct the entire Paschal Canon, making minor adjustments based on performance considerations during the rare occurrence of paratonismos, where a stressed syllable in a troparion does not match a stressed syllable’s place in the melody of the heirmos. 

Constantinopolitan Incursions

Psaltikon

By the tenth century (and still to this day), it was customary to insert other hymns after the third and sixth odes of the canon. HS 43 calls for two hymns of Constantinopolitan origin, the hypakoe (loosely related to the Western responds) and the aforementioned kontakion. Tonight, we sing the hypakoe to a simple, syllabic melody in the second mode. Then, after Ode 6, the prologue of the kontakion is sung in its full melismatic version, transcribed by Ioannis Arvanitis from MS Ashburnhamensis 64. This codex, copied in 1289 in Southern Italy, is a radiant example of the Psaltikon, a book of virtuosic chants for the soloists at Hagia Sophia, containing melismatic kontakia, hypakoai, and alleluiaria for the fixed and moveable feasts of the year. In larger urban cathedrals, the soloist would ascend the ambo, an elevated platform situated just off-center in front of the congregation, to sing the florid kontakion. Although the prologue and oikos of the kontakion are still said during Orthros in Orthodox churches today, the melismatic musical tradition of the Psaltikon died out well before the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. 

The Paschal Canon is then completed (Odes 7-9), after which the exaposteilarion, another hymn of Constantinopolitan origin, is prescribed. This is followed by the Praises (Lauds) of Orthros, verses from Psalms 148-150, accompanied by stichera (hymns) commemorating the resurrection. HS 43 prescribes ten stichera, four ordinary stichera from the Sunday Orthros section of the Oktoechos and six proper stichera composed for the feast of Pascha. After the stichera, a through-composed hymn called a doxastikon idiomelon is sung, to the text, “It is the day of rejoicing, let us be radiant for the festival.” By the twelfth century, this hymn (with slightly modified text) had solidified its place as the final hymn of Paschal Orthros in most of the Byzantine world. (We close the second half of tonight’s concert with a received tradition melody of this same hymn).

In the tenth century, however, the doxastikon was followed by the chanting of a kathisma (“Today salvation has come to the world”), selected psalm verses, and the hymn, “Arise O Lord my God.” The deacons then led the reading of the Gospel (Mark 16:1-20), followed by the singing of another resurrectional troparion. Finally, the Patriarch read the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom (repeated in Arabic, according to HS 43), and the clergy and faithful partook of the kiss of peace. This completed the Orthros of Pascha.  

A Kalophonic Setting of a Paschal Sticheron

Tonight, we will not sing the exaposteilarion or the Praises and their accompanying stichera. We will instead close the first half of this concert with a composition by Manuel Chrysaphes, a fifteenth-century composer, cantor, and theorist, who served in the imperial court under the last two Byzantine emperors. This composition is a highly-embellished setting of the ninth sticheron of the Praises prescribed in HS 43, Δεῦτε ἀπὸ θέας γυναῖκες εὐαγγελίστριαι (“Come from that sight, you women bearers of good tidings”), written in the kalophonic style. Kalophonia (“beautiful-sounding”) was a new species of elaborate chant whose origins can be traced to a group of Constantinopolitan and Thessalonian composers active in the second half of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Composers of the florid kalophonic style utilized extensive text troping, expansive vocal ranges, frequent shifts in modality, and a wide range of intercalated and nonsense syllables, like ne-na-no and te-ri-rem

Chrysaphes, who lived over a century after the kalophonic movement was well underway, was a masterful exponent of this style. As though feeling the weight of a millennium of Byzantine cultural heritage on his shoulders, being in the center of a rapidly shrinking and impoverished Byzantine state, Chrysaphes seems to have worked tirelessly to copy and preserve the works of his predecessors, while composing a prodigious body of new material in both kalophonic and more traditional styles.

The kalophonic setting of this sticheron demonstrates the trajectory of liturgical creativity in the Byzantine Rite, from the seventh-century hymnographers of Jerusalem, to the Constantinopolitan maistores active during Byzantium’s twilight. While John of Damascus and other exponents of the canon genre explored the edges of intertextuality, drawing on and reassembling a wealth of classical, scriptural, and homiletic material to create new poetic masterpieces, the composers  of the kalophonic era took existing heirmoi and stichera as their starting point, and introduced troping, repetition, chiasmus, and nonsense syllables, to cast existing texts in completely new light. Where the canons relied on simple, concise melodies to transmit their richly stocked dramatic and theological messages, kalophonic chants relied on musical elaboration to transmit meaning, sometimes transcending the bounds of language entirely. 

—Spyridon Antonopoulos

Notes

  1. The Cathedral of the Holy Sepulcher.
  2. Sermon 1, PG 35: 396-401.
  3. Orat. PG 45: 36:664. 
  4. This citation is from the excellent translation and commentary of the Paschal Canon by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Ephraim Lash (+2016) of blessed memory.

Tickets

Seattle
FRIDAY, 3 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

TICKETS

Portland
SATURDAY, 4 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Mary’s Cathedral

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Portland
SUNDAY, 5 MAY, 2:00 PM
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral

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Psaltikon Sings the 9th Ode of the Paschal Canon

Cappella Romana Presents Psaltikon

Psaltikon is presented by Cappella Romana this May. Click here for more information.

Psaltikon: The Day of Resurrection

Cappella Romana presents Psaltikon, the Boston-based Byzantine chant ensemble directed by Spyridon Antonopoulos, for a program of celebratory Byzantine chants for Pascha from Medieval Byzantium. Experience the Eastern sibling of Gregorian Chant: Medieval Byzantine Chant, for Easter (Pascha).

Tickets

Seattle
FRIDAY, 3 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

TICKETS

Portland
SATURDAY, 4 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Mary’s Cathedral

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Portland
SUNDAY, 5 MAY, 2:00 PM
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral

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Meet The Tallis Scholars

Cappella Romana Presents: The Tallis Scholars

Tickets

Seattle
Saturday, 6 April, 8:00pm
St. James Cathedral

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Portland
Sunday, 7 April, 2:00pm
St. Mary’s Cathedral

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…The rock stars of Renaissance vocal music… —The New York Times

…one of the UK’s greatest cultural exports —BBC Radio 3

The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serve the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which The Tallis Scholars have become so widely renowned.

The Tallis Scholars perform in both sacred and secular venues, usually giving around 70 concerts each year across the globe. In 2013 the group celebrated their 40th anniversary with a World Tour performing 99 events in 80 venues in 16 countries and travelling sufficient air-miles to circumnavigate the globe four times. They kicked off the year with a spectacular concert in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, including a performance of Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in alium and the world premieres of works written specially for them by Gabriel Jackson and Eric Whitacre. Their recording of the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas by John Taverner, was released on the exact anniversary of their first concert in 1973 and enjoyed six weeks at number one in the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart. On 21st September 2015 the group gave their 2000th concert at St John’s Smith Square in London.

Recordings by The Tallis Scholars have attracted many awards throughout the world. In 1987 their recording of Josquin’s Missa La sol fa re mi and Missa Pange lingua received Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award, the first recording of early music ever to win this coveted award. In 1989 the French magazine Diapason gave two of its Diapason d’Or de l’Année awards for the recordings of a mass and motets by Lassus and for Josquin’s two masses based on the chanson L’Homme armé. Their recording of Palestrina’s Missa Assumpta est Maria and Missa Sicut lilium was awarded Gramophone’s Early Music Award in 1991; they received the 1994 Early Music Award for their recording of music by Cipriano de Rore; and the same distinction again in 2005 for their disc of music by John Browne. The Tallis Scholars were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001, 2009 and 2010. In November 2012 their recording of Josquin’s Missa De beata virgine and Missa Ave maris stella received a Diapason d’Or de l’Année and in their 40th anniversary year they were welcomed into the Gramophone ‘Hall of Fame’ by public vote. In a departure for the group in Spring 2015 The Tallis Scholars released a disc of music by Arvo Pärt called Tintinnabuli which has receive great praise across the board.

Cappella Romana performs before 7,000 in Pop-Up Magazine Winter Issue Experience

During our time with the Pop-Up Magazine this February, Cappella Romana performed medieval Byzantine chant from its Hagia Sophia program before a total of 7,000 people across three sold-out theaters in Oakland, Brooklyn, and Washington D.C.

The story in which we appeared was called “Sacred Sounds,” which describes how our friends at Stanford University figured out a way to synthesize the acoustical environment of one of the world’s most important buildings, the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). Hagia Sophia was the largest enclosed space in the world for a thousand years, and has a ring-time of over 11 seconds.

Check out some candid photos from our tour below:

Ave Maria: Program Notes

Ave Maria
Ave Maria
Feb 22-24, 2019

Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac were two Renaissance composers with two quite different characters, in music and in life. We know what Isaac’s signature looked like because he dutifully signed the account books as a musical servant of the Emperor Maximilian. We know what Josquin’s signature looked like because he carved it (not at all subtly) into the wall of the choir loft in the Sistine Chapel during a youthful stint in Rome. The two men are named together in a note written to the Duke of Ferrara in 1502 during his search for a new music director for his court. One of the Duke’s singers reports that Isaac has just visited Ferrara, where he wrote an excellent motet in only two days and showed himself to be “very rapid in the art of composition” as well as being “good-natured and easy to get along with”; the singer goes on to say that “it is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to, and not when one wants him to, and he is asking 200 ducats in salary while Isaac will come for 120 — but Your Lordship will decide.” (His Lordship decided for Josquin, who left after a year for greener pastures in France.) Great artists of this kind often seem to arrive on the scene in pairs, and it is easy to compare these two to Haydn and Mozart, the joyful craftsman and the brilliant but difficult free spirit.

Our concert today takes the form of a Mass in honor of the Virgin Mary. We have chosen to use Isaac’s music for the feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, nine months before Christmas, one of the greatest celebrations of Mary in the church calendar. These pieces are only a tiny fragment of a vast achievement by Isaac: he composed music for every single Sunday and holiday of the year, a three-volume collection known as the Choralis Constantinus. As our informant in Ferrara tells us, Isaac seems never to have run out of inspiration — unlike Josquin, who apparently had to wait for the muse to alight on his shoulder before he was willing or able to compose a new work. Music that can only be sung in church on one particular day each year is a luxury item, a piece of conspicuous consumption, and it is no surprise that Isaac’s contract to write the Choralis Constantinus included a rule that nobody could make copies of it or sing it outside the imperial cathedral. We have interspersed his music for the Annunciation with movements of Josquin’s Mass of the Blessed Virgin. This was one of Josquin’s most popular works in his own day, surviving in more than 60 different sources. Like Isaac, he uses the traditional chant melodies of the Lady Mass as a framework. He reinterprets these old tunes with stunning feats of musical imagination, and sometimes of musical mischief. (It is a very bad idea for a singer to doze off or lose concentration while singing a Mass by Josquin.) There are also delightful little additions to the Gloria in excelsis Deo in tribute to Mary — a practice that the sterner clerics at the Council of Trent, a generation later, called ineptus (the Latin word falls somewhere between “impertinent” and “tasteless”) and banned from church choirs.

The program is framed by two large motets, one by Josquin at the beginning (Praeter rerum seriem) and one by Isaac at the end (Virgo prudentissima.) Unlike the music for the Mass, these works inhabit a separate world of their own outside the strict boundaries and duties of the liturgy. This is music by and for musicians: in fact the imperial choirmaster sneaks his own name into the text of Virgo prudentissima as a personal prayer. Both Josquin and Isaac take the opportunity to let things unfold on a grand scale, weaving an intricate tapestry of musical detail. The sixteenth-century music theorist Heinrich Glarean described Isaac’s style as “tones that remain unchanged in one voice, but with the other voices in constant motion and clamoring around everywhere, just as waves moved by the wind are accustomed to play around a rock in the sea.” The reformer Martin Luther, who was an enthusiastic musician and a lifelong admirer of Josquin in particular, used a different metaphor to describe the same effect: “While one voice pursues its own course, several other voices play around it in the most marvelous manner, exulting and adorning it with the most pleasing gestures, and seeming almost to present some kind of divine dance.”

—Dr. Kerry McCarthy

Lost Treasures of Armenia Tickets

22 FEB, 8:00 PM

St. James Cathedral, Seattle

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23 FEB, 8:00 PM

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland

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24 FEB, 2:00 PM

St. Stepehen’s, Portland

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PROGRAM

  • Josquin DES PREZ Missa de Beata Virgine
  • Heinrich ISAAC Virgo Prudentissima, selected motets
  • Program length: 60 minutes, no intermission