Friday, April 12, 2013

A bit of listening for the C and E crowd

The other day while making sure my link for the most recent sound file posting worked, I stuck around and listened to the piece ahead of it in the catalog for old time's sake and had an idea.

The following links will allow you to listen to two organ pieces by Michael Praetorius, one of which was written for Christmas, and the other for Easter. Both come from a collection he published in 1609 of seven organ settings of hymns for the church year. They happen to be two of my favorite pieces of his, particularly the Christmas one. They might also be illuminating. If you aren't familiar with the organ works of Praetorius, listening to both of them might help you get some sense of the composer's musical personality. It's pleasing sometimes to be able to say, oh yes, that sounds just like him, the way you might say about an old friend.

But it isn't just Praetorius speaking through these pieces. In fact, back during the Renaissance, many a musicologist will tell you, individuality in composition wasn't so treasured as it is now, so much of what you are hearing has more to do with how everybody was doing it than just how he was doing it.

I wonder about that; I don't know vast quantities of music from the period myself, but he does seem to have his own musical methods. Maybe it's just me. Perception is an interesting thing.

Anyhow, Christmas and Easter are, by general acclaim, the two highlights of the church year. One curiosity you might notice about these selections is that they are both in a minor mode, and have a certain amount of solemnity about them. Not that all of that was the composer's choice.

Both of these are based on ancient hymns of the church. The hymns themselves occur in the bottom voice, and move more slowly than the parts up above, which is a good way not to really notice them (and get lots of complaints from clergy!). And they happen to be in minor themselves. Church holidays tended to be dignified affairs. Note that Christmas wasn't yet about Santa Claus and presents, and the Easter bunny wasn't hiding eggs.

Still, there is enough joy in the proceedings. Notice how Praetorius likes to shoot up and down the scale, particularly toward the end of both pieces. In true Renaissance fashion, they both tend to start with longer notes, and accelerate note values so that they save all of their rushing around for the finale. Praetorius doesn't tend to do this much in the remaining pieces in his hymn settings for the organ; these are particularly joyous occasions.

Happy Christmas and Merry Easter.

Summo Parenti Gloria

Vita Sanctorum

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