BYRD INTERNATIONAL SINGERS 2019

2019

Argyll House

July 27 - August 3, 2019

The recording features Scottish composers Robert Carver, Andrew Blackhall, David Peebles, Robert Johnson, and John Angus; and English composers John Nesbett and John Taverner. 

 

The main feature of the program is Scottish composer Robert Carver. Unfortuntely, we know very little of Carver’s life. We know that Carver was a Scottish Canon regular (an ordained priest who lives in a community with other canons) and composer who spent much of his life at Scone Abbey. Carver joined the Augustinian community at Scone until about 1559, when the abbey was destroyed by Protestant Reformers. Every piece written by Carver that survives is in the Carver
Choirbook. 

Carver’s Missa Dum sacrum mysterium was composed in 1513 for the feast day of Saint Michael. In 1513, James IV was unexpectedly killed in the Battle f Flodden Field. In the hopes of easing post-battle
political turmoil, a coronation mass quickly was held for his infant son, James V, not yet 2 years old. Carver’s Missa Dum sacrum mysterium was likely sung at the event, as it was close enough to the feast of St.
Michael’s day.

 

The pieces in English, Psalm 68 and 149, Of mercy
and of judgement both
, and The Lord’s Prayer, are from the Wode Psalter, a collection of music assembled by Thomas Wode, a former monk who lived and worked in St. Andrews after the Protestant Reformation in Scotland (1559–1560). The Reformation dramatically changed the way composers wrote music. Instead of long, melismatic phrases, and polyphonic textures in Latin, composers began writing in English and with more homophonic textures in order to communicate the meaning of the text more directly.

 

Robert Johnson is considered Scotland’s greatest composer after Robert Carver. A priest as well as a composer, he apparently moved to England in the early 1530s for religious reasons. He wrote only sacred music, and among his few surviving works is the simple Marian motet Gaude Maria virgo for four voices.


It is unclear exactly how the English pieces made their way into the Carver Choirbook, especially knowing how complicated and tense England-Scotland relations were at the time. Some interesting speculations: Carver could have had access to a manuscript now lost to us, something similar to the Eton Choirbook, or maybe he befriended an English musician and chose his favorite learned pieces to be included in Carver Choirbook. In 1503, the 13 year old Princess Margaret (sister of Henry VIII), was wed to James IV, King of Scotland (21 years her senior). They were married by proxy in their respective cities. The Princess eventually journeyed to Scotland where they were married in person with great pomp in Edinburgh. The massive mobile court that accompanied the Princess most certainly included musical manuscripts and musicians, which could have made their way into the Carver Choirbook.

No matter how the English motets made their way into the choirbook, they were equally impressive, especially John Nesbett’s Magnficat. John Nesbett was a master of the Lady Chapel choir at Canterbury cathedral between 1473 and 1487. His spectacular setting of the Magnificat for five voices also appears in the Eton Choirbook.


Perhaps the music of John Taverner (c. 1490–1545), though he is not represented in the Carver Choirbook, was also present in Scotland at this time. He was, after all, one of the most important English composers of the first half of the 16th century. His music connects the complex, florid style of the Eton Choirbook composers of the late 15th century (e.g., William Cornysh, John Browne) with the simpler, imitative style of the later mid-16th-century composers—Thomas Tallis and John Sheppard. O splendor gloriae represents Taverner’s later style. The systematic use of imitation reflects the gradual trend away from an abstract melismatic style. This prayer motet to Jesus (Jesus antiphon) and the Holy Trinity alternates passages for full choir with passages for solo voices.

 —Margaret Obenza

Margaret is a Soprano that performs regularly with the Byrd Ensemble, and is the course manager for the group's annual international Renaissance course.

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