The Crown of Glory
Music for Renaissance Coronations: Rome and London
Saturday 28 March 2020, 7.30pm
St Cuthbert’s Chapel, Ushaw College
William Mundy: Vox Patris caelestis
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli
Kyrie. Gloria, Credo. Sanctus. Benedictus, Agnus Dei I & II
Robert Parsons: Ave Maria
Francisco Guerrero: Ave virgo sanctissima
The Durham Singers
Musical Director: Julian Wright
On the eve of her coronation, Queen Mary I took part in a magnificent procession through the streets of London. There are accounts of pageants and poetry, and the music performed may well have included William Mundy’s stupendous antiphon Vox Patris caelestis in which the voice of God calls the Virgin Mary to her throne in heaven with sensual verses from the Song of Songs. Whatever the occasion, the music shows Mundy reveling in his new freedom to write elaborate Latin polyphony after the musical austerity imposed by Edward VI’s Protestant regime, weaving together elaborate melodic lines, in different combinations of voices, building up to a passionate six-part finale. Whether or not the music was actually written for Mary’s coronation procession, Vox Patris caelestis certainly feels like a celebration for a new queen.
At almost exactly the same time as William Mundy was writing Vox Patris caelestis, the Papal Council of Trent was discussing exactly whether this sort of complex polyphony had a place in the new world of the counter-reformation. Palestrina gave them the answer, with what has become one of the most celebrated pieces of late renaissance church music, his Missa Papae Marcelli. It’s another work with unclear origins, but in it, Palestrina superbly demonstrates that it is possible to have both glorious polyphony and clarity of text, and the story goes that Palestrina ‘saved polyphony’. Pope Marcellus himself only reigned for three weeks, but his name lives on in Palestrina’s sublime music, which was frequently sung at Papal coronations.
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