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8.553211 - WILLAERT: Missa Christus resurgens / Magnificat / Ave Maria
Adrian Willaert (c. 1490 - 1562) • Jean Richafort (c. 1480 - c. 1547)
Our good Lord...by his grace gave us in our time Adriano Willaerrt [sic],
truly one of the rarest intellects ever to have practised music, who, in the
manner of a new pythagoras, studying minutely everything that can occur [in
music] and discovering an infinite number of errors, has begun to remove them to
raise it to that honour and dignity which was once hers.
[Willaert's motets] are not like the harmonies of this said new manner [nuova
maniera] composed by these novel composers: mournful, lugubrious,
disconsolate and without beautiful melody at all.
Of all composers of the first half of the sixteenth century, Adrian Willaert is perhaps the most appreciated by contemporary composers and theorists such as Zarlino and Danckerts. Occupying for 35 years one of the central positions in the musical life of Northern Italy, that of maestro di cappella at St Mark's, Venice, Willaert made significant contributions to the development of vocal music both sacred and secular. Not only that, but he was a renowned theorist and teacher, numbering many of the most important figures of the time - including Cipriano de Rore and Andrea Gabrieli - amongst his pupils.
Neither Willaert's date nor place of birth is known for certain, though the latter is claimed by contemporary writers as both Bruges and Roulaers. The date can be inferred from the fact that he was by 1515 a singer in the service of Cardinal Ippolito I d'Este, brother of the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este. He left the d'Este family only in 1527 when he was appointed to St Mark's. Willaert's pupil and greatest enthusiast Zarlino credited him with the invention during his years at St Mark's of the famous cori spezzati technique of double- (and later poly-) choral writing. The discovery by modern scholars of examples from earlier in the sixteenth century has shown this claim to be inaccurate, but it is undeniably the case that Willaert's double-choir psalm settings (some written in collaboration with Jacquet of Mantua) are seminal to the style. In addition to his contemporary pre-eminence in sacred music, Willaert was simultaneously at the forefront of developments in the emerging secular form of the madrigal. This is not the place for a discussion of developments in secular music; Alfred Einstein's opinion, expressed in his pioneering 1949 study The Italian Madrigal will suffice.
"To call Willaert the creator of the madrigal would be as absurd as to deny that he played an important part in the creation of the genre...Adrian Willaertsurely belongs in the company of Verdelot, Festa and Arcadelt."
Finally, an illustration of Willaert's advanced knowledge of contemporary compositional and notational debate gives us an idea both of the esteem in which he was held and of the extent to which he expanded the boundaries of musical possibility. The quartet Quid non ebrietas, a setting of a drinking-song written around 1518, appears from its notation to end on a seventh. Owing, however to a process of modulation into successively flatter hexachords, the final interval in fact turns out to be an octave (strictly an augmented seventh). As Karol Berger has pointed out, this conceit can be resolved successfully only by a musician thinking in terms of a flat sign as an inflection (as we do now) rather than as an indication of where in the gamut (the system of hexachords devised by Guido d' Arezzo around AD 1000) a note occurs. Obscure as this distinction may seem to us 480 years later, it is notable that contemporary musicians had problems with it as well: writing in 1524 about Quid non ebrietas, another theorist, Giovanni Spataro, observes that "the Pope's singers were never capable of performing it; it was then played on viols, but not very well".
An inspection of Willaert's treatment of his model in this parody Mass gives us some insight into both the ambitions of the two composers and the degree to which these were achieved. Richafort's Christus resurgens is far from unusual in form for a motet of the post-Josquin era in its working through of a succession of largely unrelated polyphonic motifs. As is frequently also the case, its two sections are linked by means of a shared ending: the words vivit Deo, Allelluia, which bring the motet's first section to a close are repeated at the end of the piece and are set almost identically, beginning with a striking homophonic passsage. Aside from the opening phrase of the motet - as one would expect in a setting of a text such as Christus resurgens, this is an upward leaping figure - this burst of homophony is the major feature of interest, and not surprisingly these two motifs are the ones most often included by Willaert in his Mass setting. Two further points draw themselves to one's attention. first, Richafort makes no attempt to move outside the mode - all cadences are on F or C Second, the part writing contains several moments which, although not noticeably jarring in performance, might well have been frowned upon by contemporary theorists such as the same Zarlino who praised Willaert so highly The first page of music contains several instances of consecutive sevenths and ninths, for example.
The Mass which is named after Richafort's motet is standard, even punctilious, in its practice of beginning each of its five movements with Richafort's opening material; it also, as mentioned earlier, makes reference on two occasions to the homophonic material used later in the motet. Apart from this, however, the Mass is very largely freshly composed; it is true that the Gloria and Credo, whose long texts favour a syllabic style as used in the model, feature two or three other motifs which occur in the motet, but in general these are musical commonplaces (the descending scale which opens the motet's second section, and which Willaert uses at Qui tollis peccata mundi in the Gloria, is a case in point) and furthermore, they are liberally interspersed with Willaert's own material. The later and more melismatic movements are almost entirely freely composed.
Even when Willaert does use Richafort's original, he takes only the smallest sections before modifying the material to suit his own more fluid style. The opening motif (only two bars of which are ever used), and the modifications to which it is later subjected are themselves heavily varied from movement to movement. So far as the homophonic passage is concerned, it is also restricted to two bars, eschewing Richafort's fanfare-like figuration after the block chords. In the Gloria it is used not at the cum sancto spiritu, where one might have expected it to provide a climactic finale to the movement, but at the structurally important but less triumphal agnus Dei, filius patris, where Richafort's fanfares are replaced by an altogether more mellifluous ending to the section. At every turn we see Willaert amply justifying his superior reputation by improving on his original.
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