About this Recording
8.553335-36 - MERULO: Missa Virginis Mariae / Toccata / Magnificat

Claudio Merulo (1533 - 1604)

Missa Virginis Mariae
Toccata decima del 10 tono
Magnificat dell'ottavo tono

Claudio Merulo was born in Cremona in 1533 and is considered, with his colleague Andrea Gabrieli, some twenty years his senior, among the composers who provide a model in the sixteenth century for North Italian keyboard composition, of which Venice was the centre. The Venetian school was established under a Flemish composer, Adrian Willaert, who was appointed maestro di cappella at the Basilica of San Marco in 1527. Cultivating the vocal polyphony of Josquin, Willaert wrote madrigals and gave importance to instrumental music, which gradually detached itself from the vocal to develop its own idiom. The subtitles of publications go from per cantare e suonare (to sing and play) to per ogni sorte di stromenti (for every sort of instrument), and then, more precisely, per organo o cimbalo (for organ or cembalo). Willaert had his compatriot Jacques Buus appointed organist in 1541 and this was followed shortly afterwards by collections of music for organ, notably those of Cavazzoni. This was the school of composition to which Merulo belonged. After a short stay in Brescia, in 1557 he was appointed second organist with Padovano at St Mark's, to be promoted soon after to first organist, with Andrea Gabrieli as second organist. Following the example of his predecessors mentioned above, in 1584 he left this prestigious position to settle in Parma, where he was responsible for three organs.

The renown of Merulo soon spread from Italy to northern countries. Works of his are found published in Nuremberg from 1585 and some organ compositions are found in the tablatures of Bernard Schmid in 1603 and of Woltzin 1617. Sweelinck also shows traces of the influence of Merulo. It is not surprising to find Hieronymus Praetorius in Hamburg around 1600 writing in the Venetian style at the same time as Hans Leo Hassler in Augsburg. The latter, having studied in Venice, met Praetorius at the Congress of Organists, attended by no less than fifty-four organists from northern and central Germany, among them Michael and Hieronymus Praetorius, held at Gröningen near Halberstadt in 1596. Little attention can be given here to Merulo' s work for the organ, which includes a considerable number of works, ricercari, canzone, Masses, Magnificats and his famous toccatas.

The organ Mass presented here dates from a relatively early period, 1568. Vocal in conception, the work reminds one of Cavazzoni, but account must also be taken of its liturgical function. As a musical and liturgical genre the organ Masses consist of a series of versets that replace Gregorian chant in alternation, thus adding a certain brilliance to the well known monody. The character of these pieces recalls, of course, the music of the chant. In choosing Masses for Sunday, for the Blessed Virgin and for the Apostles, Merulo follows a tradition of which the beginning can be seen in the Faenza Codex.

The Italian organ of the period, in particular in St Mark's, remained conservative, with one manual and a limited pedal-board. In addition to the principals and ripieno there was a four-foot flute and a regal. The organs developed in Brabant were not generally accepted. Diruta, a pupil of Merulo, explains in his Discorso the contemporary Italian organ and its use. The musicologist and historian Willi Apel has claimed the organ Masses of Merulo as of the first rank, wedding the art of counterpoint with expressive lines and exquisite harmony, works of sublime beauty in the liturgical organ repertoire of the sixteenth century, as it were a first breath of the spirit of the Baroque.

Alfred Ebner (English version by Keith Anderson)

Frédéric Muñoz
Frédéric Muñoz was born at Ales in 1954 and showed an early aptitude for music, and particularly for the organ. He studied music first in Nîmes and then in Montpellier, while at the same time studying pharmacy. Organist since 1980 at the church of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, with its historic instrument, he is also President of the Organ Association of the Temple of Alès, responsible with Jacques Bétoulières for the organ class at Montpellier and for the Stage National "Orgues en Cévennes". Frédéric Muñoz regularly takes part in the Saison Musicale de saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, broadcast by Radio France, and in numerous concerts in France and Spain, in the latter notably in Cádiz and in the Segovia Holy Week. His first two recordings, one of L'orgue de Terraube and the other of Hymns and a Mass by Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, with plain-chant sung by John Elwes, were warmly welcomed by the critical press. Since 1992 he has been responsible for a monthly broadcast on Maguelone Région of a programme, grand jeu, devoted to the organ. A man of wide culture, his interests are reflected in the imagination and musicality of his performance.

Schola of the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Cruz in the Valle de los Caidos
The Schola of the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Cruz was established with the foundation of the abbey in 1958, its principal aim the proper celebration of liturgical ceremonies in the Basilica. From the beginning the schola was able to gain a position among the principal ensembles of this kind in Spain and abroad. In their daily schedule the boys of the choir alternate academic studies with the most modem teaching methods in music and the arts, giving concerts in most of the major cities of Spain. They have performed in Madrid in churches and concert-halls with musicians of the greatest eminence and under distinguished conductors. In 1966 the schola undertook a tour of Japan, with some forty acclaimed concerts and television appearances. More recently, in 1981, there were performances in Paris and Locarno of Los Villancicos by the eighteenth century composer Antonio Saler, a monk of the Royal Monastery of St Laurence at the Escorial, a work repeated in 1992 at Sylvanes and Béziers. In the spring of 1993 there was an invitation to the Festival de la Chaise-Dieu, and a recording with the Béziers Chorale and the instrumental group pygmalion of a Mass by Monteverdi. There have been a number of other compact disc recordings for major companies.

The fifty or so boys of the schola, in addition to their instrumental and general musical studies, work every day on the interpretation of Gregorian chant, basing their performance on a study of the manuscript sources of the tenth and eleventh centuries, and take part, with the choir monks, in the daily Conventual Mass, as well as in the various Feasts of the Church. The schola serves as an important centre for the diffusion of Gregorian chant as for that of the traditional Spanish Mozarabic chant. Former members of the schola have formed various vocal groups, specialising in chant or in early music, and winning a further reputation for themselves at home and abroad.

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