There seems to have been a movement around the mid-twentieth century in choral writing to focus the attention of the choir onto what everyone sounds like at that moment, neglecting what each line sounds like by itself over the course of time. As a result, some bass parts do not carry one line of intelligible text. For example, in his setting of Teasdale’s “Stars,” Ēriks Ešenvalds (“one of the most sought-after choral composers working today,” according to his web site’s biography) gives the basses only a few phrases of text and a few other vocables. I give you below the entirety of the text as sung by the basses, with a recording of myself reading the text for extra edification.
In the night on a dark hill,
Mm spicy and still, and still,
Mm Ah Mm Ah Oh
white and topaz and misty red;
Oh Mm Mm Ah Mm Ah
Mm Ah Oh Ah
The dome of heaven great hill
and myriads with hearts of fire,
heaven full of stars, heaven full of stars,
Ah Ah Oh Mm Oh Mm Oh Mm
Oh Mm Oh Mm Oh Mm Oh.
Somewhat related to the previous post, this one deals with as good of an attempt on pronouncing the Latin of Robert White’s “Lamentations” as possible. Since this piece was written in the late sixteenth century in England, its Latin should be colored a bit like Shakespeare’s pronunciation, but a little tamer (fewer distinctly English diphthongs than period English would use perhaps). Based on the Harold Copeman’s explanation of this era’s Latins in his 1990 book Singing in Latin, I made an IPA transcription of how the text of “Lamentations” would probably have originally been sung. It is reproduced below with a recording of myself speaking it (as best as I can).
pro cibo ad refocillandam animam. Vide,
[prɔ ˈsibɔ að rɛfosɪˈlændam ˈænɪmam ˈvidɛ]
Domine, et considera quoniam facta sum vilis!
[ˈdɔmɪnɛ ɛtʰ kʰɔnˈsidɛɾa ˈkʰonɪam ˈfækta sʊm ˈvilɪs]
LAMED. O vos omnes qui transitis per
[ˈlæmɛð o vɔz ˈɔmnɛs kwi tranˈsitɪs pɛɾ]
viam, attendite, et videte si est dolor sicut
[ˈviam aˈtʰɛndɪtʰɛ ɛtʰ vɪˈdetʰɛ si ɛst ˈdolɔɾ ˈsɪkʰʊtʰ]
dolor meus! quoniam vindemiavit me, ut
[ˈdolɔɾ ˈmeʊs ˈkʰoniam vɪndɛmɪˈævɪtʰ me ʊtʰ
locutus est Dominus, in die iræ furoris sui.
[lɔˈkjutʰʊs ɛst ˈdɔmɪnʊs ɪn ˈdiɛ ˈiɾɛ fʊˈɾɔɾɪs ˈsjuɪ]
MEM. De excelso misit ignem in ossibus
[mɛm de ɛkˈselso ˈmɪzɪtʰ ˈɪŋnɛm ɪn ˈɔsɪbʊs]
meis et erudivit me: expandit rete pedibus
[ˈmeɪs ɛtʰ ɛɾʊˈdivɪtʰ me ɛksˈpændɪtʰ retʰɛ ˈpʰedɪbʊs]
meis: convertit me retrorsum: posuit me
[meɪs kʰɔnˈvɛɾtʰɪtʰ me ɾɛˈtɾɔɾsʊm ˈpʰozjuɪtʰ me]
desolatam tota die maerore confectam.
[dɛzɔˈlætʰam ˈtʰotʰa ˈdiɛ mɛˈɾɔɾɛ kʰɔnˈfɛktam]
Hierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.
[ʤɛˈrjuzalɛm kʰɔnˈvɛɾtʰɛɾɛ að ˈdɔmɪnʊm ˈdeʊm ˈtjuʊm]
The title of the piece, by the way, would have probably been pronounced [læmɛnˈtʰæsɪənz]. My transcription is not authoritative, but from what evidence I can find, it is as close to the original pronunciation as I can envision.
I have continued making old-style bass parts for myself to read early music. BREVE is now starting to work on the Lamentations (a 6) of Robert White (or Whyte), which is a quite long setting of much of the first chapter of the book of Lamentations. Not only is it a great opportunity to get used to reading old-style notation, but a great exercise in reading from baritone clef. I did not derive this part from a manuscript or early printing, but derived it from the score from which we are reading. Thankfully it had an initial suggestion of the clef and proportion by which to base this part.
At two pages, it is a lot less to carry around than the 24-page full choral score. The work takes eighteen minutes to perform typically. If you want to follow my bass part with a recording, this performance by the Nordic Voices is quite good:
We are aiming to perform this in period English Latin, which should give it quite a nice color.
In BREVE, we are working up a short Croce setting of “O sacrum convivium.” For fun, I thought it would be nice to give retypesetting the bass part a try using the house style guide of the Lasso part books on IMSLP.
On a wild hair today, I decided to try to create my own version of the bass part of Palestrina’s Exultate Deo (1584), emulating the style of the part books of Monteverdi’s second book of madrigals (1607), which are available on IMSLP. The printer of those part books, Ricciardo Amadino, used a clear, easy-to-learn style for his notation. One of the first things one will notice when looking at the above part is that there are no bar lines marked, which means that rehearsing the piece with no measure numbers to go by might be difficult. In any case, reading from parts like this for music that was first published like this helps me to think of this music the way it was conceived at that time. It is strangely liberating to get rid of the bar lines in this sort of music—text stress becomes a bit easier to execute.
For this short project, I used Adobe Illustrator, and the initial E is from a free ornate initials font. I used Minion Pro, and opted for the long s’s of Amadino’s part books.
I was once asked by a student if there were any operas in Esperanto. While there are no full-fledged operas originally in Esperanto, Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka (1901) was mostly translated and performed back in 1953. Above is the opera. It has some nice moments.
Studento unufoje demandis al mi ĉu estas iuj operoj Esperantaj. Kvankam ne estas plenformaj operoj originale en Esperanto, la opero de Antonín Dvořák, Rusalka (1901), estis plejparte tradukita kaj prezentita en 1953. La supra filmo estas la opero. Ĝi havas bonajn momentojn.
One of the greatest pleasures of musicology is reading the handwriting of long dead composers. The above image is a letter from Brahms to his publisher, Fritz Simrock, written in German. I thought I knew enough German to make heads or tails of something until I started actually reading handwriting like this. This is a fast, lovely writing known as Kurrentschrift, which was used throughout the nineteenth century, until in 1911 it was modified into the German script called Sütterlinschrift, which lasted until the 1970s.
It really does seem like no one talks about the fact that all German writing in the nineteenth century is perfectly illegible to someone who doesn’t know this special alphabet. It was just how you wrote in German. Notice that Brahms in that letter switches to Roman script when he writes “alienum” under the musical example.
In case you’re wondering what it says, here are the first few lines in modern script:
Lieber S. [Simrock],
Der alte Titel ist mir
recht—aber da ist ja kein
Die Lieder sind natürlich schon
bei Röder—sonst bitte ich,
dass Sie zu op. 71 Nr. 3 (4?)
I first came into contact with this kind of writing when going through an old Verdi manuscript that was used in Vienna and completely translated into German, in Kurrent, along the handwritten part in the full score. It really is quite alien at first glance, but I think quite beautiful.