Miscellaneous

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Tenor

Anybody familiar with classical music must have heard of tenors. Most famous are “the three tenors” Placido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti; three men who are able to sing high pitches quite loudly. But, what exactly is a ‘tenor’, and has that always been the same?

The origin of the word can be found in the Middle Ages. The word ‘tenor’ is a derivative from the Latin word ‘tenere’, which means ‘to hold’. The earliest composers of polyphonic music in the Middle Ages always started a new composition with an existing chant melody (the ‘cantus prius factus’, or the ‘cantus firmus’). To that chant melody one or more other parts were added. The part that has the cantus firmus was called the tenor, because that part holds the given melody. An example of this is the Alleluia Nativitas by Perotinus:

Perotinus - Alleluia Nativitas

Perotinus - Alleluia Nativitas

This piece was written shortly before 1200 by Perotinus, who worked at the Notre Dame in Paris. He stretched the gregorian melody to enormous proportions and added two other parts. Thus, each note of the cantus firmus is sustained for a long time and has many notes in the other parts against it. In the fragment above one can see just the “Al – le” of “Alleluia” in the tenor (the lowest part) (mp3source
Perotin
Perotin. By: The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 837751-2)

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)
.

Only in the seventeenth century the word ‘tenor’ got its current meaning: a high men’s voice. For example the role of Evangelist in Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion is sung by a tenor: (mp3source
Bach: Matthaus-Passion
Bach: Matthaus-Passion. By: Collegium Vocale Gent; Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi France HMC 951676.78)

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)
. And still later, Gustav Mahler gave the tenor a major role in his Lied von der Erde: (mp3source
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde. By: San Francisco Symphony – Stuard Skelton – Thomas Hampson (SFS 60019)

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)
. These are of course only two examples from the vast repertoire for tenor.

Recommended cd’s

Perotin
Perotin. By: The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 837751-2)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Bach: Matthaus-Passion
Bach: Matthaus-Passion. By: Collegium Vocale Gent; Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi France HMC 951676.78)

Details: Amazon.com

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde. By: San Francisco Symphony – Stuard Skelton – Thomas Hampson (SFS 60019)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

An article about Saint Cecilia can not be missing from this site. Maybe you wonder what a catholic saint has to do with classical music, but that will be clear within a few minutes if you read on.

Not much is known about the historical figure of Cecilia. She lived during the first centuries of christianity, but it is not exactly clear when. The story goes that she had to mary someone called Valerianus. She told him that an angel guarded her virginity. If Valerius would deflower her, his final day would have come. Valerius wished to see that angel. That happened, after which Valerius became christian. Because of their faith, both were prosecuted, caught and sentenced to death. After a failed attempt to behead her, Cecilia lived on for three days, lying in her own blood. Then she died. Her last will was to build a church on the place of her house in Rome. Thus happened. Nowadays a church is still there.

The reason for this article is not Cecilia’s martyrdom. In her biography it is told that she sang to God in her hart during the festivities of her wedding, while others were playing all kinds of instruments. The latin word for "voice" is "organum". Probably this sentence was misunderstood in later days when she got the organ as attribute. Since the fourteenth century she has been associated with music. In most cases she is depicted with a small portable organ. When in 1584 at Rome the institute for church music was established, Cecilia became the patroness, and with that the patroness of church music. In the nineteenth century, an important reformation movement within church music was called after her: Cecilianism.

Rafaël - St. Cecilia

Rafaël - St. Cecilia

One of the most famous paintings of her was made in 1515 by Rafael. Cecilia is depicted in a state of exaltation. She listens to the singing choirs of angels. The instruments that lie around here are broken, and the organ she holds, is falling apart. She leaves earthly music behind and focusses on the heavenly.

Small wonder that much music was written to honor Saint Cecilia. Especially in England a large number of pieces have been composed for her day (22 November). An early example is the Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day by Henry Purcell (1692) (mp3source
Henry Purcell - Hail, bright Cecilia!
Henry Purcell – Hail, bright Cecilia!. By: Gabrieli Consort and Players – Paul McCreesh (Archiv 445882-2)

Details: Amazon.com
)
:

Hail, bright Cecilia! fill ev’ry heart
With love of thee and thy celestial art;

An example from the twentieth century is the Hymn to St. Cecilia, composed in 1942 by Benjamin Britten (mp3source
Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten. By: The Sixteen – Harry Christophers (Collins 12862)

Details: Amazon.com
)
:

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

Recommended cd’s

Henry Purcell - Hail, bright Cecilia!
Henry Purcell – Hail, bright Cecilia!. By: Gabrieli Consort and Players – Paul McCreesh (Archiv 445882-2)

Details: Amazon.com

Purcell: Odes for Saint Cecilia's Day
Purcell: Odes for Saint Cecilia’s Day. By: (Harmonia Mundi France HAR 901643)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten. By: The Sixteen – Harry Christophers (Collins 12862)

Details: Amazon.com

Blest Cecilia: Britten Choral Works I
Blest Cecilia: Britten Choral Works I. By: The Sixteen – Harry Christophers (Coro COR16006)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com


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