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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Spemalot

Just noticed Monday's fun post at The Overgrown Path, on the subject of oversized choral works. Our Pliable pathster must be delighted to have been proved wrong; he called Alessandro Striggio's 40- and 60-part mass "lost," when really it was just misfiled. The way I heard this story from one of the Gregs, the composer's name had been creatively respelled somewhere along the way (not so unusual), a well-meaning librarian--apparently thinking oh, they must have meant FOUR-part mass--dropped the second digit, and bingo, the piece was totally unfindable, damned to spend a few centuries in storage next to the Ark of the Covenant. Not until just a few years ago did harpsichordist/musicologist Davitt Moroney rescue the score from oblivion, and not until Prom 6, 17 July 2007, did the incomparable Tallis Scholars deliver its first modern performance. Unfortunately, the BBC stream (expiring on the 24th of this month) is a bit strident, so I think I'll hold out for the CD before I give it a good hard listen. Striggio's mass was probably, as M. Pliable observes, a direct forbear to the forty-part Spem in Alium of Thomas Tallis, who is supposed to have been asked, isn't there an Englishman who could write as well as this guy? (Answer: Yes, apparently.) The Path leads us, rightly, towards Paul Van Nevel's excellent Spem for Sony, with his Huelgas Ensemble, on a program (Utopia Triumphans) of gonzo Renaissance polyphony also including Ockeghem's 36-part canon and a 40-part Striggio motet. Incidentally, I just picked up Van Nevel's of a 24-part Annibale Padovano mass the other day the other day (on Harmonia Mundi), and I recommend it highly as well--in addition to just about anything recorded by the Huelgas Ensemble under Paul Van Nevel, a genius for rounding up obscure masterpieces and doing them right on disc. Now that Striggio's lost mass is finally recovered, what will be the next monster of polyphony to show up on CD? Assuming that forty-part Lassus motet stays lost, I vote for the never-recorded, 36-part Moondog canon "Well, Well Dukel." Actually, anybody who reads this, tell me where I can get a score for that mother. I want more Moondog! So much is still unavailable. Did you know he made an album with Julie Andrews?? Seriously. (Totally out of print, of course. Somehody help!) That's it at the top of this post, with the radiant Ms. Andrews in her fairy-tale gown--although perhaps they should have put Moondog on the front, since he was something of a fairy-tale figure himself (that's him in this other picture, with the spear). I think Joseph Campbell was the first to observe that every culture has a story about a blind, busking Viking contrapuntalist on Sixth Ave.

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