Passione - The Sung Passion Story
The passion story according to the four evangelists was already recited in early Christendom in the liturgy of Holy Week. One of the earliest reports dates from the fourth century. Pope Leo the Great (+461) reserved Good Friday for the passion according to St John (Joh.18.1 - 19.42). Specific melodic formulas for the recitation of the passion were introduced at a very early stage.
Until the thirteenth century, the passion pericope was read by a single person. In order to maintain the dramatic effect, the various personages were indicated by special letters and signs in the text. In surviving manuscripts, passages concerning the crowd of onlookers (the turbae) at Christ's crucifixion make a clear distinction between Jesus' disciples and the Jewish folk.
Not until the twelfth century did passions employ exact music notation. Around 1250, the passion text was divided up, and proclaimed by more than one person. It became customary to employ three singers for the roles of Christ, the evangelist (narrator), and the other personages. The reaction of the crowd was expressed by an initially monodic choir. Thus the dramatic character of the passion story increased considerably.
Inevitably, the development of vocal polyphony made its mark on the passion, of which two types arose. In the responsorial passion, the various singers and groups responded to one another, while the turbae scenes and conclusion were treated polyphonically. The earliest surviving example of this type dates from 1430 and is found in an English manuscript including an anonymous St. Luke passion and a fragment of a St. Matthew passion. In the through-composed passion, known as the motet passion, the entire text was set polyphonically. The oldest surviving example is attributed to Jacob Obrecht (1450-1505).
Many settings of the passion story survive from the polyphonic age; written for the Catholic liturgy and largely in the responsorial form, they originate particularly from Venice and Rome, and were composed by Ruffo, Asola, Soriano and others. The turbae are usually written in a simple polyphonic style. The four musically more elaborate passions by Orlando di Lasso (written around 1580) and da Vittoria (1585) served as models until the seventeenth century.
In the sixteenth century, the so-called Lied-passion arose in the Lutheran liturgy, employing either Latin or German. The prototypes were the St. John and St. Matthew passions by Johann Walter, a friend of Luther.
Walter's example was followed in the seventeenth century by Heinrich Schütz, who cultivated and developed both forms, paving the way from about 1650 for the oratorio-passion, with its interpolated musical reflections and contemplative episodes, both vocal and instrumental.
The eighteenth century witnessed the climax of this development in the oratorio passion, with its commenting da capo arias. The grand masters of this genre were Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philip Telemann.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, passion composition fell into decline. Independent oratorios focused on particular parts of the text, such as Christus am Ölberg by Ludwig van Beethoven (1803). In The Crucifixion by John Stainer (1887), a modest return is evident - in romantic guise - to the responsorial passion, but the achievements of a bygone age were hardly equalled. In his Choral-Passion (1933), Hugo Distler sought to connect with the polyphonic technique of the Renaissance and early Baroque.
Examples of more recent passion compositions include Proeve van een Passie in de volkstaal volgens Johannes by Bernard Huijbers (in Dutch, 1959), Passio secundum Lucam by Krzystof Penderecki (in Latin, 1965), Mattheus-Passie by Willem Vogel (in Dutch, 1994) and St.John Passion by John MacMillan (in English, 2007).
The polyphonic style is characteristic of Netherlands composers of the Renaissance, and to some extent of the Baroque, particularly with regard to vocal music. Contrapuntal techniques such as motivic and melodic imitation were employed, including various canonic forms. At the same time, increasing attention was paid to text depiction and the expression of sentiments, as is convincingly demonstrated by the mostly six-part motets on this recording.
Although new techniques and styles arose, the polyphonic style held ground, again predominantly in vocal music. German choral repertoire of the second half of the twentieth century is hardly conceivable without polyphonic writing, as in the music of Hugo Distler mentioned above.
This style was embraced in Holland, particularly in church music. The choral passages or turbae in the passion story on this recording owe their origins to this movement. Contrapuntal technique is clearly manifest in the canonic treatment of several strophic verses of this passion story, as also in the organ work by Bernard Bartelink (*1929) and the instrumental In Passione Domini by
Jan Valkestijn (*1928). Both compositions correspond to the opening hymn of the St. John passion recorded here. Most of the motet texts are taken from the Office chants for Holy Week.
Alexander Utendal, born in the Netherlands between 1530-1540, probably began his career as a member of the Brussels court chapel of Queen Mary of Hungary. In 1564, he sung countertenor in the choir of Archduke Ferdinand of Prague. When Ferdinand moved to Innsbruck in 1566, Utendal followed, dying there in 1581. The polyphonic texture of his music is rich and sonorous, and sometimes features chromaticism, as in the six-part passion motet Plangent eum.
Michel Du Buisson
Buisson, probably born in Lille, was active between 1560-1573. Like Utendal, he served at the Viennese court of Archduke Ferdinand, later emperor, between 1559-1564. In the latter year he followed the dukal chapel of Ferdinand II to Prague, and in 1566 to Innsbruck.
Johannes Flamingus is known to us through 32 works that he wrote down in the Leiden choirbooks between 1565-1567. He left Leiden before the Alteration, and in 1571 he became chapelmaster to the court of Duke Johann Albrecht I at Schwerin, where he served until 1573. If the name Johannes Flamingus is synonymous with Johan Vlamincx, he was employed in 1592 at the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk in Mechlin, where he died around 1598.
Orlando di Lasso
Orlando di Lasso [Lassus] (1532-1594), born in Bergen in Henegouwen, was a choirboy in Sicily and Milan. He held various posts in Napels, Rome and Antwerp, before his appointment in 1560 as court chapelmaster in Munich. Lassus is the last and greatest representative of the composers of the Netherlands Renaissance. His oeuvre of sacred and secular music comprises more than 2000 compositions. His genius is manifest primarily in the expressivity and architecture of his compositions. The text of the motet O crux splendidior is taken from the Office of the feast of Holy Rood.
Fritz Heller & Jan Valkestijn