Harry Christophers explains more about this extraordinary music…
In 16th-century Europe, Spain was still very much the most powerful country. It was arguably also the most influential; truly imperial with the acquisition of vast new lands in the Americas, a plethora of universities and a wealth of great art and music. Two of the most influential composers of the Renaissance, who spent their life in Spain and for many years in the service of Seville Cathedral, one of the most splendid ecclesiastical establishments, were Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo, master and disciple.
Both were prolific and on our Choral Pilgrimage we will give audiences an overview of their music, which is undoubtedly imbued with the religious fervour of Philip II’s Spain. There can be few composers who can boast a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; Guerrero made his in 1588 and published a book about his incredible journey - even his abduction by pirates! That was one of his very few forays out of Spain.
He was reputed to have been a person of gentleness and charm and in possession of a beautiful high tenor voice, and it is that singing quality that comes across in his works - every line is a joy to sing. Robert Stevenson wrote that the moods he captured included ecstasy, gaiety, melancholy, longing, submission and repose, many of which are captured in Agnus Dei I and II from his Missa Congratulamini mihi. One could also add grandeur and solemnity, as in the hymn Vexilla Regis.
uring 2015 The Sixteen will transport audiences back to 16thcentury Seville, at the time one of the biggest, richest and most cosmopolitan cities on earth.
Lobo was a choirboy at Seville Cathedral where Guerrero was maestro de capilla and, as a young man, he was clearly a studious pupil who then became a worthy disciple. To say he was obsessed with musical form would detract from the beauty of his works, yet his eight-part setting of Ave Maria is a technical tour de force, but one which in no way impedes its rich sonority and sheer beauty.
However, there is a single work that, in my opinion, makes Lobo deserving of a lasting reputation, and that is Versa est in luctum. Is there a more poignant setting of this funeral motet than that of Lobo? It was written for the obsequies of Philip II in 1598; it is not only contemplative but also daring with one of the most heartfelt dissonances I know in Renaissance music.
Available now on CORO, The Sixteen’s own recording label Flight of Angels COR16168 and full details of The Choral Pilgrimage tour dates.