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Conservative or Progressive?

MALCOLM MILLER attends the historic modern revival
of Striggio's sixty-part Mass


The first late-night BBC Prom of the 2007 season on 17 July (Prom 6) was a sell out -- and featured as its climax the historic modern revival of Alessandro Striggio's forty- and sixty-part Mass Ecco si beato giorno, which was recently rediscovered by David Moloney, the noted scholar and harpsichordist, who conducted the BBC Singers and Tallis Scholars together with His Majestys Sagbuts and Cornetts, in a fascinating and thrilling performance. The astonishing, recent rediscovery of Striggio's Mass, miscatalogued in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris, where it had lain since 1726 (acquired during Louis XV's reign!), was also a wonderful excuse for a really superb concert of Renaissance multi-choir music featuring two of Striggio's better-known contemporaries, Lassus and Tallis, conducted brilliantly by the charismatic founder-director of the Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips.

As we learned in the excellent programme notes (available on the BBC Proms website) Striggio (1536-92) was one of the young superstars of the Florentine Medici Court whose main output of madrigals was complemented by a few opulent multi-choir sacred works. These works performed a political as well as artistic function, serving as gifts and pieces d'occasion for royal weddings and Papal visits. One of the best known of Striggio's sacred choral works is the forty-part motet Ecce beatam lucem, believed to stem from the early 1560s, the piece which launched the concert, its rich, mainly chordal textures clearly a precursor to the more extended 40/60-part Mass. The Mass was intended as a gift for Maximilian II, Emperor of the Habsburg Empire, with whom the Duke of Florence Cosimo de Medici wanted to improve his standing. It was at the Habsburg court in Vienna that Striggio personally presented the piece in 1567, at around the time that Orlando di Lassus was court musician there; as Moloney explains, Lassus was to conduct Striggio's music there the following year and thus the musical ties between them were strong.

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Copyright © 25 July 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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