The program, which bears the title “Hymn to the Virgin–Holiday Masterpieces from Around the Globe,” will consist of the following: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s Hodie Christus natus est (Today, Christ is Born), John Taverner’s Magnificat a 5, Hieronymus Praetorius’s Magnificat quarti toni, Robert White’s Regina caeli and Tota pulcra es, Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, Cristóbal de Morales’ Regina caeli, Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis.
Presumably, the Tallis Scholars — founded in 1973 by Peter Phillips, who remains their director — take their name from the great Tudor polyphonist Thomas Tallis (1505-85).
You will observe that no work by Tallis is heard on this program, but I would imagine that, after carrying his name and standard around the world for 38 years, they feel they can celebrate his contemporaries without guilt.
Of the composers who works are on this program, only one is still alive: Pärt. Of the rest, all but one have been dead for 400 years or more. Here are their dates and nationalities: Sweelinck (Dutch, 1562-1621), Taverner (English, c.1490-1545), Praetorius (German, 1560-1629), White (English, c.1538-1574), Pärt (Estonian, born Sept. 11, 1935), de Morales (Spanish, c.1500-53), Britten (1913-76) and da Palestrina (Italian, 1525/6-1594).
Sweelinck was an organist and teacher, and one of the first important European composers for the keyboard. Taverner was a singer and composed religious vocal music almost exclusively. Praetorius is not the famous composer of the Dances of Terpsichore and the Polychoral Christmas Music and was not, apparently, even related to him (though the two did meet, at Gröningen, in 1596). According to one source, “Praetorius wrote masses, 10 settings of the Magnificat, and numerous motets, mostly in Latin. Most of his music is in the Venetian polychoral style.”
White, whose 36 years were bracketed entirely within the life of Tallis, was, like Byrd, a Catholic composer in a Protestant country, and does not seemed to have suffered for it. When he and his family were wiped out by the plague in 1574, he was serving as organist and master of the choristers of Westminster Abbey — a not inconsiderable post. White’s settings of the Latin liturgy are much admired for their grace and refinement.
Pärt’s style is a particularly fruitful cross-fertilization of minimalism and Gregorian chant. He is one of the greatest of living composers. Music historians consider Morales the most significant Spanish composer before Vittoria. Britten is easily the best-known British composer of the second half of the 20th century. Opera is his most important form, but the instrumental Sinfonia da Requiem, a searing lament for his parents, is his greatest work.
As for Pierluigi, called “Palestrina” after the city of his birth, if you don’t know who he is, you had better don this dunce cap and go sit in the corner. Look under “Council of Trent,” “Counter-Reformation” and “Roman School.”
Tickets to the Tallis Scholars are $35 for the general public and $10 for UCSB students. For tickets or more information, call Arts & Lectures at 805.893.3535, or click here to purchase tickets online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer.