Chor der Sixtinischen Kapelle
The Sistine Chapel Choir (Cappella Musicale Pontificia) is the oldest choral institution in the world. It has accompanied papal liturgical life since the early centuries of Christianity, surviving difficult times along the way, and continues to function in the same way today. At various points during the “magical” period of the Renaissance, its singers included Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Luca Marenzio, Cristóbal de Morales, Costanzo Festa, Josquin Desprès, Jacob Arcadelt, Gregorio Allegri…
The choir’s home is the oratory built in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican for Sixtus IV, and which is therefore known as the Sistine Chapel (it was consecrated on 9 August 1483 and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary). It is famous for its frescos – those by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Signorelli, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio and, primarily, those by Michelangelo on its ceiling and altar wall (The Last Judgement).
A huge wealth of Renaissance music composed for papal liturgical celebrations has been performed in the Sistine Chapel – repertoire composed for its specific and unique acoustic. It is this extraordinary combination of the three greatest musical treasures of Renaissance Rome – the Choir, the Chapel and the works written for services to be held there – which this album seeks to capture. That task also entails the fascinating challenge of establishing a certain “aesthetic relevance” in terms of Renaissance vocal style and Gregorian chant. In fact, performing in this architectural gem, amid all the light and shade of its frescos, singing works written for liturgical purposes, brings us face to face with a “living” reality, one which over the centuries has always produced a kind of cultural synthesis, and thus imposes an obligation on us to investigate the aesthetic elements that lie at the heart of this music. Hence the Choir’s gradual adoption of a number of measures in recent years. The first of these is the replacement of alto voices with tenors who sing in the altus range, and consequent application of the Renaissance rule of transposition, which enables each singer to stay within comfortable limits, without forcing the voice. We also now employ a “dynamic” tactus which, as well as ensuring the correct relationship between phrases, helps shape and highlight the text, and we pay meticulous, “horizontal” attention to the phrasing, enabling a logical articulation of the notes. Finally, we make careful use of affetti and the technique of messa di voce: when properly applied, in the service of the text, these aesthetic aspects inject life, pulse and colour into the sacred music of the Renaissance, distancing it from the black-and-white vision typical of many northern European performances, and from the late-Romantic, operatic vision with which for many (too many) years the Sistine Chapel Choir was associated, believing it was passing on to posterity the only true style of the “Roman School”.
As for Gregorian chant, that complex world riven by often sterile debate, here too our aim is to apply semiological theory only when it improves the musical product. Without exception, we abide by the official edition of the Roman Gradual.
The works on this recording reflect the unfolding liturgical year of the Catholic Church, from Advent to the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June). We begin, therefore, with the Gregorian introit Rorate caeli and the offertory Ad te levavi (Palestrina), typical Advent pieces. These are followed by Lassus’s Magnificat VIII toni and the Gregorian antiphon Lumen ad revelationem gentium, its verses alternating with polyphony (attributed to Palestrina), both associated with Christmas. The Lenten period is then represented by the motet Super flumina Babylonis and the Palm Sunday offertory Improperium exspectavit cor meum (both in settings by Palestrina), Allegri’s famous Miserere (in its original version, as preserved in the Sistine Codex of 1661), the Gregorian gradual Christus factus est and Anerio’s later polyphonic version, Victoria’s Popule meus and Palestrina’s Adoramus te, Christe for male voci pari. The famous Sicut cervus, the Low Sunday offertory Angelus Domini (both Palestrina) and the well-known Iubilate Deo (Lassus) are specific to the Easter period. Finally, we have two more settings by Palestrina: the offertory Constitues eos principes and Tu es Petrus, marking the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The majority of the works on this album are by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, partly because of his close personal association with the Sistine Chapel, but also because, in some ways, he is the most representative figure in Renaissance liturgical music.
There is a widespread belief that the liturgical reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council have led the Catholic Church to abandon its rich musical heritage. Such gratuitous claims, however, stem from a purely superficial and “ideological” understanding of the situation. The fact is that all the music featured here is used regularly today by the Sistine Chapel Choir in its papal celebrations. What the Vatican II reform asks for is an intelligent repositioning of the historic musical repertoire within the current liturgy, and an awareness of its relevance to specific occasions. This requires thought, research, knowledge of the sources and a serious two-way engagement with contemporary culture in order to achieve that vital sense of connection with our congregations that the liturgy has enjoyed throughout its history. Vatican II is, first and foremost, a great cultural challenge: if treated wisely, it should lead us to welcome new semiological studies and to ask ourselves serious questions about the “aesthetic relevance” of the music we perform. If we embrace the challenge and open up that essential dialogue with the modern age, we will be able to breathe new life into the Church’s musical heritage and avoid the insidious temptation to preserve the past in aspic or indulge in nostalgic regret for what has gone before. The Vatican II reforms are, therefore, a great gift to music – one we need to accept with intelligence, sophistication and genuine spirituality.
Quelle: Deutsche Grammophon