Alessandro Striggio and Thomas Tallis

My friends keep educating me, and the unexpected arrival of a CD of music performed by the excellent British group I Fagionini has introduced me to a new composer, Alessandro Striggio, a Mantuan of the sixteenth century. One of his pieces composed in the 1560s is a forty-part motet Ecce beatam lucem in which a Latin text by a Protestant composer, […]

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Anestis Keselopoulos on St Gregory Palamas: Virtue as the ‘Middle Way’ of Spiritaul Life

In his study of the thought of St Gregory Palamas, across a number of pages Anestis Keselopoulos considers his notion of virtue: ‘Examining the texts of the holy Fathers, we see that they clearly describe the beginning of the journey to God with a practical philosophy that is composed of two basic aspects of the spiritual struggle. The first aspect of the […]

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The Baroque Continuo

The continuo parts played by harpsichord or organ in baroque music seem to have become important with the decline of elaborate polyphonic works, when composers began to feel it was necessary to anchor the piece with a bass line. I’ve long believed that the advent of the piano opened the way for the technical bravura in concertos of such composers […]

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In Praise of John Dowland

Hearing, years ago, a version of ‘Come again sweet love doth now invite’ turned me into a fan of the Elizabethan composer John Dowland, and a double CD of instrumental music and airs which are sung by the great counter tenor Alfred Deller, shown on the cover looking suitably sad, is a real delight. Dowland specialised in short pieces, some of them songs for an […]

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She’s Leaving Home

Twice in the past few weeks I’ve heard on the radio arrangements of an old song by the Beatles, She’s Leaving Home, made by people who would be generally regarded as serious composers. A friend tells me she has also heard orchestrations of Eleanor Rigby, and come to think of it I’m sure I have heard Norwegian Wood being treated in […]

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In Praise of Arvo Part (ii)

Among the sacred works of the contemporary composer Arvo Part, the mighty Passio (1982), which sets to music the Vulgate text of St John’s narrative of Christ’s Passion, is the best known. It begins with a wall of sound in which the Chorus announces the topic of the work, and proceeds with other voices taking the parts of the Evangelist, Jesus (a […]

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In Praise of Arvo Part (i)

Born in Estonia in 1935, Part is one of those composers who took a while to find his voice. Of his early pieces, the most enjoyable is Solfeggio (1964), in which unaccompanied voices overlay each other. Doubtless being in the USSR imposed constraints on him, as it did on other composers, although while living in an oppressive environment most have […]

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Henryk Gorecki, John Tavener and Arvo Part

Some years ago three composers who seemed to be doing similar things came to prominence at about the same time. It is now becoming easier to separate them. Henryk Gorecki, a Pole, died recently, and his fame will largely rest on one piece, his Symphony no. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) for orchestra and soprano. It’s a very moving composition with an emotional intensity […]

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Byrd on Jerusalem

Among the extrordinarily talented composers of Tudor England, none stands higher than William Byrd. He was something of an outsider, being a convinced Catholic in a country that was increasingly identifying itself by its adherence to Protestantism, and while he composed some beautiful pieces for Anglican liturgy his most powerful sacred music is, explicitly or implicity, composed with the old religion […]

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Tchaikovsy does Mozart

When a schoolboy I was bowled over by the excitement of Tchaikovsky’s stirring 1812 Overture, and I imagine girls of a similar age being entranced by the delicate beauty of Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky is a thoroughly enjoyable composer. But there are some things that should never be attempted. I’ve been listening to his Suite No. 4 in G, the Mozartiana, in […]

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