Classical Chat: Beauty of first great works

Vocal group The Sixteen performing in York MinsterVocal group The Sixteen performing in York Minster
Vocal group The Sixteen performing in York Minster
Early music is unquestionably one of the most valuable gifts bestowed on classical music in the second half of the 20th century.

Ensembles have raided history and unearthed a treasure trove of beautiful music from the times before the well-known masters of Bach, Handel and later giants.

Other news: Overtures to get things startedFor centuries art music was largely connected to the church (although there were troubadours and groups entertaining royal courts), and it was mostly unaccompanied singing.

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The rediscovery of this repertoire has been a revelation. Compared to later music much early composition seems quite static and serene as it lacks the progress towards an end goal which writers who came after strove for.

But this is no chill-out or relaxing music.

Much of it has great depth and really is well worth careful exploring.

Here are a few gems which shine bright hundreds of years after they were penned:

Machaut – Messe de Nostre Dame: This is one of the first great Masses written before 1365. It is particularly notable for Ensemble Organum’s extraordinary recording with elaborate, almost oriental ornamentation.

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Ockeghem – Missa pro Defunctis: Ockeghem had a colossal reputation during his life in the 1400s and was known for his music’s rhythmic interest. This is his best known piece, probably classical music’s first fully-developed requiem.

Tallis – Spem in Alium: A complex and beautiful piece of music from the 1500s for 40 voices, producing a great web of interwoven singing.

Byrd – The Three Masses: A Catholic when the faith was persecuted in England, Byrd wrote these intimate and deeply moving pieces full of sadness and bittersweet regret for private and secret worship.

Allegri – Miserere: Long chanted lines of penitence contrast with more intricate writing, while a stunning top C pierces the gloom like a ray of heaven.

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