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1550 __ « Salmi Spezzati »
Adrian Willaert (ca 1490-1562)
Comment : In 1550 Adrian Willaert published « Salmi spezzati », antiphonal settings of the psalms, the first polychoral work of the Venetian school. Willaert's work in the religious genre established Flemish techniques firmly as an important part of the Venetian Style. While more recent research has shown that Willaert was not the first to use this antiphonal, or polychoral method.Dominique Phinot (c. 1510 – c. 1556) had employed it before Willaert, and Johannes Martini (c. 1440 – late 1497 or early 1498) even used it in the late 15th century.Willaert's polychoral settings were the first to become famous and widely imitated.« Cori Spezzati » : A term used to describe the division of musical forces into musically, and sometimes also spatially, distinct groups. Such antiphonal use of two groups of singers is traceable to Jewish and early Christian liturgical music, but the deliberate, artistic development of the practice dates from the later years of the 15th century. It is associated particularly with psalm settings by composers in and around Venice in the mid-16th century, notably Willaert, whose “Salmi spezzati” (1550) ushered in a period of great popularity for polychoral music. These works, characterized by simple, diatonic harmonies and clear text-setting, do little to exploit contrast or ‘dialogue’ effects. Lassus's « cori spezzati » music, sacred and secular, features both contrapuntal textures and contrast between the complete forces and the separate choirs, to more striking effect. Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli continued the « cori spezzati » tradition at St Mark's, Venice, in their ceremonial motets, introducing bold harmonic gestures and using instruments to exploit contrasts of register between vocal and instrumental groups and between full choir and a solo voice (or group of soloists) with continuo. The contrasting groups engage in a musical dialogue, in phrases of varying lengths and degrees of overlap. Echo effects such as those found in Monteverdi's “Vespers” (1610) became common and led to contrasting dynamics being considered a useful device even when there was no spatial separation. Here again the harmonic flow provided by a continuo was important. The « cori spezzati » technique spread from northern Italy to Rome, where it is found in works by Palestrina and his pupils and by Victoria, through whom it reached Spain. It also caught on in Germany, through the influence of Lassus and the Gabrielis, among composers including Hassler and Schütz. Praetorius in “Syntagma musicum” (1619) advocated the singing of individual chorale verses by different forces placed around the church. A well-known but comparatively rare example in English music is Tallis's “Spem in alium”, for 40 voices in eight five-part choirs. On an even bigger scale is the grand ceremonial “Missa salisburgensis,” written (probably by Biber) for performance in Salzburg Cathedral. In 53 parts distributed among eight choirs, it is necessarily in a simple harmonic style, its interest lying in spatial and textural effects. « Cori spezzati » continued to be used in Italy into the 18th century, in concertos, cantatas, and motets, where the contrast between choruses and solo voices or duets became increasingly sectionalized. Bach explored polychoral effects in some of his motets and the “St Matthew Passion”. Developments in electronic and computer music increased the possibilities of spatial effects still further in the 20th century. (Compiled from various sources)There is, therefore, in St. Mark’s basilica, the intangible but consistant presence of an acoustic design, at times conscious, at times unconscious, that certainly influenced the centuries-old development of this building. The church, in fact, for the characteristics of its geometrical space and the kind of material covering it, (The upper part of the basilica is covered with mosaics laid with the Byzantine technique of hot fusion. Siliceous material was melted and laid in rectangular shapes; while the paste was still red-hot, a gold leaf was applied. After cooling, it was covered by another layer of melted glass to prevent the gold oxidation. Whereas the glassy paste behaves as a perfect mirror to both sound and light, the arrangement of the tesserae creates a rough surface which slightly reduces the wave front intensity, without affecting the composition of its frequencies) behaves like a huge sounding box, amplifying the resonance of sounds, and extending the period of their echo. During the 16th century, composers like Giovanni Gabrieli (Angelo, Gardano, “Canto, concerti di Andrea et di Giovanni Gabrieli etc.” In Venetia: appresso Angelo Giordano, 1587) (Giovanni, Gabrieli, “Sacrae Symphoniae, liber secundus, senis 7-19. Tam vocibus, quam instrumentis. Editio Nova etc.” Venetiae: Aere Bartholomei Magni, 1615) and Claudio Monteverdi wrote the “Sonatas in Echo” which, exploiting the peculiar acoustics of the basilica, produced sophisticated effects of sound distorsion, such as the protraction of the echo, or the harmonic overlapping of a note with the reverberation of the previous one. In those same years, the practice of the salmi spezzati (‘divided or split psalms’) was introduced, which consists of arranging the choir on two different lofts, opposing one another from the two sides of the nave (Laura Moretti wrote an interesting article - “Architectural Spaces for Music: Jacopo Sansovino and Adrian Willaert at St Mark’s,” published in Early Music History, Cambridge University Press 2004, Vol. 23, pp. 153-84. - about the origin of the salmi spezzati pholyphony. In his travel notes, the Flemish Arent Willemsz offers detailed descriptions of the liturgical ceremonies in St. Mark’s basilica during the time of his stay in Venice in 1525. In his account of Vespers, Willelmsz writes: “There is a bench, preciously made, which is placed squarely in the middle of the choir. Here the precentors are sitting, and they alternate with one another, two together alternately intoning the psalms, very pleasantly and magnificently. And they sing splendidly, partly simple song (simplesanck), and partly fabridoen (falsobordone) on the other side; this is altogether very beautiful and magnificient to hear and to see”). Whereas the choir’s splitting, in the field of acoustic phenomena, doubles the echo’s depth, the same phenomenon, in the field of sound perception, manifests itself in the image of an elastic space, deep, dilated beyond the visual spacial boundaries of the church. Hearing the echo of a sound expanding from side to side is as if the image of the basilica, with its columns and mosaics, transformed slowly into something similar to the sonority of the hollow belly of a grotto. Particular sounds, exalted by the acoustics of the building, have the power of evoking, so to speak, the idea of a space exceedingly wide, accelerating our imagination in a race towards infinity. (Matteo Melioli, “INHABITING SOUNDSCAPE, Architecture of the unseen world”)
French comment : Le déplacement d'un chœur ou d'un soliste dans l'espace au milieu ou autour du public provoque une perception rare, comme une mise en relief inhabituelle d'une musique que l'on n'entend trop souvent que de façon "plate" en face de soi lors des concerts ! La Renaissance est une période très riche en expérimentations de toutes sortes. La multiplication des voix (parties) chantant en même temps (jusqu'à 36 dans une œuvre d'Ockeghem et même 40 voix pour le fameux motet "Spem in alium" de Thomas Tallis) et la multiplication des chœurs se répondant font partie des défis qu'aimaient à se lancer les compositeurs entre eux et à eux-mêmes ! Littéralement "chœurs brisés", le terme de « Cori Spezzati » était utilisé pour décrire la division des effectifs utilisés (voix et/ou instruments) et la séparation dans l'espace des groupes qui en résultent. Le développement artistique délibéré de ce concept ne date que des dernières années du XVème siècle, lorsque les chœurs étaient divisés en deux groupes, un de chaque côté de l'église, pour exécuter des motets, certains jours de fête. Cette disposition s'est répandue après la publication des "Salmi spezzati" d'Adrien Willaert (1550). On a longtemps supposé que les deux groupes étaient installés dans les deux tribunes d'orgue de Saint-Marc à Venise, mais il semble à présent qu'en réalité les groupes étaient placés au sol, près des chaires, ou même à l'intérieur de celles-ci. Néanmoins, les tribunes de Saint-Marc ont été utilisées pour l'exécution des motets de cérémonie à la fin du XVIème siècle : des compositeurs comme les deux Gabrieli ont exploité de façon étonnante les possibilités de cette disposition. A cette époque, les groupes étaient souvent inégaux ou différents l'un de l'autre : un chœur aigu (coro acuto) se mesurant à un chœur grave (coro grave); un groupe de solistes (favoriti) contrastant avec le ripieno (ou cappella); les deux se mesurant à l'ensemble instrumental. Ces groupes s'engageaient dans un dialogue musical avec un matériel musical qui passait d'un groupe à l'autre, soutenant ainsi l'intérêt par le changement continu de la provenance du son. Les effets d'écho étaient également courants. (Pascal Bezard, “ESPACE et HARMONIE, Du Moyen-Age au Baroque”)
Urls : http://www.generativeart.com/on/cic/papers2005/22.MatteoMelioli.htm (last visited )

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