Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Landmarks (43)

Sometimes the moment just requires one piece of music, and only that piece.  I had such a moment this evening when I just needed Heinrich Isaac's motet Quis dabit capiti meo aquam? (1492).  As a lament on the death of Lorenzo de' Medici ("the magnificent"), it's about as elite as a piece of art can get, and the rest-in-peace sentiment is definitely not a sentiment I share*, but still: is there anything as devastatingly beautiful as this?  

Three features stand out for me: the devastating drop of the bass in the opening phrase, a single gesture which casts everything that follows into the darkest hues; then, where the poet Angelo Poliziano, punning on Laurel/Lorenzo, lets lightning strike, Issac has the tenor sing Laurus tacet and  one of the four voices drops out, marking Lorenzo's absence with an absence in the musical texture; and then there's the bass line, which takes a bit of chant, Et requiescamus in pace, restating it five times, but at each pass it is sequenced down a scale step,  a bit of technique that is obvious, minimalist even, yet uncanny in its effect (in the passacaglia which ends my string trio, Figure & Ground, I plain stole Isaac's idea of an ostinato which develops systematically with each reiteration, in my case in extending in length rather than modulating it).  There is much more to treasure here, with the textural and harmonic variety of the entire work providing a strong counter-charge to a work with pre-compositional, even systematic, elements. 

What most devastated me at this moment, today, was that I couldn't locate a copy of this music. It doesn't seem to be available online and my old photocopy of the original notation (from which I first sung this piece, in Idyllwild in '76 under the conductor Jon Bailey)  is nowhere to be found. But fortunately, a piece of this strength has a way of imprinting itself in memory; could one ask anything more of a lament? 


* For the record, when I go, I want my ashes to be placed in an hourglass, so that, at least in one way, I may keep on working.



Lisa Hirsch said...

Daniel, is it this?

Daniel Wolf said...


yes it is, but I wouldn't exactly recommend the performance. In any case, thanks for looking!

Lisa Hirsch said...

I did notice that the performance was um lacking in polish.

Unknown said...

Hi Daniel:
The score is in Allen Atlas's Anthology of Renaissance Music (Norton). Check you snafu e-mail.

Philip Amos said...

My thanks for alerting me to this wonderful work. I went at once to the Naxos Music Library and therein I found just one performance of it -- the Concord Ensemble on Dorian, and a rather fine one it seems to me, though this is not my musical bailiwick.

Unknown said...

There's a Clerks Group recording that you can play from Yahoo Music and download from Rhapsody:

Daniel Wolf said...

Thanks for the assistance. Another reader was able to point me to a copy of the score.

It is interesting that what I really needed was the score, but most readers were looking for recordings.

The Real Tijuana said...

We might have sung in the same choir. At least I, too, sang this piece under Jon Bailey at Idyllwild. I had saved all of his scores, written in very neat manuscript, up until just a couple of years ago, when they were destroyed by rain and mold. Good to see that all is not lost.