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The Venetian Mass from Hamburg


My first encounter with the music of Hieronymus Praetorius was as a 12-year-old treble. I was singing at the Edington Festival, an extraordinary week-long celebration of church music, held annually in a 14th century Priory church in Wiltshire. We sang Praetorius' Magnificat quinti toni, and I still remember the effect that this music had on me as it fizzed and sparkled under the direction of David Trendell. Years later, while a choral scholar in David's choir at King's College London, I sang the same piece again, by now a baritone, for a broadcast of Choral Evensong. I was dazzled by this piece as before, and was left wondering whether there was more music by Praetorius to explore that would have the same attractive energy. In my work with Siglo de Oro I'm always looking for neglected music to bring to life, and as we are now on the roster of Delphian Records, I'm responsible for choosing repertoire that will be worth setting down on disc. With Praetorius in mind, I headed to the library, where I found there was a substantial amount of his music - but modern editions were lacking for some of his works. Some exploratory googling led me to the American Institute of Musicology, and then some speculative emails put me in touch with Dr Frederick Gable, whose working life has been dedicated to the music of Hieronymus Praetorius. In the spring of 2015 I travelled to Hamburg to meet Dr Gable (or Fred as he has become known to us), who divides his time between California and the north German city whose musical history has been the focus of his work. We walked around the tall, Gothic St James' church, where Praetorius worked for most of his career, and visited the city's university so I could cast an eye over the part books that Fred works on. Despite being the world-expert of this composer, Fred wears his learning lightly, and patiently answered all the questions a keen young choir director might ask. Fred guided me towards one of Praetorius' masses, his Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum, an eight-part setting suitable for Easter, based on the composer's own motet, that had only been published in Fred's own edition a year earlier. Unlike Praetorius' other masses, Fred told me that it had not yet been recorded. I tried out some of the music with Siglo de Oro, and was immediately sure that we needed to make a recording of it. It's scored for two choirs and is written in a vibrant style that one might associate with Venetian composers of the late sixteenth century, with bold harmonic shifts, intricate counterpoint, and vigorous antiphony. There is never a dull moment.

In the time since our Hamburg meeting the relationship between Fred and Siglo de Oro has deepened - he and his wife Barbara have been over to London to hear the choir twice, and Fred has been very generous in his advice on what we might record alongside the Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum. Finally, after the success of our first disc Drop Down Ye Heavens, we are in a position to make a disc of this fantastic music.

If you know a little about the record industry, you're probably aware that most classical artists these days have to raise the funds for their own recordings. So that's where this story leads - we (Siglo de Oro) are currently crowdfunding (in addition to applying to Grants and Trusts) to give this dazzling early seventeenth-century a new lease of life. To find out more about the project, please visit our fundraising page: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/recording-hieronymus-praetorius-easter-mass. We would be hugely grateful of any support you can give us to help make this happen.


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© 2015 by Patrick Allies