Musings from the Artistic Director

The Art of Imitation: Palestrina

The next St. Martin’s Chamber Choir concert is called The Art of Imitation and features essentially a single large work (and two short motets) – Palestrina’s Missa Repleatur os meum.  This is a 5-voice mass setting based on a motet by Jacquet of Mantua (1483-1559) – a common practice at that time (called a “parody mass” as it uses the tunes and techniques of another work). This was not considered plagiarism, but flattery.

In this Mass, Palestrina uses strict canons in most of the movements, drawn from Jacquet’s motet (which also contains a strict canon), and, each time it reappears, the interval of imitation is reduced by a step and a beat.  Hence, in the first Kyrie, the canon appears at the interval of an octave and offset by 8 beats; in the Christe it is at a 7th, offset by 7 beats; in the second Kyrie it is at a 6th, offset by 6 beats, etc.  It is a truly marvelous example of Renaissance imitative polyphony, the musico-mathematical magnificence of which was only ever equaled by Bach in such works as “The Art of the Fugue,” “A Musical Offering,” and “The Well-Tempered Clavier.”

Here is a little video we just filmed where I explain it with some musical examples (recorded at a recent rehearsal):

If this intrigues you, the concert will be even more intriguing, as I will go into a bit more detail, with musical examples, of how imitative polyphony works.  Whereas our last concert (“Music of the Tsars”) was all “heart,” this concert is mostly “head;” – yet the marvel of this, like with Bach’s mathematical works, is that it sounds effortless and beautiful, never belying the intricacy of its construction:  the listener would never have any idea it was going on if not informed beforehand.

For ticketing please click on the desired venue below or call us at 303-298-1970. The Art of Imitation is a Cameo concert: Cameo concerts are shorter than our regular concerts, feature ensembles of 12 to 16 singers and offer innovative and audience-interactive programs in intimate venues for a bargain price.

Friday, November 7, 7:30 pm, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Wheat Ridge
Saturday, November 8, 7:30 pm, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver
Sunday, November 9, 3:00 pm, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Denver