Advent Calendar Day 22 – Magnificat Quarti Toni (Cristobál de Morales)

There’s no hiding the fact that these commentaries get shorter as I get tireder… and I’m getting very tired indeed.

This is another piece of music I’ve never sung, and another composer whom I don’t know. I can’t actually remember the strange pathways and byways that led me to either the composer or the work, but it captures what I think of as the late Advent mood – something about this music makes me think of going to church late at night on Christmas Eve for midnight mass – there’s a feeling of prayerful reflection and pensiveness, but also one of anticipation in this, at least for me. I think it comes in part from the music but also in part from its quiet delivery by this choir.

Cristobál de Morales was apparently a Spanish composer in the first half of the 16th century. Which surprises me, actually, because this piece feels to me as though it owes a lot to Gregorian chant – it certainly starts there, though it gets more polyphonic and brighter as it goes. And I do like the voices in this recording, too. Despite not knowing the piece, it seems to me that they are singing it exactly as it should be sung.

(I do have to confess, however, that I have an uneasy suspicion that this may not actually be Advent music. You see, I can tell the beginning is the Magnificat, but I am not entirely convinced that it is still the Magnificat seven minutes later, let alone once you get to the other section. It’s possible that Morales goes psalming off in a different direction, and I can’t find any lyrics in Latin or English to prove anything convincingly either way…)

Edited in December 2017: When I first wrote this post, it was for a recording of Cristobál de Morales’ Magnificat Tertii Toni.  It turns out that de Morales wrote 18 different settings of the Magnificat, and the one I listened to then is no longer on YouTube, or indeed online, in any version that I could find.  So I went with another of his Magnificats instead, this one sung by Ensemble Plus Ultra and Schola Antiqua, and also very lovely.  The Gregorian bits are sung by an ensemble of unnaturally tuneful priests (in fifteen years of singing at Catholic churches I have heard many priests singing, and none of them sounded remotely like this.  Though you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Kyrie Eleison sung in a broad Aussie accent – Kirri-yay Elayeezon…), and there are more of them than in the Magnificat Tertii Toni.  All my other comments still apply – I have absolutely no idea if they are singing just the Magnificat or other things too, and I’m a little inclined to think the latter, because there just aren’t THAT many lines in the Magnificat…

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