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Tag Archives: Renaissance

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson wrote Courtly Airs and Dances in 1995 on commission from the Hill Country Middle School Band in Austin, Texas, and their director Cheryl Floyd.  It is dedicated to that same group.  About the piece, Nelson writes:

Courtly Airs and Dances is a suite of Renaissance dances which were characteristic to five European countries during the 1500s. Three of the dances (Basse Dance, Pavane, and Allemande) are meant to emulate the music of Claude Gervaise by drawing on the style of his music as well as the characteristics of other compositions from that period. The festival opens with a fanfare-like Intrada followed by the Basse Danse (France), Pavane (England), Saltarello (Italy), Sarabande (Spain), and Allemande (Germany).

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

There are some great, free educational resources on Courtly Airs and Dances, including this article and analysis, this vocabulary sheet, and this quiz.  It is also featured on the Wind Repertory Project.

The San Francisco School of the Arts Wind Ensemble in a live performance:

Nelson uses a different Renaissance style for each movement.  The Intrada is entrance music, designed to begin a suite of music or serve for an entry procession.  This performance of an Intrada by German composer Christoph Demantius captures that spirit:

Nelson based his Intrada on Claude Gervaise’s Fanfare allemande (more on that later).

In general, a basse danse is in a slow and elegant 6/4 or 3/2, allowing for the use of hemiola.  Here is a reasonably authentic example of an early basse danse:

Nelson took his Basse Danse almost verbatim from Gervaise.  Here is another arrangement of it by the Belgium Brass:

The pavane is similar to a basse danse, being a slow and stately dance, but in duple meter and often faster.  Again, Nelson borrowed fairly directly from Gervaise:

The dance would have looked something like this:

The saltarello was a lively jumping dance whose specific steps have been lost.  Nelson wrote an original melody for his Saltarello, not relying on Gervaise.  Here is what a Renaissance saltarello may have sounded like:

The sarabande appears to have originated in the Spanish colonies in Central America before returning to Spain itself.  It was declared obscene and banned there in 1583.  It was in 3/4 time with the second and third beats often tied together, giving the rhythm a step-drag feel.  Nelson’s Sarabande relies on original material.  This sarabande example comes from the Baroque era, but it still demonstrates the rhythmic characteristics of the dance:

The allemande was a dance named in France for its supposed origin in Germany (the name means “German” in French).  It was a moderately fast duple meter dance that may have looked something like this:

Nelson again borrowed from Gervaise for this movement.  Here is a children’s flute choir version of Gervaise’s original:

Composer Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) came to France from Venezuela with his family at age 3.  By age 10, he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire alongside Maurice Ravel.  He published his first song, a setting of a poem by Victor Hugo, when he was 13.  He was a child prodigy on the piano and a fine singer: even at that young age, he would often accompany himself in performances of his own songs.  At 19, he met the not-yet-famous writer Marcel Proust.  The two were briefly lovers, and remained close friends until Proust’s death in 1922.  In his autobiographical novel Jean Santeuil, Proust described Hahn as an “instrument of genius” who “moves our hearts, moistens our eyes, cures us one after the other in a silent and solemn undulation. Never since Schumann has music painted sorrow, tenderness, the calm induced by nature, with such brush strokes of human truth and absolute beauty.” Hahn remained best known for his songs, and he adhered to a conservative style of composition that prized elegant melodies and an aesthetic of beauty.  He was a constant presence in the high-society salons of Paris, and was known for charm and good looks.

Hahn wrote the ballet Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in 1905.  Music for winds was in vogue in Paris at the time thanks to the success of groups like Paul Taffanel’s Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments á Vent (Wind Instrument Chamber Music Society) and Georges Barrére’s Societé Moderne d’Instruments á Vent (Modern Wind Instrument Society), both of which were rediscovering the Harmoniemusik of Mozart and Beethoven while also commissioning new works like Gounod’s Petite Symphonie.  Hahn may have been inspired by their success – he was definitely involved in a concert of the Societé Moderne in 1903.  That group premiered Le bal on March 28, 1905 as part of their tenth anniversary concert.

Le bal presents an imagined evening in the court of Beatrice (1475-1497) of the House Este, a treasured princess of the Italian Renaissance.  She became the Duchess of Milan in 1491 when she married Ludovico Sforza.  Both were known as patrons of the arts and humanities: Leonardo Da Vinci completed his Last Supper under their patronage.  They were also known for hosting fine balls.  Hahn’s composition is in seven movements, scored for 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, percussion, 2 harps, and piano.  It opens with the fanfare, Entrée pour Ludovic le More, or Ludovico’s entrance music.  Three of the inner movements are Renaissance dances (LesquercadeRomanesque, Courante) interspersed with a portrait of Beatrice’s sister Isabella (Iberienne), and a musical impression of a Da Vinci painting (Léda et l’Oiseau).  The Salut Final au Duc de Milan puts a regal bookend on the piece.

The Orchestre de Paris once performed Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in its entirety on YouTube, but that recording has disappeared.  There is a partial recording of the Idaho Falls Youth Symphony doing some of the movements, but it doesn’t really do the piece justice.  If you want an idea of what each movement sounds like, check out the examples of this Hyperion recording: simply click the music notes before each movement title for a short excerpt.

Now some context.  Those dances in the interior movements are intended to be legitimate Renaissance dance styles.  The Lesquercade as a dance appears to have been lost from our collective memory.  The Romanesque is even harder to find specific information on.  That leaves just the Courante.  Alas, Hahn wrote his Courante in duple meter (cut time), but it was a triple meter dance.  So, instead of getting specific, here is a video with a whole range of Renaissance dances.  It starts with an introduction in Dutch, but the dances really get going around the 1:00 mark:

Bonus: Hahn’s first published song, “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” (If my verses had wings)

Le bal de Beatrice d’Este links: nice program note at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, information page related to this doctoral dissertation by Jared Chase, who created new critical edition of the piece.

Reynaldo Hahn links: Wikipedia page, Classical Archives page (click the about/bio tab), Naxos info page, Reynaldo Hahn Society page (in French).

Born in 1913 into a long line of Italian musicians, Norman Dello Joio followed quickly in his family’s footsteps.  His father was an opera coach and organist; by age 12, young Norman was substituting for his father on organ jobs.  He went to Juilliard on scholarship, where he shifted his focus from the organ to composition, studying with Paul Hindemith.  He wrote for a wide range of ensembles and won accolades from all corners of the music world, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 and an Emmy in 1965 for his score to the television documentary A Golden Prison: The Louvre.  His contributions to the wind band repertoire are significant, and include Scenes from The Louvre, the Variants on a Mediaeval Tune, a set of Satiric Dances, and several other beloved works.  Dello Joio died in 2008 at age 95 having never retired from composition.

Scenes from the Louvre comes from a 1964 television documentary produced by NBC News called A Golden Prison: The Louvre, for which Dello Joio provided the soundtrack.  The documentary tells the history of the Louvre and its world-class collection of art, which is in many ways inseparable from the history of France.  Dello Joio chose to use the music of Renaissance-era composers in his soundtrack in order to match the historical depth of the film.  He collected the highlights of this Emmy-winning score into a five-movement suite for band in 1965, on a commission from Baldwin-Wallace College.  The first movement, “Portals”, is the title music from the documentary, and it consists entirely of Dello Joio’s original material, complete with strident rhythms and bold 20th-century harmony.  The second movement, “Children’s Gallery”, never actually appears in the film.  It is a light-hearted theme and variations of Tielman Susato‘s Ronde et Saltarelle.  The stately third movement is based on themes by Louis XIV’s court composer, Jean Baptiste Lully, and is aptly titled “The Kings of France”.  Movement four, “The Nativity Paintings”, uses the mediaeval theme “In dulci jubilo“, which Dello Joio also used in his Variants on a Mediaeval Tune.  The “Finale” uses the Cestiliche Sonate of Vincenzo Albrici as its source material, to which Dello Joio adds his own harmonic flavor, particularly in the final passages of the piece.

Here’s the Concord Band of Massachusetts playing Scenes from the Louvre in full:

Now take a look at part of the TV documentary.  It is truly a fascinating history and a very well-done film that you all should watch.  While the whole thing was once on YouTube, now only part 4 remains.  The entire film is also available as a DVD on Netflix.

Now for some source material!  The first movement is Dello Joio’s own.  Here’s the basis of the second, Susato’s Ronde et Salterelle, played on the organ:

I couldn’t find the exact Lully theme from “The Kings of France”.  So you’ll have to settle for this extremely French movie clip, featuring the one and only Gerard Depardieu conducting what looks to be a reasonably authentic period orchestra.  It certainly captures the royal spirit of Lully’s court compositions:

“In dulci jubilo” is all over the place.  Here’s one version which takes me back to my Anglican choirboy youth:

Again, I couldn’t find the exact Albrici piece that Dello Joio used in the “Finale”.  But this one captures his spirit quite well:

Dello Joio on Wikipedia.

Dello Joio’s obituary in the New York Times

Dello Joio’s website.  It’s unfortunately very out of date and looks very much like the early-internet relic that it is.  But it is still an informative look into Dello Joio’s life and work.

More on Scenes from the Louvre from Alex Armstead, to whom this page owes a great debt: I never would have identified the source composers of each movement without his information.  Here’s his lesson plan and awesome presentation.

Even more on Scenes from the Louvre from the Wind Repertory Project, Rob Rayfield (largely quoting the Teaching Music through Performance in Band series), and the Concord Band.

The William Byrd Suite is remarkable for showcasing the talents of 2 composers: the titular William Byrd (1540-1623), an English Renaissance composer and a founder of the English Madrigal School; and Gordon Jacob (1895-1984), a 20th century British composer who, along with Holst and Vaughan Williams, is known as an early champion of the wind band and a skilled composer in the medium.  Jacob assembled the suite in 1923, most likely as part of the festivities for the tercentenary of Byrd’s death.  He “freely transcribed” it from six pieces of Byrd’s keyboard work that appeared in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a contemporary collection of almost 300 pieces written between about 1562 and 1612.  This collection contained keyboard works of more than a dozen composers.  While the collection had the virginal – a keyboard instrument that is essentially a portable harpsichord – in mind as its medium, the compositions inside could have been played on any contemporary keyboard instrument.

The virginal lacked any means of dynamic or timbral contrast: every note sounded the same and was just as loud as any other.  So composers for the instrument had to find other ways to make their music interesting.  Thus, the pieces in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book are full of melodic variation and rhythmic invention.  While Mr. Jacob preserved all of this in his suite, he also artfully added the dynamic shadings and instrumental color that the wind band is known for.

The William Byrd Suite has 6 movements.  At 18 minutes, it’s a rather large undertaking to play all 6 movements.  So, as is common practice, we will play a selection of the movements: the first 2 and the last 2.  I present here videos of every movement, not necessarily in order.  Enjoy!

First, a very accomplished high school band plays “No. 1: The Earle of Oxford’s Marche”, “No. 3: Jhon come kisse me now” (at 3:10), and “No. 6: The Bells” (at 5:20).  I have 2 beefs with this performance: the end of the 1st movement needs much more drama, and I think the percussion got lost at the end of the 6th – you should hear crazy ringing bells all the way to the end!

Now, another high school age group tackles a different set of movements.  “No. 1: The Earle of Oxford’s Marche”, “No. 2: Pavana” (at 3:20), “No. 3: Jhon come kisse me now” (at 6:10), and “No. 5: Wolsey’s Wilde” (at 8:04).

The UCLA wind ensemble in 1983 doing “No. 4: The Mayden’s Song”.

Finally, here’s what “The Bells” sounds like in its original form: played on a virginal (ok, it’s actually a harpsichord, but that’s still in the ballpark) from Byrd’s manuscript.

Now some links:

Gordon Jacob on Wikipedia – note the middle names!

GordonJacob.org – a website run by the Jacob family promoting Gordon’s life and music

Fantastic program note and resource (particularly the errata) on the William Byrd Suite at windrep.org.

William Byrd on Wikipedia and Naxos classical.