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Cat. No. CHAN 0652 Price: £10.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 0652 - Palestrina: Music for Good Friday
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Available From: 17 February 2000
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was one of the leading composers of the late sixteenth century and was particularly prolific in the composition of masses and motets, A key figure in Catholic music-making in the age of the Counter-Reformation, Palestrina succeeded in cohesively assimilating the richly developed polyphonic technique of his French-Flemish predecessors.

Palestrina’s setting of the Good Friday Improperia: a piece of such power that for years after its composition it was venerated by even the most esteemed of musicians. It was composed to be sung after the long recitation of the Passion as the Pope began the veneration of the cross in front of the bare altar on Good Friday in the Sistine Chapel. In this context it is easy to appreciate the aptness of the music which itself is stripped bare.

The music for the Improperia survives in two manuscripts which, viewed together, offer a fascinating insight into the renaissance approach to rhythm in monophonic music. In one manuscript (in Palestrina’s hand) the music is noted in equal values, whilst in the other stressed and unstressed syllables are assigned long and short notes respectively. Both represent the declamation of the spoken word. In another sense too the written form of the Improperia are less than sacrosanct: the length of the Improperia would be adjusted to match the timing of the liturgical adoration.

The hymn Vexilla Regis, originally written for the Choir of St Peter’s, would have marked the recession from the Sistine Chapel; the verse ‘O crux ave spes unica’ (O cross, our only hope, hail!) was to be synchronised with the exit of the Pope through the chapel door.

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