Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alonso Lobo and the Missa Simile est regnum caelorum

One of many fascinating aspects of the Catholic music world is that it is possible to live and breath in this world for decades and still be constantly surprised by hidden treasures - not only within the chant world but also from the polyphonic repertoire.

This feature also instills a bit of humility since it is just not possible to "know it all." There will also be gaps in one's knowledge, so let me just admit one right now. I have never heard of Alonso Lobo(1555-1617) - a late Renaissance composer and successor to Vitoria whom Vitoria himself considered his equal.

Atrium Musicologicum writes:
Lobo's musical language is detectably of a later generation than that of Victoria, even though Lobo was only seven years younger. The difference between them was probably the training Victoria received in Rome, where he studied Palestrina's compositional method, learning how to control long spans of music without relying on constant changes of texture and harmonic speed. The rhapsodic calmness of this style has led many commentators to attribute an intensity and mysticism to Victoria's music which is equated with the essence of Spanish Catholicism. In fact Lobo also had a style which it is possible to say was typically Spanish, since the compositions of several of his contemporaries, including Vivanco and Esquivel, resembled his; yet it relies on different ingredients. Beauty of contrapuntal line is certainly there (Versa est in luctum is pre-eminent in this respect), but sometimes, where expressiveness seems to require it, it is coupled to quite angular lines. And the relative lack of Palestrinian smoothness carries through to the separate sections in Lobo's music, which are often built on contrast, fast then slow, not usually to paint the superficial meaning of each word but rather to induce in the listener's mind the conflicting emotions behind them. Lobo's style was never purely madrigalian, but a halfway point between it and the calm order of strictly imitative counterpoint.

Here is the Gloria from Lobo's amazing Missa Simile est regnum caelorum - a perfect choice for this coming Sunday where that is the text of the communion antiphon. Certainly I would count this Mass among one of the priceless pearls that the merchant was seeking.

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