Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New publication: two-voice motets by Peter Philips (1560-1628)

Dr. Janet Hunt, FAGO, director of music at St. John Seminary in Boston, writes about her recent work:

The publication of my edition of sacred vocal music by the English composer Peter Philips is the result of a long yet enjoyable work process covering several years.  The new volume, 75 Motets for Two Solo Voices and Organ Continuo from Paradisus Sacris Cantionibus (1628) represents the bulk of an even larger collection of 107 motets last published posthumously in 1641, and is the first time these particular motets have appeared in print since then.  So, how did a harpsichordist/organist from Texas (me) end up editing Philips’ vocal music?

I became acquainted with Philips’ keyboard music while studying harpsichord in college and playing several selections by him found in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. This large volume of keyboard music was collected by Sir Francis Tregian (1548-1608), an English Catholic imprisoned during the persecution of Catholics in Elizabethan England.  Several of the composers represented in the FVB were Catholic as well, and as I pursued their individual stories I became fascinated with those who chose to remain in England – William Byrd, for one – and those who fled to the Continent, such as Peter Philips.

Following initial musical training in London, Philips left England in 1582, “pour la foy Catholique” as he later stated.  He travelled to Rome, then to other cities in Italy, Spain and France before arriving in Brussels in 1590.  He entered the service of the Hapsburg Archduke Albert in 1597, and remained a member of the court chapel until his death.  Albert and his wife, Isabella, were sympathetic to recusant English musicians arriving at their court, where sacred music enhanced their frequent liturgies.  Moreover, they were people of great faith who supported public acts of piety in the form of Eucharistic and Marian processions in Brussels, as well as encouraged confraternities of lay people dedicated to the Catholic faith.  Both Brussels and nearby Antwerp had a thriving printing industry, and thus Philips’ compositions were published in the early 1600’s.

Almost four centuries later, I first heard a motet from Paradisus Sacris Cantionibus on a recording of a Belgian vocal ensemble.  Immediately attracted, I searched in vain for the scores, only to find that the group sang from copies they made from the original 1628 partbooks.  Over time, I discovered that Christ Church Library in Oxford, England possessed a complete set of partbooks, and I was able to obtain a microfilm copy, along with permission to prepare the edition.

The result is what I hope will be a welcome addition to a little-known genre, the accompanied small-scale motets of the early 17th century.  These works by composers such as Peter Philips, Felice Anerio, Richard Dering, and Giacomo Finetti, are set for one to four solo voices with organ accompaniment.  They embrace late Renaissance as well as early Baroque compositional traits, by combining occasional moments of imitative polyphony with Italianate expressive and florid solo passages.  The texts are taken from antiphons and responsories for various saints’ days.  Many Eucharistic and Marian-themed motets complete the collections, making them suitable for a variety of liturgical celebrations.

The Philips edition is available for purchase through the website

[Dr. Hunt has graciously allowed us to share a sample motet from the collection, Misericordias Domini.  The text is Psalm 88:1-3, 6; originally for the third nocturn, first psalm at Matins on December 25.]