Sunday, August 5, 2012

Music and Architecture

One of the things I love about blogging about music as opposed to writing a book, is that I can provide all the musical examples within the text itself--courtesy of YouTube. But for this post, the examples will not really give you an idea of the original effect. I am going to talk about several instances in which a particular piece of music is associated with a particular building.

The first dates back to March 25, 1436 and the consecration of the Cathedral of Florence, under construction since 1294. Guillaume Du Fay (ca. 1397 - 1474) was commissioned by Pope Eugene to write a motet for the occasion at which the Pope himself, temporarily exiled from Rome, officiated. The motet is "Nuper rosarum flores" (Garlands of roses), the text chosen in honor of both the city (the name means 'flowering') and the cathedral whose formal name is "Santa Maria del Fiore" (Holy Mary of the Flowers). A theory was long accepted that the very structure of the motet reflected in some way the proportions of the cathedral. Alas, this has been pretty thoroughly refuted. In fact, the structure of the motet is far more complex than that. The score is written out in a musical shorthand that requires a bit of sorting out to understand. The rhythmic proportions of the music actually refer to Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher who discovered the relationship between harmonic proportions and mathematical ratios. Du Fay is translating these proportions into durations. The idea is to represent the metaphysical harmony of the universe in sound. But there is far more than this kind of symbolism in the motet: the musical proportions also refer to the proportions of the Temple of Solomon as described in the Old Testament in the second book of Kings. The feast of dedication of the temple lasted seven plus seven days. Du Fay's motet is based on a fourteen note chant which is realized in the piece with two tenors, each singing groups of seven notes. The text is also in a poetic meter with seven syllables per line. Seven, in Christian symbolism, represents the Virgin Mary. There is more, but this should give you the sense that the music has many layers that refer symbolically to the cathedral, the city, the Virgin Mary and the Temple of Solomon! According to an earwitness to the ceremony of consecration, Giannozzo Manetti,
all the places of the Temple resounded with the sounds of harmonious symphonies as well as the concords of diverse instruments, so that it seemed not without reason that the angels and the sounds and singing of divine paradise had been sent from heaven to us on earth...
Here are two photos of the cathedral, the first of Filippo Brunelleschi's enormous dome and the second of the interior.

And now, finally, the music. "Nuper rosarum flores" by Guillaume Du Fay. Wikipedia has a good article on the piece if you want to know more.

My second example takes us to Venice, the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco, known as St. Mark's Basilica. Giovanni Gabrieli was principal organist and composer there from 1585 to about 1606 when ill health began to prevent him from performing his duties. He was the master of what is known as the Venetian polychoral style and this style, with its use of multiple choirs and groups of instruments, is directly related to the cathedral itself which uniquely has two choir lofts facing one another. A third choral/instrumental group was often placed on a stage in the center, near the altar. The possibilities of spacial separation were exploited by both Giovanni himself, and his uncle Andrea before him. Here are photos of the cathedral and its interior:

Now here is a recording of a Gloria in 12 parts that was recorded (in the 1960s, I believe) in San Marco:

I think I will save my other examples for another post as this one is running rather long! I'll leave you with one more piece by Giovanni Gabrieli, who was a huge influence on later Baroque composers. This was written for and recorded in the Scuola Grande de San Rocco, the other great musical venue in Venice where he worked.

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