André Campra & Ildebrando Pizzetti
Saturday March 28th 7.30 pm
Upper Chapel, Norfolk St, Sheffield
Never heard of them? These are not your regular requiems!
Both these neglected choral masterpieces draw on the Gregorian plainchant tradition, but there the similarity ends. One is a highly theatrical Pompe Funèbre (Ceremonial Funeral) for choir and small orchestra written by a worldly French composer beguiled by the Opera, bringing him into conflict with the Church he also served. The other is an unaccompanied version by an uncompromising Italian who rejected opera and was an outspoken critic of modernism. Each work is a reflective and meditative devotion, yet containing high drama and haunting lyricism.
Come and discover their creative responses to an ageless Requiem text and hear Viva Voce, with the aid of a period ‘petite bande’ including two recorders and continuo, lift the music clear of the page.
Vive la France! Viva L’Italia! Viva Voce!
Both composers had their critics: Campra was accused of being a plagiarist and rogue and Pizzetti of being a reactionary and conservative due to his love of early music.
Andre Campra (1660-1744): Messe de Mort
Sacred and profane
Born in 1660 to a French mother and Italian father, Campra held music directorships at the cathedrals of Arles and Toulouse before going to Paris in 1694 where he was appointed Maître de Musique at Notre Dame Cathedral. As a church musician he was constantly reprimanded for writing ‘progressive’ motets, introducing ‘street music’ instruments (violins!) into the Church, and associating with bad company. Campra at first tried to hide his authorship of stage works, even composing under his brother’s name to stay out of trouble, but without success.
In 1700 he left Notre Dame to become Paris’s leading composer for the stage, producing opéra-ballets as well as some fine examples of serious opera in the period between the death of Lully in 1687 and the emergence of Rameau as a major operatic composer in 1733. Campra introduced a number of Italian elements into French music, developing a style that he himself described as a mixture of French ‘délicatesse’ and Italian ‘vivacité’.
His Requiem is a gentle but affecting work, mainly homophonic in structure incorporating elegant dance rhythms, flowing solos, and plenty of Baroque ornamentation. The influence of the opéra-ballet can be seen in his requiem; dance rhythms, operatic stage spectacle and character led ensemble music. Although the sense of theatre is always present, there are calm, reflective moments that pre-figure the pious serenity of the requiems by Campra’s more famous 20th century compatriots: Duruflé and Fauré.
Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968): Messa di Requiem
Reactionary and individualist
Pizzetti was born in Parma in 1880, the son of a pianist and piano teacher, in a region rich in the tradition of polyphonic folk-singing. At 15 he entered the Parma Conservatoire, where he was introduced to Gregorian chant and 15th and 16th century Italian masters of polyphony. This was the beginnings of a lifelong interest in the early music of Italy, which was later reflected in his own music, especially the vivid antiphonal ‘cori spezzati’ grouping of multiple choirs used in 16th century Venetian church music. He had a highly successful career, directing the Conservatory in Florence and from 1917 to 1923, the Milan Conservatory from 1923, and was Respighi's successor at the Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome from 1936 to 1958.
The multi-talented Pizzetti was also a musicologist, writing several books on the music of Italy and of Greece and co-founding a musical journal, and an acerbic music critic who spoke out against modernism and what he saw as the saccharine excesses of Puccini and his like. His own flair for the mystical and dramatic is revealed in his work as an opera composer, , including a setting of T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and his own interpretation of the grim tale of Phaedre.
His requiem, a sublimely beautiful piece, demonstrates a unique flair for choral writing and the composer’s love of early music: plainchant, renaissance madrigals and 16th century polyphony can all be heard. Interestingly, Pizzetti’s Requiem closely parallels Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir: both are highly individualistic and deeply spiritual works, both were composed in 1922 and were the composers’ only venture into liturgical music.