Music for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — Sunday, August 15 2021

Sicut cedrus exaltata sum – Felice Anerio (1560-1614)

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The older brother of the somewhat more progressive Italian composer Giovanni Francesco Anerio, Felice Anerio sang as chorister and adult falsettist in various Roman churches, including the Cappella Giulia under Palestrina. He succeeded Palestrina as composer to the Papal chapel in 1594, and also worked at the English College. He collaborated with Soriano on the 1614 revision of the Graduale and published seven volumes of motets and spiritual and secular madrigals; much more church music exists in manuscript. Though his style closely resembles Palestrina’s, he gradually assimilated new ideas, such as word painting, Venetian-style polychoral effects, and the use of the basso continuo.

The text of this motet is a responsory for the Feast of the Assumption, taken from Sirach 24:17, 20. Although written in the late 16th century, it was first published in 1854. The St James Choir will be singing this motet at the Vigil Mass of the Assumption, Saturday, August 14, 4:00pm.

Sicut cedrus exaltata sum in Libano et sicut cypressus in monte Sion:

quasi myrrha electa, dedi suavitatem odoris.
Et sicut cinnamomum et balsamum aromatizans: dedi suavitatem odoris.

I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on mount Sion:

I yielded a sweet odour like the best myrrh.
And like cinnamon and aromatical balm: I yielded a sweet odour.


Fuga sopra il Magnificat (BWV 733) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

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From the Netherlands Bach Society web site:

Bach fools his listener with a quasi-fugue.

In view of the title Fuga sopra il Magnificat, you would expect a more prominent function for the melody in this compact organ prelude. But the Gregorian Magnificat melody that Bach uses here is persistent. It evidently comes from a different musical era, which was still dominated by the old church modes.

We can even question whether or not this actually a fugue. What is certain, however, is that the ‘sopra’ in the title is to be taken literally. Here, it means ‘on top of’ or even ‘in between’, rather than its usual definition of ‘based on’. Bach cuts the melody of the Magnificat in two and then deliberately restricts himself to statements of the first half. Only at the last moment does he end the phrase in the pedal that suddenly springs into action. The fact is that the second half of the melody has a harmonic challenge: five times the same note, for which Bach has to find a creative solution in the upper parts.

Practical as ever, he juxtaposes a wealth of little motifs with the simple melody. For instance, throughout the piece we hear the recurring run from bar 2, just like the jumpy notes from bar 3, which can be inverted, extended, halved and doubled, etc. But little motifs do not make a fugue, or at least not a real one. Here, themes do not behave as they ought, and once the fugal box of tricks is opened it is more for the effect than to follow the rules of the art. And yet we fall for this ‘fugue’ with eyes wide open. Not bad for a young composer!

This fugue on Mary’s song of praise will be played as the postlude at the Vigil Mass of the Assumption, Saturday, August 14, 4 pm.


Gerald Harder