Music for Pentecost 15 — Sunday September 18 2022

Simile est regnum cælorum – Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1553)


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Cristóbal de Morales is considered to be the first composer of what was to become known as the Spanish Golden Age. He almost exclusively wrote religious music, especially masses, motets, and a requiem, works that have a clear liturgical function. More than 70 prints before 1600 included some of his compositions. The works of this musician from Seville were not merely an essential part of the repertoires of the most important churches and cathedrals of Spain and beyond, but they also enjoyed extraordinary prestige among theoreticians and historians. He only worked for short periods in posts in Spain; his name remains associated with the decade he spent at the papal chapel of Pope Paul III, from 1535 to 1545. Morales’ religious music is typical of the 16th century, with a fairly dense fabric of voices.

This morning’s communion motet, Simile est regnum cælorum, is Morales’ setting of the parable of the vineyard labourers found in Matthew 20. This exquisite polyphonic setting makes extensive use of canon, a common compositional device in Morales’ time. All through his life as a composer, he was a careful craftsman who considered the expression and understandability of the text to be the highest artistic goal.

Simile est [enim] regnum caelorum homini patri familias, qui exiit primo mane conducere operarios in vineam suam.
Conventione autem facta cum operariis ex denario diurno, misit eos in vineam suam.
Et egressus circa horam tertiam vidit alios stantes in foro otiosos,
Et illis dixit: Ite et vos in vineam meam; et, quod iustum fuerit, dabo vobis.
Cum sero autem factum esset, dicit dominus vineae procuratori suo: Voca operarios et redde illis mercedem incipiens a novissimis usque ad primos.
Multi enim sunt vocati pauci vero electi.

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
for many be called, but few chosen.

Gerald Harder