“There’s this idea that the fruition of Western music happened in the middle of the 19th century or something,” Paul says in our interview on early choral music. “Your art song never got better than Schubert. And orchestral music never got better than Brahms and Mahler. And opera never got better than Verdi or Puccini or whoever.
“You know, this idea that [19th century music is ] the prime thing… that everything ever kind of since then has either been derivative of that, and everything prior just hadn't arrived yet. And so there's this kind of disconnect from what's in the music, this idea that it's not emotional.”
“My thought is that these people, yes, they lived 500 years ago…
And culture, yes, has changed somewhat. Society has changed. Our modes of doing things, technology, the way we connect with people has changed. But our base instincts and urges and emotions and spirituality and all that stuff hasn't really changed. And so it's finding where is that stuff in this music because it's in there.”
Sound familiar? I feel like Paul is writing ads for the Zeitgeist Academy for me.
Paul thinks it’s important to remember that these people who wrote this early music were considered the best of their time. Just like we idolize Eric Whitaker or Leonard Bernstein today, composers of early music were revered and respected!
So who are some of these early music bigwigs? There are so many, but let’s hit the highlights. If you go to a choral concert that has some early music programmed, you’ll likely see at least one of these names:
Prolific German composer often called the “father of German Protestant music”
1585-1672 (dude lived to be 88!!! For his time this is incredible)
One of the first to write church music in his native language. Bold move!!!
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Italian composer in the “Roman School” tradition, 1525-1594
One of the most stylistically consistent composers of choral music
Mythology that he “saved” polyphony during a time of during the post-reformation movement
English composer in Tudor England (think Henry VIII), 1505-1585 (also not a bad run!)
His music was well loved, including by the monarchs of the time. Granted special dispensation to write not only Church of England service music, but also music for the Catholic Church as well.
Had a literal sanctioned monopoly (along with his student William Byrd) on publishing church music in Tudor England.