One of Europe’s most extraordinary ruling dynasties, the Hapsburgs ruled greater or lesser portions of Europe fromthe 11th century until 1918, their heyday coinciding with the supreme musical flourishing of the 16th century. Their rule saw a particular increase during the reign of Maximilian I (son of Fredrick III, Duke of Austria, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor) – secured first by his marriage to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 and then by the union of their son Philip ‘the Handsome’ with Joanna ‘the Mad’ of Castille. Thus his grandson Charles V essentially ruled Spain, Germany, Austria, Burgundy and the Low Countries, before he in turn divided his territories between his son Philip II and his brother Ferdinand of Austria in 1555-6. As these successive generations enlarged their power and territory, they gathered around themselves the leading composers of the day.
Maximilian’s most notable court composer was Heinrich Isaac, whom he appointed in 1497 and who remained in his employment until the composer’s death in 1517. Though he was often overshadowed in his lifetime by the renowned Josquin, a famous letter advising the Duke of Ferrara on the appointment of a court composer in 1503 is revealing: ‘[Isaac] is of a better disposition… and he will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to and not when one wants him to.’ Duke Ercole favoured prestige over reliability and hired Josquin; meanwhile, in Maximilian’s service, Isaac’s Virgo prudentissima is a good example of a piece written to order: it was composed for the Reichstag of 1507 which confirmed Maximilian’s position as Holy Roman Emperor, and was performed under the direction of a certain ‘Georgius’ – Jurij Slatkonja, who was Maximilian’s first Kapellmeister and can therefore be considered the founding director of what is now the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Rather unusually, he even receives a mention in the motet, the text of which is a somewhat unwieldy one written for the occasion – and one at which a less obliging composer might perhaps have protested! Isaac’s motet is a work of stunning grandeur, employing a musical language which is both strikingly individual, yet self-consciously influenced by the music of the previous generation: full sections with monumental block chords and slow-moving harmony alternate with florid, virtuosic passages for reduced forces.
Total time: 01:11:00
|Original Recording Format|
Robina G. Young
All Hallows’ Church, Gospel Oak, London
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||November 6, 2014|
“As always, the mixed-voice Stile Antico ensemble shows itself to be the most consistently sumptuous-sounding exponent of the Oxbridge sound, the kind of group that will lead you to check your collection regularly to make sure you still have all of their recordings. An essential purchase for all classical collections.”
“Stile Antico reinforce their already formidable reputation…”
“all of it is wonderful. Although there are only a dozen singers in Stile Antico, they sound almost like a full choir, their voices blending so well, the harmonies so exacting, the tone and timber so precise, so lilting, lyrical, and soaring”
Santa Fe New Mexican
“It is a compellingly programed, hold-your-breath beautiful recital of 16th-century masterworks.” “The ensemble…brings flawless blend and balance but also scores expressive points through delicate shading of a cappella tone color.”
“[Stile Antico are] the preeminent early music chorus in the world today. The group of 12, always perfectly in tune, are vocally sublime here. The recorded sound is sublime and allows the most musical of expression to reach the listener. The surround channels are very well balanced, not overwhelming, but just right in giving the listener a fantastic perspective on the space. The liner note essay is an outstanding introduction. This truly is music fit for a King.” “Another journey of discovery through unparalleled musicianship.”
The Buffalo News (July 16, 2014)
.5 STARS “A beautiful disc. Stile Antico is at the top of the Renaissance a cappella scene. Their voices are seamless.”
The New York Times (July 23, 2014)
“Lucid and fresh-sounding, the young, prolific vocal ensemble Stile Antico sings an intriguing program of 15th- and 16th-century works written for the Habsburg courts of Europe… particularly superb, with tremendous dynamic range…”
Audiophile Audition (July 30, 2014)
4 STARS “Stile Antico’s performances are big, gorgeous, and highly moving renditions, while Harmonia mundi’s surround sound is superb in every way.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (August 8, 2014)
“Few Early Music groups have become as integral a part of the performance landscape as Stile Antico. The joy of listening to Stile Antico comes not just from the beauty of the 16-piece choir’s individual and collective voices but also from the dense balance of the parts, which can be as many as eight. Here there’s none of the soprano-dominance that afflicts amateur choruses the world over. The parts are sung, recorded and mixed well, the recorded sound coming across as both natural and precise, without the over-preciousness that sometimes characterizes small choruses; these voices sound like they are coming from human beings, albeit ones with expert vocal ability, and not gossamer angels.”
ION Arts (August 14, 2014)
“The young vanguard for Renaissance polyphony…” –
WQXR (September, 8-14)
“Stile Antico renders this repertoire with vibrancy and nuance, its sound bathed in churchly reverb.”
The Absolute Sound
Personnel has changed over the years but Stile Antico’s stunning vocal sonority has not. Producer Robina G. Young and engineer Brad Michel provide atmospheric yet crystal-clear sound.
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