Nineteen voices a snap for Ars Nova singers

Music of Renaissance England forms “Voices and Viols” program

By Peter Alexander

A choral piece for “only” 19 parts is almost too easy for the experienced voices of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers.

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Ars Nova Singers

Last year they sang two pieces in 40 parts, which artistic director Thomas Edward Morgan admits was “a challenging thing to do — in the middle of winter and flu season!” Each of the 40 parts had to be sung by only a single singer, so any absences would have scuttled the performance. 

With those works successfully performed last year, the group is now adding a 19-voice motet from the Renaissance to their list of musical accomplishments. “The group discovered that having done [the 40-voice pieces] last year, this other piece is considerably more accessible,” Morgan says.

The piece is “O bone Jesu” (Oh, good Jesus), by the 16th-century Scottish composer Robert Carver, which Morgan has wanted to perform for a long time. It will be part of “Voices and Viols,” a joint concert between Ars Nova and STRING, a viola da gamba trio directed by Ann Marie Morgan. “Voices and Viols” will be performed Saturday evening, Feb. 25, in Boulder and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, in Denver.

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STRING

The viola da gamba is a fretted string instrument of the Renaissance period that is played with a bow. The name, meaning “viol for the leg,” refers to the fact that the instruments are held between the legs, like a modern cello. STRING was formed in 2016 by Anne Marie Morgan with fellow gambists Sarah Biber and Sandra Miller to perform music for gamba as it was originally heard.

Because the gamba was particularly popular in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, that was the music that was the natural fit for their joint program with Ars Nova. “Voices and Viols” will include verse anthems works by William Byrd, Thomas Morley and Orlando Gibbons, three of the most important Renaissance English composers. STRING will also play works for gambas alone on each half of the concert.

Morgan is excited about the opportunity to perform with the gambas. “Because they don’t use modern vibrato, the gamba doesn’t have as directly emotional a sound,” he says. “It’s a much more subtle thing.

“It makes for a unique showcase of this repertoire, and challenges both the singers and the audience to tune in to the details.”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.

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Voices and Viols
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, director
STRING, Ann Marie Morgan, director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver

Tickets

Ars Nova Singers will perform pieces for 40 parts in surround sound

Music by Striggio, Tallis and Gesualdo form a “Renaissance Retrospective”

By Peter Alexander

In the history of European choral music, there are two major works that were composed for 40 different voice parts.

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Ars Nova Singers

Yes, that’s four-zero, 40 parts, which is really a lot, and the size alone has made these Brobdingnagian works well known. For the same reason they are not often heard live, but both will be performed on the same concert by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers and director Thomas Edward Morgan.

Titled “Renaissance Retrospective,” the concert will be performed in Denver Friday (7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church) and in Boulder Saturday (7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at St. Johns Episcopal Church).

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Thomas Tallis

Both works were written in the 16th century, and indeed one probably inspired the other. The first was Ecce beatam lucem by Italian composer Alessandro Striggio from the 1560s. Shortly after it was introduced in England in that decade, it was followed by the more famous Spem in alium by English composer Thomas Tallis. Those two works serve as bookends on the program, which opens with Striggio and closes with Tallis, recalling the order in which they were written.

In between, Ars Nova will perform music by Carlo Gesualdo and Orazio Vecchi, Italian composers who were working a couple of decades after Striggio and Tallis. All the music will be sung a capella.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Renaissance Retrospective: Music for Many Voices

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Thomas Edward Margan

Ars Nova Singers
Thomas Edward Morgan, artistic director
Music by Alessandro Striggio, Thomas Tallis,
Carlo Gesualdo and Orazio Vecchi

7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder

Tickets