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Triduum (Music for the Passion)

Triduum (literally meaning: three days) indicates in Christianity the period of three days before Easter: Maundy Thursday,Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Consecutively, the Church commemorates the Eucharist (brought into existence by Jesus during the Last Supper), the sacri ce Jesus made on the cross (which was mankind’s atonement with God) and the silence at the grave, before His resurrection.

Those three days comprise the theme of this CD. On the basis of various motets, we will move through the days preceding the resurrection of Christ. Our choice of the following pieces of music was determined sometimes by liturgy stemming from the triduum, sometimes by the content shimmering through those pieces.

A mass by George De La Hèle, from which we recorded three parts, runs like a common thread throughout the CD. Masses play an important role in the oeuvre of polyphonists. The symphonies of later periods were the masses of the sixteenth century. Therefore, every polyphonist has at least a couple of masses to his credit.

Unfortunately, barely any works by the brilliant George De la Hèle survived. Only those pieces of music, printed by Plantijn in 1578 (eight masses and some miscellaneous work), have stood the test of time.

The various components of this mass are not in their usual order on the CD, that is because they follow the themes of the triduum as they appear therein. The Gloria is crucial to the mass and indissolubly linked with Maundy Thursday, the day of the Eucharist. The Agnus Dei, in which an emphasis lies on the sacrifice of God’s son, is closely related to Good Friday. The Sanctus, that sings of heaven, is thematically associated with Holy Saturday and therefore appears as the closing track on this CD.

Maundy Thursday is the day of the Eucharist. In days gone by, mass opened with the act of sprinkling holy water on the gathered people. In meantime they would sing Asperges me (asperse me). We chose George De la Hèle’s arrangement.

According to the Christian gospel Maundy Thursday results in Jesus praying to the Father on the Mount of Olives. It is the subject of Alonso Ferrabosco’s In Monte Oliveti. De Profundis, a motet by Jacobus Clemens non Papa appropriately depicts Jesus’ state of mind at that moment, right before His extradition to the Romans. And just like Jesus who addresses his Father, mankind turns to God for Confession. Pater Peccavi (Father, I have sinned) focusses on mankind that, according to the Church, can be delivered from sin. In this piece of music Cypriano De Rore demonstrates a madrigal style that has moved far away from the earlier cerebral motet style of De la Hèle, Ferrabosco and Clemens non Papa.

Characteristic for the triduum are the so-called matins.During those night prayers people read aloud from the Book of Lamentatio (Lamentations), among others. It includes the description of the demise of Jerusalem, a symbol of mankind’s sinfulness and their deliverance from it. The Lamentationes by Alonso Ferrabosco convert parts of the night prayer into music. Likewise, the responsorial Caligaverunt, a four-part gem by the Spanish Luis De Victoria, is part of the ‘dark matins’. It portrays the desolation of suffering Jesus. With this we arrive at the liturgy of Good Friday.

A crucial part in the liturgy of Good Friday is the desolate situation of Christ, who is now nailed to the cross. The desolation, as well as Jesus’ faith are seen as two crucial elements of the Passion narrative. These elements, desolation and faith, lay at the core of the Tenebrae factae sunt declamation. After Jesus’ death (on the CD only the wind can still be heard, which rises as if by chance, while the last words of Lamentatio die away) the introit from Frei Manuel Cardoso’s requiem commences. The daring harmonies give away that Cardos wrote this work at the start of the seventeenth century. Versa est in Luctum connects us to the silence of Holy Saturday, when Jesus is mourned at his grave.

With George De la Hèle’s Sanctus the inclusio is completed. The Sanctus belongs to the more celestial spheres which are also evoked in the book of Revelations. At the same time, it forms an opening to Easter, but without bursting out in an exuberant hallelujah.

In Passion music the suffering of Christ is fundamental. Every note conceals a paradoxical aesthetic, because hardship on its own has nothing to do with beauty. Yet, in the call of the suffering man there is not only an ethical appeal, but also an intense stillness and introspection. This Passion music gives sound to the misery of then and now. It should keep up the utopian dream that mankind will break the vicious circle of suffering.

Arnout Malfliet, artistic director