Steve C Smith and Peter Phillips
The Portuguese school of Renaissance composers is only just beginning to be explored. It came to maturity relatively slowly, and when it finally did, in the first half of the 17th century, much of the rest of Europe had moved on to a new musical world. Only countries on the edge of the continent - especially England, Poland and Portugal - continued as late as 1650 to give employment to composers who found creative possibilities in unaccompanied choral music. Even so, very few of these composers remained completely untouched by the experiments of Monteverdi and the new Italian Baroque school, so that their music became a fascinating hybrid, looking forward and back, often unexpectedly introducing twists and turns to what otherwise might be taken for pure 'Palestrina'. Late Renaissance English composers are famous for this: it is time that their contemporaries in Portugal earned the same credit. Of the four leading names - Estêvao de Brito (c.1575-1641), Filipe de Magalhaes (c.1571-1652), Duarte Lôbo (1565-1646) and Frei Manuel Cardoso (c.1566-1650), it was Cardoso who mixed old and new most successfully, producing his own highly characterful style.
Cardoso spent his life as a member of the Carmelite order attached to the wealthy Convento do Carmo at Lisbon. Before taking his vows in 1589, he had been trained as a choirboy at Évora Cathedral. Between 1618 and 1625 he was employed by the Duke of Barcelos, who later became King John IV, a most useful patron since he was himself a keen musician and a competent composer. Cardoso's surviving works are printed in five collections, two of which were paid for by King John. Of these five the first and last (1613 and 1648) are general collections of motets and Magnificats, while the other three (1625, 1636 and 1636) are books of Masses. All the parody Masses in the 1625 book are based on motets by Palestrina, which explains how Cardoso came to have such a secure grasp of the essentials of Renaissance style. The parody Masses of the second book (1636) are all on motets by the future John IV and in his third book of Masses (also 1636) Cardoso printed a set of six (two each for four, five and six voices) on a single motet by Philip IV of Spain. Although Cardoso was the most widely published Portuguese composer of his time, his reputation would have been more internationally established if the Antwerp publishing house of Plantin had accepted an offer which Cardoso made them in 1611 to publish his works. In the end Plantin proved to be too expensive for this relatively provincial composer.
We cannot know the extent to which Cardoso experimented with the more obvious kinds of Baroque style, since all his polychoral music was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The five publications referred to above are exclusively in Renaissance style, except to say that there is no other Renaissance idiom quite like it. This is evident from the very first few bars of the six-part Requiem recorded here: the augmented interval between the opening tenor A flat and the second soprano E natural instantly strikes the ear, suggesting Baroque harmony of course, yet the polyphony continues untroubled, with old-fashioned imitation surrounding and concealing the chant (normally in the first soprano part) essentially as Josquin would have done it a hundred years earlier. These augmented intervals, along with false relations and certain chromatic inflections at cadences, were permanent features of Cardoso's idiom; his handling of purely Renaissance techniques was more varied. In the Requiem he adopted a method closely reminiscent of Victoria's six-part Requiem (1), which Cardoso must surely have known. As with Victoria, the chant is placed in one of the two soprano parts, not in the more normal tenor, and the surrounding polyphony is made to move in the same timeless state, in long melodic lines undisturbed by cadences. This timelessness is actually achieved by the slow harmonic turnover which proceeds from distributing the chant in semibreves (in modern transcription) and the basic pulse of the counterpoint in minims. Only in the 'Domine Iesu Christe' are these note-lengths halved (minim chant with crotchet movement around it), which allows greater agitation for such words as 'Libera eas de ore leonis'.
The Requiem is scored for SSAATB; the closing 'Libera me' is for four voices only (SATB), though the style of the earlier movements has been perfectly maintained in it. Cardoso's idiom is just eccentric enough to make the harmony at the words 'Dum veneris', as transmitted by the source, intentional. The possibility that it is nonetheless a printer's error remains; but we decided to believe it, even though the result is far from text-book Palestrina. The Requiem was published in the 1625 book of Masses, but it is not known for whose obsequies it was written.
Each of the motets recorded here is a masterpiece, but in a different way from the Requiem. With the exception of Mulier quae erat, they all start with the same monumental procedure which would sound pedantic, the kind of technique one might expect from a conscientious and very late exponent of an old art, if Cardoso had not turned it to such impressive effect: a point is worked at the same time as its inversion, and these are immediately joined by what would later be called a regular countersubject. The working-out of these three strands may last twenty bars, after which the remainder of the text is set in a much more informal way, even allowing some word-painting (for example the unforgettable flying motif at the end of Sitivit anima mea). In fact, on very close examination, it will be found that even in the Requiem Cardoso regularly employed the principle of a point and its inversion at the outset of a movement. This is necessarily on a restricted scale because of the presence of chant, but it is quite different from Victoria's more straightforward choral idiom. At all times, whether formal or informal, Cardoso showed the most beguiling fluency in his part-writing and complete ease with word setting.
Mulier quae erat begins in a different way: the listener is left in real confusion about the tonality of the music, until in bar six it is resolved with the Baroque chromaticisms of what we know as the 'melodic' minor scale. The same musical procedure can be heard in the Magnificat (Secundi Toni 5 vv) beginning at the verse 'Esurientes' (Index 2). Cardoso followed this with his most protracted working of augmented chord harmony, which, in conjunction with the uncertain tonality, provides one of the most colourful passages on the whole recording. In this setting Cardoso gave the Magnificat formula, surely a little tired by 1613 when this one was printed, a refreshing overhaul, for instance increasing the number of voice-parts in the final polyphonic passage from the initial five (SSATB) to six by doubling the alto part. Mulier quae erat and Nos autem gloriari (both scored SAATB) were published in Cardoso's last, miscellaneous collection of 1648. Non mortui and Sitivit anima mea (both scored SSATTB), however, appeared in the same publication as the Requiem (1625) and therefore, since that book only contains Mass-settings, were obviously viewed as an integral part of the music for the funeral rite.
© 1990 Peter Phillips
(1) Recorded onCDGIM 012.