Last evening, after enjoying the opening banquet, we were treated to a fabulous concert of early music. The performing group was Pro-Arte Saint Louis, led by Horst Buchholz, co-founder & conductor of the ensemble and vice president of the CMAA. Pro-Arte Saint Louis describes itself as a professional vocal ensemble “dedicated to the stylistically informed performance of music of the Renaissance, Middle Ages, and earlier.” Their disciplined performance last night showed that they are worthy of the many stellar reviews they have received since their inception in 2013.
The concert featured parts of two imitation Masses, both using the tune L’Homme Armé. The first of the Masses we heard was by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397 – c. 1474), and the other was by Cristóbal de Morales (1500-1553).
My favorite selection in the concert, though, was Ave Maria virgo serena by Josquin des Prez (c. 1440 – 1521). In introducing this piece, Dr. Mahrt noted that the composer is famous for having written a great deal of “risky” music, not conforming to the standards of his day. This particular piece is written for four voice parts, but, unusually, utilizes all four voices at once only at a few important moments. Much of the piece, drawn from the text & melody of an old sequence, was sung in just two voices at a time. The moments when the four-part harmony broke forth really helped to highlight those particular parts of the text.
Lastly, I want to mention the location of the concert, which was the Grand Hall of the Central Library. This hall, pictured above, is a wonderful acoustical space. It reminded me of other grand libraries I have visited, such as the library at Trinity College Dublin, the Philadelphia Free Library, and the main branch of the New York Public Library (adjacent to Bryant Park). All of these buildings, like the Central Library here in St. Louis, are reminders of a time when libraries were thought of rather differently than they are today. The architecture and prominence of these buildings indicate that they were once valued places of public discourse and centers of civic culture. In many ways, the digital age has pushed physical libraries to the margins, but I feel as if these grand public buildings adorned with art and ornamentation still have something quite valuable to offer us in our times.
More to follow in the days ahead!