The Ecstasy of St Theresa

Extremes of emotion and depiction in late 16th and early 17th century music

  • Project Tutor: Robert Hollingworth
  • Level: C/4 (1st year students), I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)

Aims and content

“Beside me on the left appeared an angel in bodily form . . . He was very beautiful. . .  In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire which he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God.  The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease...”

St Teresa of Avila (16th century)

In late 16th and 17th century Italy, the expressive dividing line between composition of sacred and secular music all but disappeared.  Chromaticism, overtly pictorial depiction of text and hyper-expressive realism became the fashion.  Monteverdi described this mindset as the seconda prattica, and it applies as much to Renaissance polyphony music as it does to developments in the new solo-voiced repertoire (monody).

The madrigals and motets of De Wert and Gesualdo madrigals are known for their wild mannerist techniques - a counterpart to the mannerist sculpture of the period: violent in tone and gesture.

The generally ‘cool’ Palestrina set an entire book of Song of Song settings: this erotic poetry was explained away by the church but what did Palestrina mean by it?

Is there any difference in written style (and therefore the intended performance style) between Monteverdi’s erotic and sacred duets such as Vorrei baciarti and Salve Regina?

Applying for the project:

You must apply for this project as a group, and therefore everyone in the ensemble must make this project their first choice.  Groups participating will need to be: S S (or highish mezzo) A T B  or  S A T T B with ideally one singer a Grade 6 or above keyboard player who will be coached in basic continuo of this period.

Assessment

Recital of c. 40 minutes of repertoire agreed with the project tutor.  Recitals will take place in week 10 of the term of the project.

Reading and listening

Initial pieces to study as below though the final list may depend on the line-up of the groups.

  • De Wert – Ascendente Iesu in naviculam
  • De Wert – Solo e pensoso
  • Palestrina – 4th Book of Motets, 1584
  • Gesualdo – Sacrae Cantiones / Tenebrae Responsories
  • Gesualdo – Mercè, grido, piangendo
  • Monteverdi – Madrigals Books III-VI / 1610 Vespers motets
  • Grandi – Plorabo die ac nocte

Learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the module all students should:

  • be familiar with the repertoire of all the different groups taking part, and be able to place it within a musical and historical context;
  • be familiar with the important techniques of the repertoire, and be able to identify and discuss their effect;
  • be able to apply appropriate styles of ornamentation for the repertoire
  • produce a performance emotionally appropriate to the character of each piece

First years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A8

Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B8

Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C8