A Pizzetti Prelude

Tanglewood Festival Chorus at Seiji Ozawa Hall, James Burton conducting, July 20, 2018. Photo courtesy Jon Saxton

I’m still a little weak-legged this morning after last night’s TFC performance. It’s not common for me to feel so completely drained, but our Prelude concert last night, with works by Pizzetti, Palestrina, Rossini, Lotti, and Verdi, took everything I had.

I was unfamiliar with Ildebrando Pizzetti and his works before this concert. From my exposure to him through his Requiem, he embraced older sacred music traditions, filtering them through twentieth century ideas of tone and form. The Requiem has echoes, consciously or un-, of earlier Renaissance works, including what I still insist is a nod to Tallis in the setting of “Jerusalem” in the first movement.

Our director, James Burton, pulled those connections to the fore by programming the Requiem alongside works by Palestrina (“Sicut Cervus”) and Lotti (the “Crucifixus a 8”). But Pizzetti owed a debt to his immediate forebears, too, with the operatic sensibilities of Rossini and Verdi both present in his writing. From those artistic forebears we added the Rossini “O salutaris hostia” and Verdi’s great “Pater Noster.”

If you put all those works together, you have about an hour of a cappella music by Italian composers in Latin and Italian. To intensify the drama, James interleaved the other works between movements of the Pizzetti—the final order was:

  • Requiem aeternam (Pizzetti)
  • Sicut cervus
  • Dies irae (Pizzetti)
  • O salutaris hostia
  • Crucifixus a 8
  • Sanctus
  • Agnus dei
  • Pater noster
  • Libera me

We transitioned between movements attaca (without a break), and performed without a piano, taking the pitch from James and his tuning fork. And I think it was some combination of these things—the intense drama of the music, the quick transitions without a break, the unrelenting mental focus—that left me literally shaky. That or hypoxia. There are some seriously long lines in all the works.

But I have a new composer on my list of “must listens” now, and a new appreciation for others that I’ve sung for years. It was a great night.

Here’s a taste of the Pizzetti, from our Thursday rehearsals, that gives you a hint of the remarkable G Major beauty that raises its head above the clouds.

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