2014-01-05 Notes from the Bench

“Mirabile Mysterium” by Jacobus Gallus

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

Mirabile mysterium declaratur hodie,
innovantur naturae;
Deus homo factus est;
id quod fuit, permansit,
et quod non erat, assumpsit,
non commixtionem passus neque
divisionem.

English Translation:

A wondrous mystery is declared today,
an innovation is made upon nature;
God is made man;
that which he was, he remains,
and that which he was not, he takes on,
suffering neither commixture nor
division.

Jacobus Gallus (1550-1591) was a late German-Austrian Renaissance composer of Slovenian ethnicity. Gallus was born in Carniola, which is located in the Slovenia region of south-central Europe. He is known by many names including, Jacob Handl, and Jacobus Gallus Carniolus. His birth name may have been Jakob Petelin, petelin meaning “rooster;” the names Handl and Gallus have the same meaning in German and Latin respectively. Gallus occasionally added “Carniolus” to his name as a tribute to his birthplace.

Gallus traveled throughout central Europe to Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. He lived at Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in lower-Austria, was a member of the Viennese court chapel, choirmaster to the bishop of Olmütz, Moravia, and served as the organist of the Church of St. John on the Balustrade in Prague.

A highly prolific composer, there are over 500 choral works credited to Gallus. His compositions combine elements of northern, Netherlandish imitative style polyphony (four or more equal voice parts) with Venetian, polychoral (multiple choirs) styles of writing, and he was influenced by the Catholic Counter-Reformation taking place during his lifetime. Gallus blended modern elements of chromaticism with archaic adherence to the use of modes. Opus musicum, his most notable work published in 1587, is a collection of 374 motets that span the musical needs of the entire liturgical year.

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