The Necessary 100: Byrd, Bieber, Telemann and Pergolesi complete pre-Classical suggestions
Since I decided to work my way through my Necessary 100 list more or less chronologically, I want to catch a few pre-Classical strays before moving on.
I'm already beginning to feel like I could provide 100 candidates just from the Renaissance and Baroque. Handel, Bach and Vivaldi deserve many, many more nominations. And, What ho! No Palestrina and no Orlando Gibbons? Where are Gabrielli's brass choruses?
Some parlour games are more brutal than others.
That said, I want to make a case for some stragglers, because of their beauty and/or originality:
William Byrd: Selinger's Round
Byrd's sacred music is nothing short of exquisite. But one can find the same polyphony, movement and shape in his other pieces, including the 42 dances for keyboard he compiled in the late 1580s in My Ladye Nevells Booke. This is music that sounds fine no matter what instrument it is played on, as Glenn Gould proves here:
Georg Philipp Telemann: Six Paris Quartets
Magdeburg-born Telemann was the most famous German composer of his day, lived to a ripe old age (he was 86 when he died in 1767) and composed, according to French musicologist Bernard Wodon, about 6,000 pieces of music (of which slightly more than half have been catalogued at this point). A list compiled at Stanford University even shows 30 operas to his credit.
So what happened? For one thing, he outlived his style's popularity. The young Mozart was already scribbling music by the time Telemann died, and the German had spoken out vehemently against the banality and simplicity of this new style of music.
The Paris Quartets were written before the form was codified. They are individually titled as Concertos and Suites, featuring flute, violin, gamba and harpsichord -- the two high instruments play solo and duo, while the two lower instruments are continuo. (There are two sets of these pieces. To make a convoluted story short, the set I'm recommending for the Necessary 100 is the one Telemann wrote during a visit to Paris in 1737.)
Here is Il Giardino Armonico with a fine taste, the Chaconne movement from the final piece, known as No. 12:
Heinrich Ignaz Biber: Missa Salisburgensis
This Bohemian-born composer spent most of his working life in Salzburg. Biber is best known for fabulous violin compositions, but there's nothing quite like his 1682 Missa Salisburgensis, which has no peer for sheer, glorious, polychoral excess. The score calls for 16 individual voices and 37 instruments.
Here is the Credo, brought to us by Musica Antiqua Köln and the Gabrielli Consort led by Reinhard Goebel:
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
This short-lived Italian composer (he was 26 when he died in 1736) was best known for his comic operas while he was alive. But Pergolesi lives on forever in his 1736 setting of Stabat Mater, a poetic meditation on Mary standing near the cross where her son has been hung to die.
Here is a brief taste, taken from the 2009 St. Denis Festival, in Paris. Soloists Sabina Puertolas and Vivica Genaux are joined by Les Talens lyriques and conductor Christophe Rousset: