The Hymn Cycle of Vienna 16197

Late Sixteenth-Century Polyphonic Vesper Hymn Settings from the Habsburg Homelands
Edited by Lilian P. Pruett
Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, 169
xxxii+7+209pp
ISBN 978-1-9872-0010-2
A-R Editions, Inc. $260.00

Dating from the second half of the 16th century, Vienna 16197 is a large choir-book format volume containing 27 alternatim hymn settings scored for either four or five voices (mostly adding another voice for the final verse(s)). They are (unusually for such volumes, according to the editor) arranged in the order of the church calendar, with the plainchant required for the odd verses supplied by Pruett from Cantorinus ad eorum instructionem (Venice, 1550). I was puzzled that this was transcribed in bass clef with ledger lines, given that most of the chant is given in tenor clef.

No-one has identified the composer(s) of the music; one of the two non-hymns included (a largely homophonic four-voice setting of the text Fit porta Christi pervia) survives in other sources but its composer has never been established. Pruett presents most of it in four-minim bars. As with other A-R Editions, the music is presented in modern clefs for standard choir, irrespective of the original clef combinations. This approach, together with minimal musica ficta, allows performers access to the music in a non-prescriptive way, allowing them to choose their own pitch and to spice up the harmony, should they so wish.

Anonymous music is too often overlooked by musicians. I hope Pruett’s excellent edition will encourage choirs to explore this interesting repertoire – after all her effort, it deserves to be heard!

Brian Clark