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Check & Checkmate: Music of the Reformation & Counter-Reformation 1480-1620

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​'Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world' - Martin Luther

In commemoration of Reformation 500, we present a selection of music reflecting the religious currents in the years 1480-1620: from pre-Reformation Roman Catholic music, through the various Protestant styles, and how Roman Catholic music itself changed in response. While most of the pieces we have chosen are straightforward sacred music from the Protestant and Catholic churches, we have included some pieces that reflect the more turbulent aspects of the Reformation period. Religious tensions were present in all sections of society from peasants to dukes, and this is reflected in the music all the way from Gregorian chant to simple peasant songs to complex art music for noble courts.

Composers covered will include Josquin, Obrecht, Luther, Hassler, Goudimel, Sermisy, Vallet, Palestrina, Animuccia, Victoria, Farmer, Tallis, and Byrd.

Most of our programme will not have been heard in Singapore before. As usual, we shall be accompanied by instruments appropriate to the period and country of the works, such as the lute, renaissance guitar, baroque violin, viola da gamba, recorder, renaissance flute, and organ. We shall be pronouncing the sung texts in period pronunciation, giving the listener a sort of time-machine journey in sound.

To aid in the understanding and appreciation of the programme, there will be a brief pre-concert talk at 7:40 p.m.
As usual, admission is free, and a retiring collection will be taken towards the upkeep of the concert venue.

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500 years ago, Martin Luther began a theological dispute that mushroomed into a rebellion against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the spiritual leadership of Rome, the centre of Western Christianity. The liturgical and doctrinal changes that ensued brought about musical changes, which differed from country to country according to the degree of reform advocated by the various Protestant leaders: Luther in Germany, Calvin and his followers in France, the Low Countries, and Switzerland, Henry VIII in England & Wales; and John Knox in Scotland.

At first, the music of the Reformation in Germany, written by Lutheran composers, remained very close to the traditional Catholic sources and styles of plainsong and polyphony. Some music even retained the original Latin texts, other works used German translations, and still others had new German texts fitted to the old melodies.

Reformation church music outside Germany developed along similar lines, except that Calvin and leaders of other Protestant movements opposed certain elements of Catholic ceremony much more strongly than Luther had, and they prohibited the singing of texts not found in the Bible. As a result, the only notable contributions to music from the Calvinist churches were their Psalters—rhymed metrical translations of the Book of Psalms set to newly -composed melodies or, in many cases, to tunes of popular origin or from plainchant.

In England, under Henry VIII, the Anglican Church's separation from Rome in 1534 occurred more for political than for religious reasons, so English church music was less affected and remained closer to Catholic musical traditions (except that the English language replaced Latin in the liturgy).

In response, the Roman Catholic Church began its own programme of internal reform called the Catholic Reformation or Counter-Reformation. This movement not only resulted in many liturgical reforms, it reaffirmed the power of music to affect the hearts and minds of the faithful, and - by appealing to their senses through the sheer beauty of the liturgy, religious art, and sacred music - attempted to win back those who had left.

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