My friend Jadzia is working on a new website for her editions of medieval and Renaissance music: St. Cecilia Press, and she mentioned that it would be cool if I wrote some singable translations for the pieces she’s edited. So, this week I worked on translations of “El Grillo”, “Es ist ein Schnee gefallen”, and “Plaude euge Theotocos”.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Josquin des Prez, who is always listed among the greatest composers of the Renaissance. “El Grillo” is a favorite of modern madrigal groups, because of its tasteful use of word painting, its cheerful tune and chipper rhythm, and the challenge of enunciating its words at the appropriate tempo.
Personally, I like the words for their meaning: The cricket sings beautifully, but he’s not like the other birds; they sing a little bit and then fly away, but the cricket stays, steadfast, when it’s blisteringly hot out, singing only for love.
There are a only handful of animals that “sing” — birds, frogs, whales — and it’s nice to see the cricket get its share of our attention. 🙂
- Date: 1504
- Composer/Poet: Josquin des Prez (born c. 1450-1455; died 1521)
- Manuscript: Frottolle Libro Tertio (1504)
- Original Language: Italian
- Genre: frottola
- Form: through-composed
Es ist ein Schnee gefallen
Caspar Othmayr was an early Lutheran composer with devout beliefs, but he is better known for his secular songs, including this one, “Es ist ein Schnee gefallen”.
Post-Renaissance arrangements of this piece add more verses that narrow the meaning to the story of a pregnant girl, rejected by her neighbors, who wishes her lover would marry her. But I prefer this earlier, less specific version, because it is applicable to so many more people and situations — which, in my opinion, makes it more meaningful.
- Date: 16th century
- Composer/Poet: Caspar Othmayr (1515-1553)
- Original Language: German
- Genre: chorale
- Form: strophic; abb
Plaude euge Theotocos
This polyphonic song is a fun piece for a number of reasons. First, it’s a good example of a transitional piece between medieval and Renaissance styles, combining a medieval chant-like melody with Renaissance chordal harmonies. Second, like most of Petrus’s works, it is “signed” with an acrostic of his name in the text: Plaude Euge Theotocos Regina Virginum, Salus… (I have included this in my translation: “Past Extolling, Theotokos, Ruling Us Splendidly…”) Finally, this piece was probably intended as a song for amateur groups in schools, monasteries, etc., and was distributed with other similar songs across Central Europe. I like to imagine it being performed at the Renaissance equivalent of the middle school holiday concert.
- Date: 15th century
- Composer/Poet: Petrus Wilhelmi Grudencz (c. 1400 – c. 1480)
- Manuscript: D-LEu MS 1236 (15th century)
- Original Language: Latin
- Genre: sacred polyphony
- Form: aabb