In the most recent edition of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, which we had earlier recommended here, Ken Myers interviews Paul Walker, an associate professor of early music at the University of Virginia and the Director of Zephyrus. The group, according to their site is "a non-profit vocal ensemble based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and dedicated to the performance of music from the medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras" [links mine].
During the interview, Walker explained how music from the Renaissance period did not come with some of the dynamic notations that we see from the Classical period. Rather, performers took such cues directly from the text. Walker implies performers today, as a result of the development of such notations after the Renaissance, might sometimes be inordinately focused on volume by calls for mezzo-piano or fortissimo, rather than focusing on the character of sound needed to accurately portray the text.
Myers plays excerpts of Zephyrus performance of Josquin des Prez' Praeter rerum seriem from their album Nativity.
The translation of the Latin is
This is no normal scheme of things:
God and man is born of a virgin mother.
She has known no man;
the child's origin is unknown to the father.
By the Holy Spirit's power
this heavenly work has been brought about.
The beginning and end of your giving birth
who can really know?
By God's grace, which orders all things so smoothly,
your childbearing confronts us with a mystery.
(translation by Mick Swithinbank found here)
In the interview Walker explains how this piece both mirrors and portrays this text with a unique musical beginning which he interprets as intentionally crafted to disorient the listener with the astonishing fact of the Divine Incarnation.
I was quite moved by the piece and appreciated his insight, the music, and Zephyrus performance. I downloaded one of their albums and have been enjoying it.
You can preview and/or purchase Zephyrus album Angelus on Magnatune. It is available both in CD and in a number of downloadable formats.
Zephyrus other works - including Nativity which has the piece above - are listed here and can be purchased directly from the Director @
101 Amherst Commons
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Zephyrus site advises:
"CDs are $15.00 each plus shipping and handling. Add $3.00 for one CD and $2.00 for each additional CD in the same order."