The expanding print industry of the sixteenth century was a strong contributor to the religious and social upheaval that defined the Reformation. Among the printed materials that circulated widely in Europe were musical books for the laity. Like the written word, music had the power to promote new thinking, and its expressive devices could be used more efficaciously than regular speech. The Newberry Library’s outstanding collection of early modern musical sources bears witness to the shifts in religious thinking persuasively communicated in retooled musical styles. Schola Antiqua has prepared selections from several Newberry books that testify to the religious dynamism of the sixteenth century and beyond it. At the core of the program is an emphasis on the accessibility of sacred music, no longer relegated to the talented few of a chapel choir. This was music for all to sing, and sometimes even popular melodies were tapped to propagate new religious messages. Further, the use of the vernacular is also strongly in evidence, a deliberate subduing of the pre-supposed superiority of the Latin language in sacred music.
Our program “Voices of Reform” offers a diverse set of musical items emblematic of the nascent and blurred confessional divisions of the period. In commemoration of the quincentennial of Luther’s Reformation, we offer his iconic congregational melody “Ein feste burg” as well as his creedal hymn “Wir gleuben all an einen Gott”, both with complex harmonizations by Luther’s collaborator, Johann Walther. The program also contains four metrical psalms, a signature musical style flowing from Calvinist theology. The most intricately-crafted works on the program are two five-voice pieces from William Byrd’s Psalmes, sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie of 1588. Byrd is a fascinating figure as a recusant Catholic working under the firmly Anglican auspices of Queen Elizabeth I.