Francisco Guerrero: Conditor alme siderum

This is the third in a series of “lessons” about how Renaissance composers explored the musical potential of the plainchant melody in Conditor alme siderum. In English translation (“Creator of the stars of night”) this hymn has been our Sequence hymn during Advent. (The earlier pieces featured compositions by Victoria and Dufay.)

Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) shares Spanish nationality with Tomás Luis de Victoria. But while Victoria spent much of his career in Rome, Guerrero spent most of his life in Spain, and most of that time making music at the Cathedral in Seville.

His setting of the 6 verses of Conditor alme siderum — like Victoria’s — alternates between plainsong (odd-numbered verses) and polyphony (even-numbered verses). In verse 2, listen for the familiar melody in the alto part, tucked in between the high and low voices. In verse 4, the chant melody is sustained by the soprano, while in verse 6, the basses get their turn.

On this performance, those even-numbered verse are sung by Ensemble Plus Ultra, directed by Michael Noone. (You may have heard them in concert recently here in Charlottesville.) On the odd-numbered verses, the plainchant is sung by the Spanish choir Schola Antiqua. On the final verse, the text of which is a Trinitarian doxology, the voices are joined by the wind instruments of His Majestys Sagbutts who help bring the piece to a glorious conclusion.