Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thomas Weelkes and the wordpainting "As Vesta Was Descending"

Renaissance Music Continued
Word Painting: a technique that portrays the meaning of the words of the text.
Thomas Weelkes (1575-1623 CE) used this device in the 6 voice madrigal "As Vesta Was Descending" (1601)

The text of “As Vesta Was Descending” is:


As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending, 

 she spied a maiden queen the same ascending
attended on by all the shepherd swain, 
to whom Piana’s darlings came running down amain.
First two by two then three by three together
leaving their goddess all alone, hasted thither, 
and mingling with the shepherds of her train 
with mirthful tunes her presence entertain.
Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana 
Long live fair Oriana!


The music of this madrigal literally moves as the text portrays the action. For example, when the text states “descending” the pitches move downward, when the text states ascending the pitches move upward. 

When the text states “two by two”, there are two voice parts singing,  “three by three” has 3 voice parts,  “together” is sung by the 6 parts in unison, and then  “all alone” has 1 solo voice singing. 

As  the piece continues “mirthful” which means happy, has a light happy sound and then at the conclusion the text “long live fair Oriana” is stretched by the vocal parts stretching how long each word is held out. 

The goddess Vesta must be feeling jealousy towards the maiden Queen Oriana because of all of the attention she is getting from the shepherds and the nymphs.

Musically, this piece is polyphonic in which 6 parts of equal strength sing each line directly portraying the text of the song with pitches either going up or down, parts singing in unison, or counterpoint, or in the one case the solo voicing of the words “all alone”.

Score of "As Vesta Was Descending" by Thomas Weelkes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95DJ7oqTWK8 

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