Claudio Monteverdi, Andrea Gabrieli, Cipriano de Rore and Adrian Willaert were all musicians and composers associated with St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice during the 16th century. In the same period, Luca Marenzio and Jacob Arcadelt were papal chapel musicians in Rome. But it’s the curious things they did on their nights off that interests Susan Hellauer of Anonymous 4.
The famed female vocal group joins forces with Lionheart, a men’s medieval a cappella sextet, for a concert in Duke Chapel this Saturday night. Not for an evening of sacred music, despite the venue and the clerical cachet of the names above. In Gods and Mortals, they will deal with the other gods and goddesses this group immortalized during their professional careers: classical deities from Ancient Greece and Rome.
Which begs the question: What’s a nice bunch of church composers doing writing hymns to Juno, Bacchus and a host of amorous nymphs on their free nights out? Indulging in youthful high spirits? Or begging for a date with the Spanish Inquisition?
But when the Italian Renaissance revived interest in Greek and Roman mythology, it gave artists a strange safe haven to explore human values. “The gods were literary figures, literary constructs,” Hellauer says. “Plus, no one is going to seriously discuss with you about whether Jove is still around or if he might take exception with something you wrote.”
The result was a safe place for artists to muse on the nature of deity, humanity and philosophy.
Through Anonymous 4’s performance this Saturday, Italian composers of the Renaissance get dangerous once again with the story of doomed Greek lovers Dido and Aeneas and the ultra-gothic story of Thyrsis and Cloris, who repeatedly come back to life–in order to die an exquisitely excruciating lovers’ death over and over again. All without having to do penance the morning after.