Thursday, January 15, 2009

choir boys

Occasionally you will read a critic of "American Idol" complain that the singers are indulging in an excessively "melismatic" style, when one syllable is stretched out over many notes.

This was an issue during the Reformation. Protestants complained that choral music in church had become so melismatic that the words were incomprehensible. One line of text might get spread out over several minutes.

Giovanni Palestrina represented the apex of that style. One of my college teachers asserted that Palestrina's music was "perfect" in that it never broke the rules of counterpoint, and was therefore "boring".

But when it's done well, it's a beautiful, hypnotic cloud of sound that you can easily imagine might be the sound of angels.

This is a pretty impressive performance by some college singers, each one singing a unique part:

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