Blending the secular and sacred: instrumental textures in seventeenth-century worship

Author: Beck, Kimberly
Source document: Musicologica Brunensia. 2014, vol. 49, iss. 2, pp. [71]-84
  • ISSN
    1212-0391 (print)
    2336-436X (online)
License: Not specified license
In the seventeenth century composers employed traditionally secular instrumentations, such as that of the solo violin or ensembles of brass or string instruments, in concerted settings of liturgical texts. While settings of the mass and office are not inherently dramatic, composers used instrumental textures to create dramaturgical effects in these sacred works. As a result, these concerted settings hang in the balance between two sacred genres, the Latin sacred concerto and the oratorio. Moreover, these works demonstrate how composers in the seventeenth century experimented with the blending of genres and evaded the classifications carefully designated by theorists of the period, such as Athanasius Kircher and Michael Praetorious. -- Andreas Hofer (c.1629–1684), a composer active in Salzburg for his entire career and the majority of whose surviving works are held in manuscript at Kroměříž, provides an intriguing example of the use of instruments and genre blending in liturgical contexts in his Ver sacrum seu Flores (1677). In this printed collection of eighteen offertories for a variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles, each work is labeled for a particular feast of the church year. Furthermore, Hofer employs instrumentations functioning in a variety of musical capacities, contributing to both the affective and dramaturgical settings of specific passages of text. -- In this paper, Hofer's collection demonstrates how composers used instrumental textures to contribute to the expressive and dramatic qualities of sacred works. Following a brief discussion of the role of instruments in sacred contexts in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and methods for communicating meaning with instrumental music in the seventeenth century, I examine Hofer's use of instruments to create particular moods or reference specific topics, such as those of war and devotion, in liturgical contexts. Finally, I describe how Hofer used these techniques in the Offertories of Ver sacrum seu flores. Ultimately, this paper shows how Hofer deploys the expressive ability of instrumental music in liturgical contexts in the seventeenth century, blending characteristics of both the Latin sacred concerto of the seventeenth century and the burgeoning genre of oratorio in the eighteenth century.
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