Early Music to Make You Cry

Milwaukee's Aperi Animam will perform choral works from the 16th and 17th centuries.

By - May 15th, 2023 02:47 pm
Aperi Animam. Photo by Donna Miller.

Aperi Animam. Photo by Donna Miller.

Choral compositions that acknowledge or inspire the very human act of crying will be explored by Aperi Animam when the local early music ensemble presents “Lacrimae Nostrae: Music for our tears.” Performances are scheduled for Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20.

Formed in 2017, Aperi Animam focuses primarily on sacred music from the Renaissance, mainly by English composers. The group describes its mission as honoring historical performance practice while emphasizing “the meditative and reflective atmosphere that can be manifested through thoughtful and mindful performance of this music.” The group is in residence at All Saints Episcopal Cathedral.

Jackie Willis, a founding member of the 13-member ensemble and its artistic director, calls crying “a powerful mechanism for emotional release and healing.” The compositions she selected for this month’s concert convey themes of sadness, isolation, despair, loss and, finally, the liberation from stress that comes from acceptance.

Several compositions on the program refer quite directly to crying. Drop, drop slow tears by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) opens the performance. Willis calls the text, by English poet Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650), “an invitation to allow ourselves the freedom” to cry. “In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears,” the text entreats. Weep, O mine eyes, a madrigal by John Bennet (c.1575-c.1614), pleads for a torrent of tears sufficient to cause death to assuage a deep sorrow.

Other selections describe circumstances that trigger tears. Two compositions express the grief of losing a child. Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623), in When David Heard, recounts King David’s response upon learning of the death of his son Absalom. A setting of  Stabat mater dolorosa by Josquin des Prez (c. 1450-55–1521) recounts Mary’s suffering during the crucifixion of Jesus. A double motet by English composer William Byrd (c.1540–1623), Ne irascaris, domine and Civitas sancti tui, is based on passages from the Book of Isaiah that describe the plight of Israelites exiled to Babylonia. While it recounts their despondency over the destruction of Jerusalem and pleas for divine mercy, musicologist Richard Evidon also interprets the composition as “Byrd’s personal expression of despair over the state of English Catholicism.” (Byrd remained loyal to the pope even as King Henry VIII abolished Catholic institutions.)

The program ends with pieces by Byrd, Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), and Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) that express comfort, calm and inner peace. The closing motet, Justorum animae, provides assurance that “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them….they are in peace.”

Aperi Animam will perform Lacrimae Nostrae at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20 at Calvary Presbyterian Church, 935 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Willis will give a pre-concert talk before the Saturday performance, beginning at 6:45 p.m. Advance tickets are available online.

Aperi Animam has been booked to kick off Milwaukee Early Music, a new concert series organized by Early Music Now. The group will perform on September 14; details about the series will be posted soon on the Early Music Now website.

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