Cori Spezzati

(It. "split choirs")
   A kind of antiphony by which independent melodies of a single polyphonic composition are distributed among two or more distinct choirs that often sing at considerable distance from each other in a church. Unlike antiphonal psalmody or alternatim, this polychoral music frequently overlaps one choir with another and at climactic moments calls for all choirs to sing together. All sorts of Latin texts—mass ordinaries, sequences, psalms, and generic motet texts—might be set to polychoral texture. The choirs may or may not be equivalent in range and vocal assignment, and evidence from northern Italian churches in the late 16th century indicates that one or more of the choirs may have been instrumental, affording an even greater contrast of timbre. Tradition associates the practice with St.Mark’s Basilica in Venice because of its widely separate choral galleries, each with its own organ, because of the eight psalmi spezzati of Adrian Willaert of 1550, and especially because of the spectacular works of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Merulo (1533–1604), Giovanni Croce (1557–1609), and others composing there in the last quarter of the 16th century. However, firm evidence of polychoral music in other northern Italian cities is earlier: from Treviso in 1521; from Ferrara in 1529; from Bergamo in 1536. Dominique Phinot (c. 1510–c. 1555), published five motets for two equal four-voiced choirs in 1548 in Lyons, which were often reprinted in German anthologies in the next two decades. Although a second organist was appointed in 1490, the first hard evidence of polychoral performance at St. Mark’s is 1574. By then the practice also appears in the works of Orlandus Lassus in Munich, where both Gabrielis probably learned the art, Giovanni da Palestrina in Rome, and Tomas Luis di Victoria in Spain, whence it was exported to Latin America. The Lutheran composers Hieronymous and Michael Praetorius, Johann Hermann Schein, Samuel Scheidt, and Heinrich Schü tz continued the tradition into the 17th century as it faded elsewhere, using German as well as Latin texts. Vestiges of the technique appear in certain choral works of Johann Sebastian Bach, especially the motets, and in certain of the English oratorios of George Frideric Handel.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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