Travel to the Renaissance Period with Leisring’s “O Filii et Filiae”
We’re traveling to the Renaissance choral world for a bit for “O Filii et Filiae” by Volckmar Leisring. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with this piece, so it seems fitting to talk about it here. There doesn’t seem to be much information online about Leisring. He lived from 1588-1637, he’s German, and he was a composer and pastor.
“O Filii et Filiae” is an antiphonal isorhythmic motet. “Antiphonal” relates to two ensembles (in this case, choirs) performing alternately to each other, with occasional parts together. Motets were popular vocal forms in the Medieval and Renaissance ages, with the isorhythmic form developing during the Renaissance. A repeated rhythmic pattern defines this form. I think you’ll easily pick out the repeating rhythm in this piece.
The Latin lyrics celebrate Easter:
O filii et filiae
Rex celestis! Rex gloriae!
O filii et filiae
Christus surrexit hodie!
Roughly translated, it means “O sons and daughters, the king of Heaven, the king of glory, Christ is risen.”
Two choirs, one song
As you listen to the piece, pay attention to the interplay between the two choirs. They do a great job of balancing between the two, and when they arrive at the “Allelujas” it’s seamless.
Two things I love about this piece are the chord progressions and the bits of syncopation (i.e. 0:33-0:35). Despite the joyous lyrics, this piece isn’t cemented in a major key. Taken on their own, the “Allelujas” are mostly minor plagal cadences (what we think of as the “amen cadence“) that just repeat quickly, unlike using it as the final end of a hymn. However, Leisring uses a perfect cadence when we reach the final time through, going from an E major chord (the fifth of our key) to a glorious A major chord (the tonic, or “home base,” of our key). By ending on A major, instead of minor, we get to hear an example of a Picardy third. This technique was often used in early music to end a piece that was based in a minor key. Instead of ending on that minor chord (in our case, it would be A-C-E), which can be unsatisfying to the ear, the composer raised the third of the triad to make it major (A-C♯-E).
Don’t be scared off by the theory, though; just enjoy the beautiful piece Leisring composed!
Giving it my own twist
After hearing this piece a number of times over the years, I realized it would transcribe beautifully for our local horn ensemble, the Cor Corps. So I did it. They premiered the piece for me in April, 2015, and I couldn’t be happier with how they performed. Please have a listen! As you can hear, we took the piece at a much livelier pace than the choir above, but I like it.
And now for a shameless plug (because if I can’t do it on my own blog, where can I?) My horn transcription, both the sheet music and the audio, is available for purchase at Sheet Music Plus. And why should the horns have all the fun? I’ve also done transcriptions other brass and woodwind ensembles.
Thanks for reading – see you next time!