Passion and Resurrection Motets of the Renaissance

Pomerium at the Cloisters on Saturday, March 22.

When I began studying the organ, I fell in love with the fugue. In a fugue, one voice introduces a short melody, the subject, and then the other voices take it up in turn, weaving together, stretching and compressing and inverting and transposing the subject, each voice equal to the others, until they finally cadence together in a glorious climax. The underlying harmonic structure of the fugue is often quite simple, but the rich polyphonic texture is markedly different from the typical melody with harmonic accompaniment of pop songs and hymns and even much classical music. To me, the big Baroque fugues were a revelation.

I still get a charge out of the incomparable polyphony of the Baroque and Renaissance periods, which is why I was eager to hear Pomerium, a choral ensemble devoted to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century repertory. The concert was a seasonal one, featuring motets written for Passiontide and Easter, and as I expected, the intricate polyphony was exquisite. But the concert reminded me, too, that as magical as polyphony can be, the moment in which it ends, the moment when the voices converge into unison, is often just as special.