Selecteer een pagina

Venice, 1599

listen here !

For several years I’ve been fascinated with a version of ‘Hodie Christus natus est’, not knowing who the composer was. This year I finally found out: it has been written by Giovanni Bassano in 1599, Venice, Italy.

This piece has a flashy, colourful, vivid character that I didn´t find with other versions of these traditional Latin lyrics for Christmas Day… so I couldn’t help being hooked by the music and wanting to look what the ingredients are that make this piece into such a remarkable firework – all through the perspective of our ‘modern ears’, us being used to present-day contemporary modern music in all styles existing..


Throughout the piece only triads are used – of course, as usual in music of that era, without any further additional notes (7ths or more) – which already gives it a very ‘pure’ character. However, the special thing that Bassano employs is to start in minor (sad/melancholic feeling), immediately switch to major (joyful), and go back (!) to minor. So, already the first word hodie (‘today’) the ho- is minor, via -di-´ (E major, the V chord) switches to -e A major! This picardy third is of course very often used, but as suddenly as here, and then also to immediately go back to a minor again (via C major) – that’s a shock! Almost like the sun comes up very suddenly, a few beautiful rays appear, but immediately it changes back to minor: it was not fully there yet or fully recognised at the beginning; people are standing still in wonder to the beauty that is unfolding…

Also, the plagal cadence is very often used: the first phrase ends with a minor (I) going to E major (V) –  but these plagal cadences are often juxtaposed with their opposite, authentic cadence (V to I, for example (9) G to C , and (15) E to A major, and even: a minor via F G and A major to D major! (24, ending at 27). But at the very end of the piece of course it is plagal again: d minor to A major. Also this creates fireworks: just when you got used to the plagal cadences he gives you the opposite, and just when you got used to minor he gives you major – surprise!

Another element also often used in early music which adds greatly to the mystic and magical feeling of this music, is the chord changing a minor third downwards: the VII to V (G major to E major, most notably m28) which creates a sudden feeling of rest in a positive way (suddenly the G# appears instead of the G – suddenly E major!). This happens also upwards: A major to C major; then the music comes alive again, ‘rises’, in a vivid way. These minor third ´modulations´ give a very positive beautiful ‘shock’, also this element he employs multiple times from different angles.


Even though the piece begins in 4/4, Bassano plays with us by putting the word accents on an irregular rhythm: 5 + 3 + 4 + 4, which obscures the 4/4 feeling from us. This exactly fits the words and the lyrics, but again we are played around with a little bit: we are pushed forward and then pulled back, just like with the hemiolas and similar antimetric figures and syncopations in modern pop and jazz music.

Also, after the first phrase by the first choir (high voices) comes the echo by the second choir (low voices), but before this echo ends the first choir already comes back and starts again, so that thirdly we have both choirs together.. we are attacked from different directions at the same time, this keeps alternating and keeps us on our toes..


Also the dynamics – pianissimo (very soft) to festively loud, and all the levels in between! – are used to keep surprising us.

Next to that, the different registers (3 part choir of high voices, 4 part choir of low voices), the melody lines per voice, the length of the notes, all combine and alternate to make a very colourful, spectacular performance…

One can only imagine how it must have been in those days when this was written – THIS was the most modern music that was ever heard, performed in a huge cathedral with choirs from multiple directions – a 16th century live surround sound, fireworks from all sides!

We wish the new year will bring you many experiences like this: a sudden positive shock of amazement: WOW, never knew something beautiful as this existed..  happy new year!

Listen to this piece here!

We value your opinion: what are your ideas? Please write your comments below!