The use of Greek language in Western art music during the 16th and the 17th century: the case of Henry Lawes
Despite the fact that during the renaissance and the baroque era the ancient Greek and Roman norms served as models for writers and artists to imitate, the use of Greek language in the art music of the West during these periods is (for obvious reasons) an extremely rare phenomenon.
With the exception of one four-voice motet by Hieronymus the Cypriot based on the trope «Ω Πάσχα το μέγα» (mid 16th century), all the other surviving compositions come from composers who did not have Greek as their mother language and they are of special interest as they were composed under different social and cultural circumstances. These are a four-voice madrigal entitled «O pothos is dio chijli curellana» (1554) by Giandominico Martoretta, a polyphonic composition in two parts by Charles des Courbes (1622) with the titles «Ευλογία τραπέζης» and «Ευχαριστία», and two songs by Henry Lawes for solo voice and basso continuo entitled «Θέλω λέγειν Ατρείδας» (1653) and «Λέγουσιν αι γυναίκες» (1655).
Especially for the two latter (of which references are scarce), a first approach is attempted, because it is the first time in the history of Western music that: a) ancient Greek texts are set to music, b) Greek text appears in a composition that goes along with the humanistic call for the return to the simplicity of the ancient Greek music, using a solo voice, bearer of the meaning of the words and the passions behind them, and c) Greek characters are used in print for songs of secular context.