Biggio time beckons for Striggio

It's no surprise that a 16th-century Mass has hit the pop charts, says Jessica Duchen – spiritual music always helps in tough times

It's not the first thing you'd expect to see in the pop charts alongside Bon Jovi and Duffy: a choral work in 40 parts by a composer little recognised beyond the ivory towers of early music.

Yet the world premiere recording of the Mass Ecco sì beato giorno, written in 1566 by the Italian composer Alessandro Striggio (c1536-1592) but long thought lost, has rocketed up the sales ratings since its release earlier this month. It was the No 1 classical download on iTunes and it has reached No 68 on the pop charts. The CD, recorded by the British vocal ensemble I Fagiolini hit the top of the specialist classical chart and was hot on the heels of André Rieu on the general one. What on earth is going on?

It's not the first time that an unlikely-sounding classical release has met with such startling success. Back in 1992, Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony, The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, a lengthy contemporary work of tremendous gloom, became a surprise hit. But it was the right music at the right time. Back then, Britain was trying to haul itself out of recession and Black Wednesday had forced it out of the ERM; there was a war in the Balkans, the housing market had gone through the floor and people were fed up and miserable. Górecki's music hit a nerve, articulating something in our state of mind better than words could.

And now? The earthquake disaster in Japan, revolutions in the Middle East and potential civil war in Libya; at home, rocketing prices and high anxiety about cuts. Long gone are the Spice Girls and the days of Cool Britannia. Nobody's in the mood for all that forced, noisy jollity.

So we decide we like... Striggio? Yes, because this is music that evokes another world in sound, one that is calm, spiritual, balanced and drenched in Italian sunshine. It is not too complex harmonically and it's probably only a matter of time before someone decides to dismiss it as aural wallpaper; still, it seems to be striking a chord with many, many listeners. The Mass's companion pieces on the album are Thomas Tallis's 40-part motet Spem in allium and Striggio's motet Ecce beatam lucem; and hearing so much vibrant music – sumptuous in texture yet remarkably pure-sounding – is cheaper than therapy and more soothing to a tired brain than Eminem.

If you've ever turned to music in a crisis, you'll know its power. When my mother died, I couldn't listen to anything but Bach for weeks – only the St Matthew Passion would do. And after my late sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she told me that she had lost the capacity to listen to music, but for the Mozart Requiem. Music works on us at a profound level; difficult times can bend our tastes for spiritual sustenance in unexpected directions.

Throughout the financial crisis in the UK, audiences for the arts have stayed amazingly buoyant. There are plenty of theories about this. Cost is among them: a trip to the theatre will set you back less than a week in the Costa del Cashflow and might offer better escapism. Classical concerts in particular are a relatively cheap night out. As for Striggio, you can download the new album for £7.99. But that's not all there is to it.

Many of us have been forced to take stock recently, reassessing how we live and what we can expect from life in the years ahead. Hearing good music is one of the most enriching, enlivening experiences available to us, and this is the time to remember that. And there are few finer antidotes to the aural dross that assaults us most of the time than a bit of Renaissance polyphony. Built on carefully wrought principles involving architectural proportion, the interaction of the voices and vivid word-settings, Renaissance music was effectively the starting point for the development of Western music in the following centuries. If we need to reassert the foundations for life, no wonder we turn to the foundations of music. Now we can do so in surround sound.

The release marks I Fagiolini's 25th anniversary. Now they'll have much more than a birthday party to enjoy on their current tour: hopefully the success of this release will leave them a bean or two better off.

I Fagiolini are now touring the UK and will perform Bach at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (0844 875 0073) on 25 and 27 March. The CD and DVD of Striggio's Mass in 40 Parts are out on Decca.

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss