Lesser-Heard Renaissance Sacred Composers

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Program: #22-10   Air Date: Mar 07, 2022

Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Manfred Barbarini Lupus working at St. Gall, and from the Baldwin Partbooks, William and John Mundy.

I. Behold, how joyful. (Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice). Signum CD SIGCD045.

Like many of even the most prolific and celebrated composers of the sixteenth century, Jacobus Clemens non Papa has offered his modern biographers little material with which to work. His date of birth is a matter of conjecture, the consensus placing it towards the beginning of the second decade of the sixteenth century. It is known that he was employed at the church of St Donatian in Bruges, but only in 1544-5. Circumstantial evidence suggests that he may have worked for Philippe de Croy, the Duke of Aerschot, in the later 1540s. In 1550 he spent three months at the Confraternity of Our Lady in ‘s-Hertogenbosch; and there are several more or less tenuous links with towns in the Low Countries thereafter. It seems likely that his death, which was perhaps a violent one, occurred in 1555 or 1556.

In contrast to the paucity of biographical material, many sources of Clemens’s music survive: he is one of the most widely published musicians of the entire century. Not only are fifteen Masses, over two hundred motets, and many Dutch psalms and French chansons extant, but these works frequently went into multiple editions, some of the chansons continuing to be published well into the seventeenth century. Yet even his musical personality is difficult to establish: many pieces are conflictingly attributed, notably to Thomas Crecquillon, a direct contemporary and one whose name may readily have led to confusion with Clemens in the minds of scribes and publishers.

Despite these conflicts, it is clear from the publication record that Clemens’s music was enthusiastically received: this makes the apparent rootlessness of his life all the more surprising, since the most prominent composers almost invariably were granted significant status in courtly or ecclesiastical establishments. It seems that Clemens was unsuited to such a lifestyle, however: the musicologist Henri Vanhulst has recently discovered documents which when published will go some way to explain Clemens’s curious career and indeed his nickname. (See Henri Vanhulst, ‘New Documents on Clemens non papa (1553)’, in E. Jas (ed.), Beyond Contemporary Fame: Reassessing the Art of Clemens non Papa and Thomas Crecquillon (forthcoming).

Until now, the fact that Clemens was called ‘non Papa’ (not the Pope), and even in one manuscript ‘haud Papa’ (absolutely not the Pope), has been open to multiple interpretations: since there was a Pope Clement reigning during Clemens’s lifetime (Clement VII, Giulio de’ Medici, 1523-34), the composer’s sobriquet may have arisen in his younger days but continued to be used after the death of Clement VII. It is possible also that the name reflected Protestant sympathies on Clemens’s part: indeed, the title of the Mass on this disc, Ecce quam bonum , was something of a rallying-cry for religious dissenters during the sixteenth century, owing to its association with the revivalist Florentine preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). Vanhulst’s new information, however, will cast a more prosaic light on the matter.

The Mass Ecce quam bonum is based on Clemens’s own motet: as is quite frequent at this time, the number of voices is reduced by one between motet and Mass, with the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo movements of the latter being in five parts. However, an extra voice is added from the Sanctus onwards. Many imitation Masses add one or more voices for the Agnus or the second Agnus invocation, but so early an expansion of texture is highly unusual. The added voice does not duplicate the lowest range, as in the motet, but the tenor, and forms a canon at the unison with the existing tenor voice. This technique is particularly effective in the Osanna, where the length of the phrases is at times the same as the delay between the two canonic voices, giving the impression of antiphony.

The motet sets Psalm 133, ‘Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is: brethren, to dwell together in unity!’ In it the psalmist constructs an extended simile between the life of a happy community and refreshing liquids: first the precious ointment running down Aaron’s beard, and subsequently dew falling upon the hill of Sion. The mention of Sion allows a return to the original theme of God’s benediction on those who lead a peaceful life. The imagery in this short but vivid text offers plenty of scope for the composer to create musical parallels, of which Clemens takes advantage in both motet and Mass. The ointment running down Aaron’s beard is illustrated with a sequential motif falling in thirds and employing cross-rhythms, which frequently recurs in the Mass, usually towards the end of sections such as the second Kyrie. A different falling motif is chosen for the dew of Hermon, this time descending by step. It has been observed also that the unison canon between the two tenor parts in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei reflects the opening of the text. (Alejandro Planchart & Willem Elders, ‘Clemens non Papa, Jacobus’, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition ed. S. Sadie, 29 vols. (London: Macmillan, 2001), vi, 29.)

Apart from that on which the Mass setting is modelled, all of the motets on this disc are in five parts, though their textures are varied, with each of the standard satb voice ranges doubled on at least one occasion. Pascha nostrum(sattb) sets the text of the Easter Anthems; although musically the motet is in responsory form, with each section ending identically, only the closing ‘alleluia’ music is repeated, and the motet is best thought of as a paraliturgical piece for Eastertide. The Song of Songs motet Veni electa mea (satbb) also adopts a novel approach to musical repetition, with the phrase ‘quia concupivit rex speciem tuam’ (for the king has desired your beauty) repeating approximately ten bars of music, but here the second ‘alleluia’, although melodically similar to the first, adopts triple time, with complex cross-rhythms. The motet as a whole is highly characteristic of mid-sixteenth century spirituality, with the eroticism of the Song of Songs harnessed to provide a metaphor for the Church as bride of Christ.

Accesserunt ad Jesum (ssatb) shows an entirely different approach to text from the majority of Clemens’s works. (It is attributed in one of its twelve sources to the minor composer Pieter Maessens.) Whereas like most of his contemporaries Clemens typically writes full textures, making his musical effects by subtle variations in harmony and melodic decoration, with tight control of dissonance, here the text is projected sharply by means of contrast between upper and lower voices; the piece is also unusual in falling into three sections, the middle of which (here taken by three solo voices) introduces Jesus’s admonition to the Pharisees concerning the estate of marriage. In the final section, more direct word-painting follows, as the phrase ‘twain shall be one flesh’ is set to a rhythmic duet. A similarly immediate approach to word-setting is evident in the highly emotive narration of Job accepting his many trials, Job tonso capite (saatb), with sudden homophony at ‘adoravit et dixit’ (worshipped and said), and a falling phrase setting ‘corruens in terram’ (fell upon the ground). The texture in general is much more characteristic of Clemens than that of Accesserunt ad Jesum , however.

The final piece on the disc, Carole, magnus eras (ssatb) is a secular work: a state motet addressed to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain. As mentioned above, Clemens was not directly employed by Charles or Philip (so far as is known), so it seems likely that the dedication arose through the composer’s connection with Philippe du Croy, a lieutenant of Charles. Since the text celebrates the achievements of the Emperor but promises even greater things under his son, it was probably composed at the time of Philip’s investiture as Regent of the Low Countries in 1549. Clemens takes full advantage of the presence in the text of the Imperial motto ‘plus ultra’, with the top voice reaching and finally surpassing the highest note in its range as the motto is stated twice in homophony.

Stephen Rice, May 2004

Ecce quam bonum

1. Ecce quam bonum

2. Quod descendit

Missa Ecce quam bonum - Kyrie

3. Kyrie

4. Christe

5. Kyrie

Missa Ecce quam bonum - Gloria

6. Gloria in excelsis

7. Qui tollis

Accesserunt ad Jesum

8. Accesserunt ad Jesum

9. Non legistis

10. Propter hoc

Missa Ecce quam bonum - Credo

11. Credo in unum Deum

12. Et resurrexit

13. Et iterum

Job tonso capite

14. Job tonso capite

15. Dominus dedit

Missa Ecce quam bonum - Sanctus

16. Sanctus

17. Osanna

18. Benedictus

19. Osanna

Veni electa mea

20. Veni electa mea

21. Audi filia et vide

Missa Ecce quam bonum - Agnus Dei

22. Agnus Dei I

23. Agnus Dei II

Pascha nostrum

24. Pascha nostrum

25. Haec est dies

Carole, magnus eras

26. Carole, magnus eras

27. Nunc omnes


II. Manfred Barbarini Lupus (Ensemble Ordo Virtutum/Stefan Johannes Morent). Musiques Suisses CD MGB CD 6286.

From Music-Web International: The combination of music dating from around 1560 and the Ensemble Ordo Virtutum is remarkable. The ensemble focuses on much older music, dating from the 12th century or before. The reason that the ensemble has turned to music from the pen of Manfred Barbarini Lupus is that stylistically it is rather old-fashioned. In his liner-notes Stefan Johannes Morent puts the music into its historical context. It is closely connected to the convent of St Gallen to which the ensemble has already devoted another disc, "Sequences, tropes & Gregorian chants from St Gall Abbey" from the pen of Notker Balbulus.

The entry on Barbarini Lupus in New Grove consists of merely two paragraphs. He was born in Correggio, near Reggio Emilia, in Italy. In 1557 he became Kantor in Locarno in Switzerland. On his travels northwards he met the Fugger brothers in Augsburg and at Freiburg he probably met the theorist Glarean. It is probably also on one of his travels that he visited the monastery at St Gall as its abbot, Diethelm Blarer, commissioned him to compose four-part arrangements of the chants used in the monastery. That is also the last sign of his existence.

It was Blarer who attempted to restore the liturgical practice in the monastery which had gone through rough times in the early 15th century. The Counter-Reformation which was the Roman Catholic Church's response to the Lutheran Reformation was a further incentive to his attempts to save the central place of the traditional chant. This place was not only in danger as the result of the Reformation - which also took place in Switzerland, under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli - but also as a result of musical developments: the dissemination of the art of the Franco-Flemish school with its polyphonic webs in which chant, if present, was often hardly discernible. This explains the way Barbarini treated the material in his settings.

"Except in a few cases, the plainchant on which each piece is based is notated in Gothic neumes in the tenor part, while the surrounding parts - Discantus, Altus and Bassus - are written in white mensural notation. The rhythm of the tenor is such that every note of the plainchant is given in equal semibreves. This special form of composition and notation was not an invention of Barbarini's, nor of St. Gallen. It is already documented in tracts and certain compositions (such as the Jena Choirbook 35) from around 1500." Morent also emphasizes that this relatively simple polyphony does not indicate that St Gallen was not acquainted with the compositions of the Franco-Flemish school nor that the monks were unable to sing more demanding music. It is interesting that the music by Barbarini was included in two choirbooks and that Blarer commissioned a conventual of St Gallen, Mauritius Enck, to write the "apologetic prefaces" in the two books. He had studied in Paris and with Glarean in Freiburg. "Enck writes that the particular connection of cantus planus and musica figurativa, such as is found in the two codices with Barbarini's music, results in a cantus coagulatus. The various translations possible for "coagulatus"- "coagulated", "converged", "agglutinated", here convey the central, immutable role and position of the chant, and the compositional principle of bringing together what is in fact disparate".

This disc includes a number of liturgical works, divided into three sections. The largest part is entitled "In festo Sancti Galli", referring to the saint who settled as a hermit in Gallen and is considered the founder of the convent. It opens with music for Vespers, and continues with music "Ad missam". Here we not only hear the Ordinary but also the Propers: Introitus, Alleluia, Sequentia, Offertorium and Communio. Many chants are of an alternatim character: the verses are alternately sung in plainchant and in polyphony. Some settings are in fauxbourdon style, such as the Magnificat.

In this recording the organ plays a prominent role. The organ tablature of the St Gallen organist Fridolin Sicher (1490-1546) documents the role of the organ in the liturgy of the monastery. In Blarer's time the organist was Heinrich Keller who also copied Barbarini's music. He added the indications chorus and organum to the vocal parts. It means that the organist can play the sections marked with organum in the way of intabulations, either alternately or together with the singers. In this recording Roland Götz made his own intabulations in the style of the 16th century. In the Gloria the verses are alternately sung - in polyphony - and played. In the sequence Christe sanctis unica spes the even verses are sung polyphonically, the odd verses are performed by the tenor, singing the cantus firmus, with the organ taking care of the remaining parts.

The latter practice is also followed in the last piece on this disc, the sequence Sancti Spiritus, for the feast of Nother Balbulus, monk and teacher of the convent around 1000. Before that we hear a hymn for the feast of St Otmar, the real founder and first abbot of St Gallen: Rector eterni comprises eight stanzas which are sung alternately in plainchant and in polyphonic settings by Barbarini.

The Ensemble Ordo Virtutum focuses on liturgical music, especially music as written and performed at convents in the Middle Ages. This disc, with its repertoire which it stylistically close to what was written and sung some centuries earlier, fits well into its field of expertise. This is music which is largely ignored by the vocal ensembles specializing in renaissance polyphony. If Barbarini's mass as sung here would be performed separately it would probably be considered as too simple or even, as Morent writes, "substandard". This kind of repertoire needs a liturgical and historical context and exactly that makes productions like this so worthwhile. If you just want to listen to a complex polyphonic fabric, stay away from this disc. But if you are interested in early liturgical practices and want to learn about how liturgical music was used on a day to day basis in St Gallen - but also, mutatis mutandis, in other convents and in churches - this disc is a highly interesting and compelling addition to your collection. It is regrettable that the booklet omits English translations of the lyrics, though. The singing of the plainchant is excellent, as always, and for this recording Morent has invited four fine singers who have perfectly grasped the character of the polyphony and whose voices blend immaculately. Roland Götz deserves accolades for his creating and playing of the intabulations.

Johan van Veen


Cantus coagulatus - four-part compositions for Mass and Officium at the St Gallen Convent

[In festo Sancti Galli - Ad vesperas]
[versiculum] Deus in adiutorium [01:20]
[hymnus] Vite sanctorum [05:26]
[antiphona ad Magnificat] Venerabilis Gallus [02:23]
Magnificat [04:26]
[In festo Sancti Galli - Ad missam]
[introitus] Iustus ut palma [03:17]
Kyrie [05:21]
Gloria [08:28]
[alleluia] Iustus ut palma [02:34]
[sequentia] Christe sanctis unica spes [07:01]
Credo [05:14]
[offertorium] Posuisti Domine [02:43]
Sanctus [03:49]
Agnus [03:53]
[communio] Fidelis servus [02:24]
[In festo Sancti Othmari]
[hymnus] Rector eterni [07:31]
[In festo Beati Notkeri]
[sequentia] Sancti spiritus [11:07]

III. The Sweetest Songs (Contrapunctus/Owen Rees). Signum CD SIGCD633.

From Music-Web International: This is the final, much anticipated part of Contrapunctus’ three-part exploration of the Baldwin partbooks, one of the most important sources of polyphony to come down from Tudor times, often containing the only extant text of certain music. Parts one and two had particular thematic focuses, and so, too, does this one: in this case it is the Psalm motet, a peculiarly English mode of choral worship which sets Latin verses of psalms as motets. That aspect unifies the disc, but is sufficiently diverse to allow a wide range of moods and themes to occur in each number.

It’s Contrapunctus at their best again. With only eleven singers listed in the booklet (and often using far fewer), they conjure up a phenomenally beautiful sound picture that evokes a lost world of Renaissance spirituality and soaring ecclesiastical architecture, the lines of polyphony cascading over one another like the levels of a waterfall. Glorious harmonies combine with exquisite precision to produce music that is artistically and spiritually delectable, and the beauty of Signum’s recording in the Oxford acoustic plays its part, too. Owen Rees directs the singers with clean sensibility and a fluid sense of line. This is clearly a labour of love for him, shown not only in his sympathetic direction but by his reconstruction of the (lost) tenor parts for many of these releases.

Byrd is the composer most represented on the disc. His Tristitia et anxietas, is full of distilled anguish, meditating on the sorrowful soul and God’s provision in loss. Byrd uses only male voices for this motet, a choice that makes a huge difference to the sound; but even when he includes sopranos, as he does in the similarly themed Peccavi super numerum, the music remains dark hued and no less compelling. There is a similar sense of pleading in Byrd’s Ne perdas cum impiis, brought to life with humanity and spiritual insight.

However, the more optimistic texts sound just as wonderful. John Mundy’s In te Domine speravi rings out with crystalline lucidity, and there is a glorious sense of optimism to Robert Parsons’ Domine quis habitabit with its meditation on the path of the righteous. That motet seems to gaze upwards towards those heavenly dwelling places it sings of, and there is a lighter, more airborne choral sound to go with it. Sheppard’s Confitebor tibi Domine has a glorious, resounding structure, as does William Daman’s setting of the same text, and gems like that of the anonymous composer make you wonder what other gifted composers have had their names forgotten by history.

Robert White’s Portio mea is a beautiful way to end the disc. The focused singing, exquisite in its precision, seems to burrow into the spirituality of the text, the solos ringing out with unfeasible clarity, and it led me as a listener to reflect not only on how lucky we are that the Baldwin partbooks survived, but how fortunate we are that they have such convincing advocates today.

I gave our “Recommended” award to parts one and two of this trilogy, and it seems only right to complete the hat trick by doing so again. In our time of stress, anxiety and anguish, this music is like balm for the soul, and it sounds sensationally good in the way these artists have brought it to life.

Simon Thompson

The Sweetest Songs - Music From the Baldwin Partbooks III

Robert WHITE (c. 1535-1574)
Domine, non est exaltatum [8:43]
Portio mea [6:41]

William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Tristitia et anxietas [9:35]
Peccavi super numerum [6:00]
Ne perdas cum impiis [4:52]

John MUNDY (c. 1555-1630)
In te Domine speravi [8:02]

Confitebor tibi Domine [3:36]

Robert PARSONS (c. 1535-1571/2)
Domine quis habitabit [3:56]

William MUNDY (c. 1528-c. 1591)
Memor esto verbi tui [7:13]

John SHEPPARD (c. 1515-1558)
Confitebor tibi Domine [6:14]

William DAMAN (c. 1540-1591)
Confitebor tibi Domine [2:25]


Composer Info

Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Manfred Barbarini Lupus, Robert WHITE (c. 1535-1574), William BYRD (1539/40-1623), John MUNDY (c. 1555-1630), Robert PARSONS (c. 1535-1571/2), William MUNDY (c. 1528-c. 1591), John SHEPPARD (c. 1515-1558), William DAMAN (c. 1540-1591)

CD Info

Signum CD SIGCD045, Musiques Suisses CD MGB CD 6286, Signum CD SIGCD633