Live from la Maison Française–The Suspicious Cheese Lords

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Program: #10-47   Air Date: Nov 15, 2010

Continuing our series working with the Embassy of France with our friends The Suspicious Cheese Lords in late medieval and Renaissance French repertoire, recorded as part of the Washington Early Music Festival.

NOTE: All of the music on this program was recorded at La Maison Française at the Embassy of France, in cooperation with the French-American Cultural foundation. For information on the many activities and concerts at the Maison, you may explore the site:

Complete program notes are below--for more information on this ensemble:

Kyrie and Gloria from Messe de Tournai
Ave verum corpus
Jean L’héritier (c. 1480 - c. 1551)
En entrant en ung jardin
Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1490 - 1562)
Du tout plongiet
Antoine Brumel (c. 1460 - c.1512–13)
La la la, je ne l’ose dire
Pierre Certon (d. 1572)
Pater peccavi in cælum
Dominique Phinot (c. 1510 - c. 1556) 
Alma Redemptoris Mater
Plainchant, tonus solemnis
Sanctus from Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater
Jean Mouton (c. 1459-1522)
Ma bergère, ma lumière
Jean Planson (c. 1545 - after 1612)
Il est bel et bon
Pierre Passereau (fl. 1509-1547)
Elzéar Genet (c. 1470-1548)

The Suspicious Cheese Lords kick-off their 2010 WEMF concert with two movements of the Messe de Tournai, a historically important work as it is the earliest complete polyphonic setting of the mass ordinary. It dates from the fourteenth century when Tournai’s cathedral was a major focal point of musical influence and activity. The “Tournai Mass” was rediscovered in 1862 within the church’s archives in a manuscript of mostly plainchant dedicated to the Holy Virgin. Each section is written for three voices, but there is no central unifying theme (or structure), and research has confirmed that this Mass was compiled together rather than composed by one hand. The two sections performed today are a contrast in styles: the Kyrie is older, dating to the late thirteenth century and recalling the more archaic ars antiqua form; the Gloria was composed later and demonstrates greater freedom and complexity with rhythm, a trait representative of the ars nova.  The Gloria ends with a lengthy, yet delightful and playful “Amen”.

With such notable compositions of Ave verum corpus by Byrd, Mozart, and others, a listener may have difficulty coming to terms with an unfamiliar setting. Jean L’Héritier’s five-voice interpretation is well worth the listen. He was born in northern France in what is modern Pas-de-Calais, and scholars believe he was a student of Josquin (and possibly Jean Mouton) at the French royal court. L’Héritier followed the path of many Franco-Flemish composers by spending time in Italy. In 1522 he was Maestro di cappella at S. Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. While he maintained Italian connections, L’Héritier eventually returned to France as head the chapel for the Cardinal of Clermont, the papal legate at Avignon. Although his relatively small body of surviving compositions (less than 50 motets and only one mass setting) was distributed in manuscripts and published anthologies throughout Europe, L’Héritier is unfortunately another Renaissance composer among many to fall into obscurity, overshadowed by the preeminence of Josquin and Palestrina. Yet his musical style helps bridge the gap between the two.

Claudin de Sermisy was well known in his time as an accomplished composer of both sacred and secular works. He was colleagues with Jean Mouton (whose work we will sing in the second half) as a singer in the royal chapel of King François I. The text of the brief and bawdy En entrant en ung jardin is by the accomplished Clément Marot, whom Sermisy would almost certainly have known personally.

Little is known of Antoine Brumel’s origins; the first recorded reference to him is at age 23, as a cleric and singer at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. He continued his career in Geneva and Laon. His position at Notre-Dame de Paris lasted less than three years, when he left in unpleasant circumstances after a dispute. In 1505 Brumel moved to the city-state of Ferrara in northern Italy, accepting a position at the prestigious court of arts patron Alfonso d’Este. Brumel’s setting of the chanson Du tout plongiet includes one voice singing Johannes Ockeghem’s Fors seulement l’attente.
 Pierre Certon was master of choristers at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris from 1536 until his death; he wrote nearly 300 secular chansons. La la la, je ne l’ose dire tells of a man who is being cuckolded, even in public.

Precious little biographical information regarding Dominique Phinot has survived, but fortunately several volumes of his music remain. He was certainly French, but seems to have also worked in Italy. Pater peccavi in cælum is a Lenten responsory, based on the story of the prodigal son from the Gospel of Luke. Our interpretation uses the somewhat controversial theory of a “Secret chromatic art” advocated by the late musicologistEdward Lowinsky (1908-1985). Lowinsky’s theory proposed that in certain situations, the normal rules of harmony and counterpoint suggested the need for additional accidentals according to the rules of musica ficta. For example, at measure 19 of the second section of this motet, the singer on the top line, seeing an F rising to a B, would automatically make that interval a perfect rather than a diminished fourth. This necessitates the other singers having to adjust their subsequent notes to stay within that era’s musical conventions. In modern notation, the end result is to add a throng of flats over a ten-measure section on the repeated word pereo - “perishing” - and to lower the rest of the piece by a half step. Was this the true intention of the composer, an ingenious way to highlight the prodigal son’s flagging energy? As one musicologist put it, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Although Jean Mouton spent most of his career working at the French court, his compositions were widely known in other countries as well, not only during his own lifetime but also for the rest of the 16th century, and were praised by such notables as Pope Leo X and the Swiss music theorist Heinrich Glarean, both of whom knew him personally. In his 1547 treatise Dodecachordon, Glarean described the distinguishing features of Mouton’s style as “a certain freedom of texture” and an easily flowing melodic line. Glarean also noted that Mouton “composed some very important masses, approved by the Supreme Pontiff, Leo X, such masses as Alma Redemptoris and very many others which are in all hands,” clearly a reference to their widespread dissemination and continuing popularity fully a quarter-century after the death of their author. Considering such accolades, it may come as a surprise that this mass received its first recording by the Cheese Lords, on their CD Vivat Rex! Sacred Choral Music of Jean Mouton, more than 400 years after its original publication and four decades after the appearance of a scholarly modern edition in the inaugural volume of Mouton’s Opera omnia.

Acclaimed Parisian organist and composer Jean (or Jehan) Planson published two collections of chansons in the later half of the sixteen century.  Ma bergère, ma lumière ostensibly describes a bucolic setting of shepherds and shepherdesses taking care of their sheep; but the double entendres quickly ensue.

Pierre Passereau was a priest at Paris’s Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, and perhaps also at Cambrai Cathedral; we present a “Parisian” chanson, a secular piece with syllabic text settings (as opposed to one syllable stretched out over many notes) which often employed double entendre, nonsense syllables, or onomatopoeias. Il est bel et bon pokes fun at gossips trading stories by likening them to chickens – a device used somewhat more recently by Meredith Wilson in The Music Man’s “Pickalittle (Talk-a-Little).”
In 2002, the Cheese Lords became the first ensemble to release a CD devoted entirely to the works of Elzéar Genet, whose moniker “Carpentras” probably indicates his home town, about 15 miles from Avignon. Genet sang in the papal chapel under Pope Julius II and in the court of the French king Louis XII. In 1513 Pope Leo X, a lavish patron of the arts, summoned him to Rome and appointed him as the first composer to be Master of the Papal Chapel. Under Leo’s guidance, Genet’s music seems to have become exclusively sacred; in later years, he would write, “…such is the power of music that whatsoever is the character of its modes, such slip imperceptibly into the hearts of young men especially and engender their morals….as long as I occupied myself with worldly music, I saw myself carried away and more inclined to voluptuousness and to licentiousness, but when I have surrendered myself to sacred music I have felt myself at the same time changed and drawn to religion.” Genet’s tenure lasted only as long as Leo’s pontificate and in 1521 he returned to Avignon, where he became dean of Saint-Agricol. This Magnificat was one of eight which date to his time at the Vatican. This through-composed version was printed in the 1530’s by Jean de Channey in what appears to be the first composer’s “collected works edition” in history, paid for by the maestro himself.
- Program notes by George P. Cervantes and Christopher G. Riggs. Thanks to Thomas G. McCracken for his insights on Mouton and Phinot.

Composer Info

Jean L’héritier (c. 1480 - c. 1551), Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1490 - 1562), Antoine Brumel (c. 1460 - c.1512–13), Pierre Certon (d. 1572), Dominique Phinot (c. 1510 - c. 1556), Jean Mouton (c. 1459-1522), Jean Planson (c. 1545 - after 1612), Pierre Passereau (fl. 1509-1547), Elzéar Genet (c. 1470-1548)

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