Program: #21-27 Air Date: Jun 28, 2021
On his final journey to us with the Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips shares the final recordings in his extraordinary and award-winning Josquin cycle.
Missa Gaudeamus represents Renaissance artistry at its most intense. Largely based on the first six notes of a substantial chant melody, it deploys mathematics in a number of clever, but rewardingly audible ways. Written for the Feast of All Saints, this is high art. By contrast Missa L’ami Baudichon represents Renaissance artistry at its most skittish. Based on just three notes, which sound to an English ear distractingly like the opening of Three Blind Mice, it makes few demands on the listener outside enjoying a luminous C major sonority. This comes close to low art—a vulgar reference to female genitals comes twice in the French-language text originally attached to its very secular model.
Missa Gaudeamus seems to have come from the very middle of Josquin’s Mass-writing career. It was possibly the ninth of the eighteen settings standardly attributed to him; and was possibly written twenty years after his earliest examples and twenty years before his last. By contrast Missa L’ami Baudichon was one of the earliest settings he wrote, arguably the very first. In both the signs of experiment are to be found, but they are very different. In Gaudeamus Josquin only quoted the whole of the complete chant melody twice, once in the Gloria and once in the Credo, always in the tenor and usually in long notes, with a considerable degree of embellishment to its contours. It is unlikely that the average listener will be able to hear this as a coherent melody. However, in the remaining movements, he con centrated on the first six notes of the chant only, which he quotes sixty-one times in total. These snippets can almost always be heard, and hold the whole structure most satisfyingly together.
Prominent examples of this snippet come at the start of the Kyrie, Gloria and Hosanna, where all four voices enter with it, though in every case Josquin has filled in the leap of a fifth between the third and fourth notes in the chant with a scale. At the start of the Gloria the tenor, which comes last to the imitative scheme, once started sings nothing other than this phrase as an ostinato up to the first full cadence, forty-five bars later. In the Sanctus the snippet is sung only by the sopranos, dramatically high and sustained so that a new sonority, trumpet-like, is introduced.
However the real mathematical fireworks in this setting, as so often in Josquin’s Masses, are in the final Agnus. Here the snippet is quoted in every part in what has been described (by Willem Elders) as ‘a vertiginous series of transpositions’. The tenor starts the process with two straight statements (starting G), which lead to answers in the bass (starting D), the soprano (starting G) and alto (starting C). So far, so normal. However at this point the bass and tenor parts take over, unleashing a rapid series of quotations and canons, which are indeed dizzying. Josquin worked out that the six notes of the snippet can be made to overlap at a number of inter-connecting pitches, which cause the statements to fall by a third at each repetition (the bass proceeds from a statement starting on C, to one on A, to one on low F, while the overlapping tenor proceeds from G, to E, to low C). This low bass F is the only time the note is used in the whole setting, powerfully heralding a coda and the final close.
Other compositional highlights in this setting are the madnesses in the part-writing which suddenly break out at ‘Confiteor’ at the end of the Credo; and a similar rush of blood between the three solo parts at ‘gloria tua’ in the Pleni. And then there is the canon at the unison between two soprano parts—a gimell in all but name—in the second Agnus (track 17, at 1'11"). Josquin wrote more complicated canonic duets, for example at the second, but never one more beautiful.
The Missa L’ami Baudichon was probably written in France around 1475. The vulgarity of the original song makes it an unusual starting-point for a sacred work, yet despite this it survives in one of the Vatican choirbooks, where presumably it was sung as part of the liturgy. In the only source of the song to give the text, now in Verona, the rude word is simply omitted, though there is no doubt what it should be, since the song itself was often mentioned in contemporary poems about dance and the theatre. Its popularity may have stemmed from the extraordinary popularity of the name ‘Baudichon’, which is recorded in over eighty different spellings throughout Europe. Of pre-seventh-century French origin, it is derived from the word ‘baud’, meaning ‘joyful’, and was probably given as a nickname for a ‘lusty and swaggering youth’—fitting the context here rather well.
Missa L’ami Baudichon, like most of Missa Gaudeamus, is also based on a handful of notes, though in this case Josquin did little with them, except elongate them, transpose them (very occasionally), and turn them upside down. Josquin took a folk tune of surpassing simplicity, which originally was in triple-time and had the most obvious tripartite structure. The three fundamental notes are always repeated, either starting C or G; and just once—in the Credo—they are inverted, so the music seems to rise, where in the rest of the setting it inevitably seems to fall. They are almost always quoted in the tenor, very rarely giving rise to any counterpoints with the other voices, which is strange given how malleable these three notes could be made to be. The impression is one of a young composer keeping to a strict programme, just to see what can be made of it, for a kind of fun. Many luminous passages are the result, but perhaps the most remarkable—because unexpected—is the whole of the final section of the Credo, starting at ‘Et resurrexit’ (track 28) and covering 157 bars without break. The music never falters. Even though the tenor is always in long notes (and ends on an outrageous long-held high G), the surrounding phrases build and build to one of the most exciting ‘Amens’ in the repertoire.
What attracts me most about these two Masses is how the same composer could produce such different and yet compelling sound worlds: the one intensely worked, the other joyful, bright, easy-going. It might be wondered if the same man could write so diversely—I would say genius on this scale knows no rules. —Peter Phillips
Missa Gaudeamus [35:57]
Missa L’ami Baudichon [29:37]
With Missa Mater Patris and Missa Da pacem our project to record all of Josquin’s Masses runs into controversy. Who wrote these pieces, and when? In the case of one of Josquin’s greatest Mass-settings, Missa Mater Patris, its style is so unusual that some scholars have questioned its authorship. With Da pacem these questions become more pressing. Having been thought during the nineteenth century to be the most typical and perfect of all Josquin’s Masses, it has recently been shown to be by the little-known Noel Bauldeweyn. Or is it?
Josquin’s Missa Mater Patris is one of his most forthright compositions, full of daring in a bracingly simple style. In many people’s minds ‘simple’ tends to mean ‘early’ when categorising an artist’s output. But where the simplicity is the result of an artist having refined something which has evolved over a lifetime, then it can also indicate ‘late’, as many elderly writers, painters and musicians have shown over the centuries—Arvo Pärt is a current example. And paring down a highly developed method is exactly what Josquin shows in his Missa Mater Patris. Gone is the dense polyphonic argument of so much of his earlier music. In its place are light, open textures delivered with a good deal of wit, even playfulness. The Hosanna shows exactly this.
Alongside the unusual style of Mater Patris are Josquin’s detailed references to the music of Antoine Brumel. These also are unusual, since this is the only time in all his Masses that Josquin quoted the music of a contemporary—and he went to unheard-of lengths with these quotations, most remarkably in the third Agnus Dei. Furthermore, for the rest of the composition Josquin derived all his principal themes from Brumel’s work. It seems likely, then, that he was close to Brumel in life, and decided to write a homage to him, perhaps shortly after his death in either 1512 or 1513. Whether this would make Mater Patris Josquin’s last Mass-setting depends on the date one gives to his Missa Pange lingua, which has long been said to represent his last thoughts in setting the texts of the Ordinary. However the possibility remains that Josquin as an old man, after all the serious work, felt able to turn his hand to music which wears its learning lightly.
Unlike closely argued Mass-settings such as Gaudeamus or Sine nomine, Mater Patris essentially has only two types of writing, and these act as the perfect foil to each other: highly imitative duets, mostly sung by the two middle parts, and the solemn block-chords which often round them off. In addition to this there are three lengthy duets, all of them strict canons: ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ at the second above; the Benedictus at the second below; and the second Agnus Dei at the unison. Their length is determined by the amount of repetition in the music, something which characterises the Mass as a whole and is derived from the Brumel model (the Hosanna quotes Brumel’s ‘exaudi’ motif thirty-four times and at every modal pitch).
And then there is the third Agnus Dei, the astonishing crowning glory, where Josquin swallowed Brumel’s Mater Patris almost whole, making it form the three middle voices of a five-voice texture, the outside voices being newly composed. My favourite moment is just before the final block-chord statement of ‘Agnus Dei’ where Josquin has added his own two parts to what was a duet in the model. He has heard the possibilities in the Brumel so clearly that his own inventions are just as interesting, especially the manner in which the bass keeps repeating the same two notes—G and D—under Brumel’s music.
The Missa Da pacem has had one of the most disrupted histories in all of Renaissance music. Long thought to be by Josquin (there is some manuscript justification for a questionable attribution, as there is for so much of his music), in 1972 it was shown by Edgar Sparks to be by the little-known Noel Bauldeweyn (fl1509-13). Its exceptional reputation was launched in the middle of the nineteenth century when an Austrian scholar, August Wilhelm Ambros, wrote in his History of Music (1868): ‘The ‘incarnatus’ rises to a greatness which no old or new master, whatever his name might be, has surpassed. The most bold, tremendous, marvellous harmonic progressions break out one after another like flashes of sun; the awe of a most unknown spiritual realm wafts in them.’
This may tell us more about the attitudes of the nineteenth century than about those of the early sixteenth, but there was enough good music in Da pacem to confuse everyone for another hundred years. One of the pleasures of recording this setting was in tracking Josquin, or his influence, through its pages. Were the good passages good enough to be by him? How far below his standard did other passages fall? My own conclusion is that there are two substantial sections which could maintain an attribution to Josquin—the ‘Et incarnatus’ and the third Agnus Dei—and also several shorter phrases or subsections which could do. The problem is that the overall standard is not as high as Josquin’s average standard. Some of the material is routine, especially at cadences where the composer tended to repeat phrases where no amount of emphasis can make them more interesting.
There is a temptation to ascribe dual authorship to this setting, even though almost no examples of this practice during the Renaissance period (outside the workshops which the leading painters of the day maintained) have come down to us. How else does one account for the perfect pacing of the ‘Et incarnatus’? The third Agnus Dei is also a mesmerising movement, built on three voices in strict canon at three different octaves, surrounded by three free parts equally inhabiting the same three different octaves. The sonorities which this texture creates are unique, highlighted for me by the two bass parts which are allowed to sing low thirds and fifths, creating textures quite outside normal practice.
David Fallows wrote that Josquin’s Missa Mater Patris represents an ‘experiment that needed Josquin’s courage’. This is exactly what I would say about the third Agnus Dei of Missa Da pacem. As for most of the rest of it, this recording is now there for an informed opinion to be made. As one leading scholar, Richard Sherr, observed: ‘However, scholarly tastes change. Maybe a champion for the Missa Da pacem will one day appear.’ I hope this recording is that champion. —Peter Phillips
Gaudeamus omnes[1'13]Anonymous - Medieval
The headline work is undoubtedly the Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie, written for Ercole I d’Este of Ferrara, possibly when Josquin was working at his court in 1503/4. To understand how this Mass is constructed it is necessary only to remember that Duke Ercole liked to hear his name sung obviously and often. To this end Josquin took his name and title, HERCULES DUX FERRARIE, and turned their vowels into music by way of the solmisation syllables of the Guidonian hexachord, giving a very neat little melody.
He then writes these eight notes to be sung 47 times, the vast majority of them (43) by the tenors, the most audible part. These quotations are made yet more obvious to the listener partly by being sung to the words of the title; and by often being stated consecutively at three different, rising pitches, making a crescendo of sound—this threefold statement becomes what we may refer to as the ‘complete’ theme. Sometimes, as in the Osanna, the note-lengths are also progressively halved, as well as being raised in pitch, so that there is a further crescendo of excitement towards the end of the movement. The end to the Osanna sums up everything Josquin was trying to achieve in this setting, and one imagines that, given the joyous nature of the text at this point, Ercole was well pleased with it. It is also possible that Ercole’s wish for self-aggrandisement encouraged Josquin to state the ‘Ercole’ theme ‘complete’ twelve times during the course of the five movements, reflecting the twelve labours of Hercules, the Roman god.
However, this Mass might be remembered not so much for the Ercole theme, as for the counterpoints which Josquin invented to go round it. In effect he was doing what Bach so often did over two hundred years later in his chorale preludes: set the surrounding voices going, before stating the main melody simply and clearly in the middle of all the activity. Certainly the Hercules statements are kept very strict, and therefore audible. In addition by almost always being in the tenor one knows where to find them.
These counterpoints are at their most beguiling in the third Agnus, where the ensemble is scored up from four voices to six. The sopranos (who finally get to sing some of the theme) are in simple canon with the tenors (who get it ‘complete’ for the last time), but it is really what the other voices are doing around them which makes this one of Josquin’s greatest conceptions, suggesting that once again he wanted the final movement of a Mass-setting to sum up and crown everything that had gone before.
Missa Faysant regretz is similar in some ways to Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie. The model for it was a three-voice rondeau by either Walter Frye or Gilles Binchois. From this Josquin took three elements: a four-note motif FDED; and two others which are only used in the third Agnus. Before we get there, however, we are treated in the preceding movements to some of the most densely argued polyphony in the repertoire, a kind of Renaissance pre-echo of Bartók’s third string quartet, where no note is wasted. Josquin’s four-note motto is heard over 200 times, and unlike the procedure in Hercules, it appears in all the voices almost all the time, at different pitches and in different rhythmic shapes. Gone is any sense of audible structure: here one is thrown into a deeply intellectualised world of protean, swirling references and repetitions, the pinnacle of just one side of Josquin’s art.
Two moments deserve special mention. The third Agnus not only makes use of the FDED motif (sung 25 times in this movement alone) but also of a new four-note motif—DDED—taken from the tenor of the rondeau and sung here by the altos, constantly transposed, 24 times. To cap it all the sopranos, for the first time, sing the complete superius melody from the rondeau—which is what makes this movement relatively lengthy—the motivic work going on relentlessly underneath it. The subtleties involved in working with two motifs—FDED and DDED—which are so similar and brief that most composers wouldn’t think to bother with them as separate items, all worked out under a given melody, takes some understanding.
But if working so intensively with so few notes seems obsessive, one should hear the ‘Amen’ of the Credo. This is probably my favourite passage in all these eighteen Masses. Josquin became more inclined to return again and again to the same note in his melodies as he got older, and here that worrying of a single pitch produces a phrase it is hard to forget. The note in question is D; and although the other parts refer to it, it is the sopranos who cannot leave it alone. An astonishing conception, and a thrill to perform.
The Missa D’ung aultre amer is another odd-ball in Josquin’s Mass corpus. It is probably slightly earlier than the other two recorded here, but just as much shows a unique side to Josquin’s technique. Here he is not just compact, but brief. This brevity comes from a syllabic style, especially in the Gloria and Credo where the texts are telescoped by overlapping them. The Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus show greater freedom, though the phrases are short: most unusually the Kyrie is longer than the Gloria. This style probably comes from the polyphonic lauda current in the Ambrosian rite of Milan when Josquin worked there during the 1480s, which also had the characteristic of substituting a motet for the Benedictus and second Hosanna, missing here and replaced by Tu solus qui facis.
The setting lacks the space to indulge in polyphonic elaboration or sonic display. There are no duets (all three Agnuses, for example, are both very brief and full) or canons or added voices. The interest for once is focused on simple chords, and nowhere more than in the motet Tu solus qui facis. Simple chords should be easier to write than complex polyphony, and yet plenty of composers down the years (many of them Victorian) have shown how easily this kind of music becomes predictable and tedious. Tu solus qui facis, however, is made up of perfectly located chords, solemn and resonant. Behind them, and indeed behind much of the detail in the rest of the setting, is the chanson D’ung aultre amer by Ockeghem. This was important for Josquin, who revered Ockeghem more than anyone. He intended a tribute to him which, even when the liturgy demanded restraint, shows he was equal to any challenge.
This album marks the end of The Tallis Scholars’ Josquin Mass cycle, which started in January 1986. What have we learnt? I made a decision many years ago that we should avoid long recording series because, with limited time and resources, I wanted every album we released to stand on its own as an eye-catching event, and this could not be guaranteed in projects which had by definition to be complete—as true for Palestrina’s Masses as for Haydn’s symphonies. Instead for years we staked out the boundaries of Renaissance polyphony, essentially by visiting each major figure and dedicating one anthology to him.
Missa D'ung aultre amer[17'43]
Josquin, Noel Bauldeweyn
Gimell CD CDGIM 050, Gimell CD CDGIM 052, Gimell CD CDGIM 051