Sacred Songs of France, Volume I

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Program: #12-47   Air Date: Nov 12, 2012

Another recent recording for which we wrote the liner notes features Gloria Dei Cantores in repertoire centering in the High Renaissance, including rare sacred works by Passereau and Dulot.

NOTE: All of the music on this program comes form the recording Sacred Songs of France featuring the Gloria Dei Cantores ensemble directed by Elizabeth C. Patterson. It is GDCD 056.

For more information on the ensemble, you may explore their web site at:



Hæc dies

Vidérunt omnes

Benedícta es cælórum Regína
Josquin des Prez

Crux triúmphans
Loyset Compère

Quærámus cum pastóribus Verbum
Jean Mouton

Ave María
Jean Mouton

Miserére mei, Deus
Josquin Des Prez

Sancta Trínitas
Antoine de Févin

Gábriel ángelus locútus est Maríæ
Elzéar Genet

Unde véniet auxílium mihi
Pierre Passereau

O vos omnes
Jachet of Mantua

María Magdaléne
François Dulot

Cæcília virgo gloriósa
Pierre de Manchicourt

Jésus nait tendre et blême
Thoinot d’Arbeau

Glória in excélsis
Claude Goudimel

Noël! Sors de ton lit
Eustache du Caurroy


Liner Notes by Robert Aubry Davis:

For most of our European-based history, we were over-generous in claiming credit for developments in art and culture that we actually borrowed and adapted from other cultures. We have corrected for that bias, but should not let a growing awareness of our global heritage dim our appreciation of the treasures evolved in post-Classical western civilization.

Medievalists, always defensive in the face of the apologists who teach that the renaissance was the actual moment the West awakened from it long sleep, wait in patient longing for those who would read deeper and think more creatively (and dare one say spiritually?) about what those centuries bequeathed to humanity.

This recording begins with one gift from the Middle Ages that can be mined as pure gold. Imagine a world where music is rhythmic, percussive-driven--often sophisticated--but linear, like this line of type. Somewhere, someone had the absolutely new vision (even if it was thought to be a reinvention of a classical idea) of moving into the vertical realm.

Music acquired an entirely new dimension, and from this evolved multiple-voice writing of all stripes, even the creation of a widely usable system of notating music.
Here began Bach and the masters of polyphony; here began Beethoven and the possibility of a symphony; here began every ethnomusicologists’ ability to transcribe folk and tribal sounds from the world; here is jazz, here is pop, here is rock.

Many have suggested the vertical evolution of sound came from somewhere else. The call-and-response sound of sub-Saharan Africa has been evoked. Those ethnomusicologists have conjured the throat singing of spontaneous chords that we find in Bulgaria or Wales as a possibility. Some hear the sound of plainchant in Romanesque vaults and experience the echoes of voices as naturally suggesting polyphony.

But if what we know of Gregorian chant is actually the vast editorial work done under Charlemagne, it was our apparent need to understand the art of the ancients (especially reading the great late Latin inspiration for so much medieval art, Boethius) that led to these early experiments. As Ronald Broude wrote concerning the evolution of early notation in a recent issue of Early Music America magazine, “It would not be the only time in the history of music that an attempt to revive Classical practice produced something new and different: half a millennium later, opera would be the product of a similar misprision.”

Somewhere around 900 we see the marvelous Musica enchiriadis, a look back at Boethius that is our first record of multiple-voice writing. Whether Odo had a hand in it at the great center of Cluny, or, as was thought for centuries, the Frankish Benedictine Hucbald, this attribution matters most to our own post-Renaissance minds. Those who followed the holy orders and kept the dim light of western civilization alight cared not where this all began; and it was they who made any subsequent baby steps of our evolution possible.

We know the names of our first two composers not because they wanted us to. It is worthy to remember that the Rule of St. Benedict endowed a spiritual, but also a rational plan to self-governing bodies of men and women. Those communities have endured for sixteen centuries (and one can fervently hope will thrive for sixteen more). For all the wit and clarity in that text, it is also a reminder of the wisdom found through humility: “in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road,
in the fields, or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing,” the motion and attitude of humility should always be present.

Those names of chant writers, artists, architects, poets, painters, musicians, and all the others are not lost to us because of carelessness on the part of some monk while transcribing a manuscript. Creative endeavors by all of us who are mortal were for the Glory of God, not for ourselves. To the 21st century, this may appear madness: for Benedict’s followers, how much sweeter to make every song for God.

Thus it is an English student and theorist, reflecting on his youthful days at the great school of Notre Dame, who names composers who may have been elegantly content not to have been so named. The three centuries from 900 to 1200 had seen simple chants with a line at the fifth being the “vertical” example, to more elegant three- and eventually four-voice ornamentation about the chant melody. The Greek word “organum” was used for this—it has the handy double meaning of “organ,” the instrument we still associate with church, and “tool.”

Those early texts defined it as “singing in symphony,” but it had the extended idea of having the multiple voices based on an organizing principle: the chant line. Perhaps because they had taken the notion so far and into such new territory, it was inevitable that Magister Leoninus and Magister Perotinus (as that pupil, who is now called “Anonymous 4” named them—the French versions of their names are much later) would be made famous. We have examples of their music and mastery, and we begin with one example from each of them.

Was Leonin the teacher of Perotin? Clearly they are linked, and to hear our transition from Leonin’s Easter setting to the wondrous (then and now) Perotin Christmas setting from Psalm 97, we clearly are singing joyfully, and the world is clearly hearing a new sound.

Oh, and all of this happened in France. The rest of the program takes us to the summit of this musical revolution. From around 1350 to nearly 1550 almost every famous composer we know comes from a tiny and fertile region of France and old Flanders—thus it is called the Franco-Flemish school of polyphony.

From Josquin’s birth to the death of du Caurroy is maybe 150 years. Before then, many great composers had left their mark on French music, and the nation had changed. After the Valois line takes over in the early 14th century, France is defined by the vast Hundred Years’ War, with the ups in the second half of the century, to the downs with Agincourt, to the ups again with the time of Joan of Arc (whose 700th birth anniversary we celebrate in 2012). To consolidate the kingdom, there were the campaigns in Italy in the first half of the 16th century, the rise of the Protestants that led to Henry IV’s accession and the Bourbon dynasty that defines the next era in French history and music. In and out of these political winds these composers go, some at the fate of patrons, some able to define their own destiny.

Our first Renaissance composer is such a man. Many years ago, when I was first discovering early music in my hometown of Washington, D.C., I had the great good fortune to see many performers who were rediscovering this music from long ago: Safford Cape and the Pro Cantione Antiqua, the Prague Madrigal Singers, Julian Bream, and most particularly Alfred Deller. He returned to the Library of Congress regularly, and seemed to delight (or at least tolerate) the enthusiasm and questioning of a teenager.

When I asked him what one composer I should pursue over all the others, if I were to pick but one, his answer helped define my life. Even his son, Mark, thought he would have said Henry Purcell, or perhaps Monteverdi. But he told be to follow Josquin des Prez: “Josquin is the greatest composer before the birth of Bach, and you will never be sorry for any time you spend in his presence.”

That was nearly half a century ago. Happily, much has happened in the early music world. There has even been a “sure-Josquin-is-great-but-so-are-his-many- contemporaries” movement that had led to magical discoveries and countless world-premier performances and recordings.

But just as there are also many wonderful Baroque composers, there is one Bach. And just so there is one Josquin.

The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V loved Josquin. So did Martin Luther (“He is the master of the notes—other musicians do with notes what they can, Josquin what he likes”), Castiglione of “The Courtier” fame, and the theoretician Heinrich Glaraeanus, who suggested that Josquin represented the perfection of music. Who am I to argue?

Josquin was a difficult man (like so many great artists) with a beautiful tenor voice. One superb window into the time was the scouting expedition sent out by Ercole d’Este in Ferrara to determine who would take over his chapel. His secretary wrote recommending the composer who had worked for Charles V’s father Maximilian, Heinrich Isaac, saying Isaac is “good natured and companionable…and is able to get on better with his colleagues and composes new pieces quicker. It is true, Josquin composes better, but he does it only when it suits him and not when it is requested. More than this, Josquin asks 200 ducats while Isaac is pleased with 120."

The other scout for a chapel director was emphatic: “there is neither lord nor king who will now have a better chapel than yours if Your Lordship sends for Josquin…by having Josquin in the chapel I want to place a crown upon this chapel of ours.” Ercole chose Josquin.

The great Josquin scholar Edward Lowinsky observed that many composers before had set the word “descendere;” but Josquin was the first who painted the act of descending by having the voices steadily move down a scale. There are countless marvels in this composer’s artistry, and we experience two: the popular Marian motet Benedicta es (no less a figure than Palestrina set one of his early masses on this gem), and the incomparable Miserere. This was written while Josquin was in Ferrara, and may have been inspired (as other great late works of the composer) by the death of the reformer Savanarola. Some say the simple and expressive clarity of this work by a composer capable of complex and intricate counterpoint reflects Savonarola’s disdain for polyphony; I would suggest that when Josquin wants you to feel what is being said with your whole being, the music achieves an aching and piercing lucidity that is almost unmatched in human expression.

Elzéar Genet (c.1470-1548) was born in the lovely Provençal town of Carpentras, where the first synagogue in France was established a century before the composer’s birth. He picked up the name of his hometown, and like Josquin worked variously in Rome (in 1513 he was the first composer named Master of the Papal Chapel), and for the French King Louis XII, but gravitated back to his home region (and the former home of the Papacy before the great Schism), Avignon. Like many composers after, he found his works wrongly copied and in various states of disarray, and was perhaps the first to work towards a complete publication of his own autograph scores. This lovely short motet of the Annunciation was sung at Christmastide, and reminds us how under-represented the composer is in the recorded medium (when the ensemble called The Suspicious Cheese Lords created an all-Carpentras disc in 2003, it was the first of its kind).

There is no such problem for Thoinot Arbeau (1519-1595). Born in Dijon, the opulent home to the Dukes of Burgundy, this cleric (his real name is Jehan Tabouret, and the created name is actually an anagram), was ordained in 1530 and became canon in Langres in 1547. He already had an interest in the dance, and his Jesuit superiors encouraged the study. The 1588 collection called Orchésographie has our master teaching the young student Capriol all about the popular dances of the day (Peter Warlock’s “Capriol Suite” takes some of the dances in rearrangement). You know at least one of these ditties: the Christmas tune “Ding Dong Merrily on High” is in fact “le branle de l'Official” from this collection. And, also for the season, “Jesus nait tendre et blame” is likewise on a pavane from this same source (the great Musica Reservata first recorded the dance over 40 years ago).

Jean Mouton (c, 1459-1522) was from the north of France and worked for Anne of Brittany before becoming the French court’s chief composer. Josquin had been a beneficiary of the first printed music by Ottaviano Petrucci, whose 1501 collection had works by other great composers of the age; Petrucci thought so highly of Mouton that he dedicated one entire edition solely to Mouton’s mass settings. Our first setting is again for Christmastide, as we are asked to seek with the shepherds the Word incarnate. Mouton was apparently a humble and gentle spirit: his setting of the Ave Maria may be all we need to affirm that reputation.

Pierre de Manchicourt (c.1510-1564) was also from the north (in the old Artois), and after various posts in France, worked for the Hapsburg ruler who inherited from his father Charles V a great love for the Franco-Flemish school. Manchicourt had become canon in Arras while the Bishop there (Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle) was the favored counselor to Charles V and his son, the storied Philip II. He dedicated a book of motets to the Bishop in 1554, and when the composer applied to direct the Capilla Flamenca (the Hapsburgs’ chapel made up entirely of Franco-Flemish musicians), Perrenot de Granvelle recommended him for the job. Manchicourt moved with Philip to Madrid in 1561, where he remained until his death. This motet celebrating St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, uses elaborate and complex double counterpoint.

Antoine de Févin (c.1470-1511/12) was, like our last two composers, from the north (and was probably born in Arras), and like Carpentras worked for Louis XII. Glaraeanus, who had so favored Josquin, write that Antoine had been a follower of Josquin and that he had died young. Only about 40 works survive, of which this invocation of the Holy Trinity is most famous.

Loyset Compère (c.1445-1518) is also probably from the Artois region, and his life not only mirrored Josquin, the two men almost certainly came in contact. He worked for the Sforzas in Milan (until the Duke was murdered), traveled with Charles VIII on the Italian campaign (including the occupation of Rome), spent time in Cambrai (the city ever identified with the great composer of the generation before, Guillaume Dufay), and wound up in Picardy. He didn’t like the long-form composition of the mass as did many of his contemporaries. His nature was Burgundian: perfect miniatures of sacred music next to pungent (and often hilarious) chansons. We will hear one of the former, a small crystal gem. I commend finding some of the others: the story of the French archer, or the Knights who pledge fealty to the Order of St. Baboon—you won’t be disappointed.

Eustache du Caurroy (1549-1609) is the last composer chronologically on this disc, and is also from Picardy. We hear another Christmas piece, one of the carols Caurroy created using the philosophic and poetic work of Jean-Antione de Baïf. Baïf was one of the Pléiade poets, who in their young-Turk-of-the-day mid-16th century idealism believed they were re-inventing the vernacular poetry of the saucier Greeks and Romans. This inspired the composer Claude le Jeune (1528/30-1600) to create an Academy of music and poetry with the idea that music should be measured when it is set, long notes for long syllables, short notes for short ones, and in that the text is far better served. Caurroy became the defender of this idea (even after the Academy was no more).

Jachet of Mantua (1483-1559) was born in Brittany, but as his name attest spent most of his life in Italy. After working for the Este family in Ferrara, he served the rest of his life with the Gonzagas in Mantua. Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga became the head of the Council of Trent at the time of the Counter-Reformation, and promoted the almost-exclusively sacred output of Jachet. We hear the profound Tenebrae response for Holy Saturday.

Pierre Passereau (fl. 1509-1547) is also widely recorded. His work is full of fun and frivolity, and if you know the very popular chanson “Il est bel et bon,” you can see why even Rabelais lists him among the favorite musical creators of the day. There is one sacred piece in this amusing output, and only one: the motet we hear, taken from Psalm 120 and used for the Office of the Dead. Why this poignant call for help from the Lord was written, and for whom, is a mystery.

François Dulot (fl. 1st half of the 16th cen.) is the great find in this program (he is rarely, if ever, recorded). Also from the far north in St. Omer, he became organist first in Amiens in Picardy, then in 1523 the head of the chapel in the famous cathedral city of Rouen. He was removed from his post in 1531 (failure to fulfill his duties), and the few compositions we have point to a brooding, bass-rich style that hearkens back to Ockegehem. It is rare enough to find motets to Mary Magdalene this early, especially in France (there are medieval songs, and the Spaniards famously set texts for her in the mid-16th century). This is a rich area for an enterprising scholar to pursue.

Finally, Claude Goudimel (1514/20-1572) is from the far eastern Franche-Comté region, studied in Paris, and became a Huguenot after moving to Metz in 1547. Before his conversion, he wrote masses and motets (our Gloria is from that era), as well as popular chansons. After becoming a Protestant, he is most famous for the beautiful vernacular settings of the Psalms (translated by Clément Marot) that were part of John Calvin’s Genevan Psalter. He was killed in Lyon during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

Composer Info

Josquin des Prez, Elzéar Genet (c.1470-1548), Thoinot Arbeau (1519-1595), Jean Mouton (c, 1459-1522), Pierre de Manchicourt (c.1510-1564), Antoine de Févin (c.1470-1511/12), Loyset Compère (c.1445-1518), Claude le Jeune (1528/30-1600), Jachet of Mantua (1483-1559), Pierre Passereau (fl. 1509-1547), François Dulot (fl. 1st half of the 16th cen.),

CD Info

GDCD 056