The Spy’s Choirbook

To listen to this show, you must first LOG IN. If you have already logged in, but you are still seeing this message, please SUBSCRIBE or UPGRADE your subscriber level today.

Program: #15-10   Air Date: Mar 02, 2015

The beautiful editions copied and illustrated by Peter Alamire doubled as code that allowed King Henry VIII to vanquish rivals to the throne; the new recording by the Alamire Ensemble explains it all!

NOTE: All of the music on this recording is from the recording the Spy’s Choirbook: Petrus Alamire and the Court of Henry VIII. It features the Alamire Ensemble directed by David Skinner and is Obsidian CD CCL CD712.

 The Spy's Choirbook

One of the most magnificent musical treasures in the British Library is a sumptuously illuminated choir book given the shelf-mark Royal MS 8.g.vii. It is magnificent for several reasons, not least its beauty and contents, but also its origin, history, and ultimate destination. The book was devised and assembled in the finest scriptorium of all of Europe in the early sixteenth century: the workshop of Petrus Alamire (c. 1470-1536). Alamire (aka Peter van den Hoven), was not only a brilliant illuminator and music scribe, he was also a noted musician and composer in his own right.

But there were many interests of Petrus Alamire: the merchant, the mining engineer, and, most famously, the diplomat and spy. Musicians of Alamire’s popularity and talent were often widely travelled, frequently visiting the various courts of Europe; such a career was a perfect cover for sensitive political and diplomatic exchanges. Between 1515 and 1518 a number of letters survive which show that Alamire acted as a spy for Henry VIII against Richard de la Pole, last member of the House of York who openly sought claim to the English throne. Pole in turn, hired Alamire as a counter-spy against Henry VIII.

This so-called ‘Spy’s Choirbook’ contains some of the finest music of Continental Europe from the early sixteenth century by such noted composers as Heinrich Isaac, Petrus de la Rue and Josquin Desprez. Most of the works have not been performed in modern times, and this is the first recording dedicated to this most interesting of musical manuscripts from the Alamire scriptorium.


CD 1
1. Celeste beneficium (Jean Mouton, c.1459-1522)
2. Adiutorium nostrum (Antoine de Févin, c.1470-1511/12) 
3. Nesciens mater (Anonymous)
4. Ave regina caelorum (Pierre de la Rue, c.1452-1518)
5. Descendi in hortum meum (attrib. Josquin Desprez, c.1450-1521)
6. Sancta trinitas unus Deus (Févin)
7. Vexilla Regis / Passio Domini nostri (La Rue)
8. Fama malum (Josquin Desprez)
9. Doleo super te frater mi Ionatha (La Rue)
10. O Domine Iesu Christe / Et sanctissima mater tua (Anonymous)
11. Maxsimilla Christo amabilis (Anonymous)
12. Sancta Maria succurre miseris / O werder mondt (Franciscus Strus, fl. 1500)
13. Sancta et immaculata virginitas (Anonymous)
14. Missus est Gabriel archangelus (Josquin)
15. Dulcissima virgo Maria (Anonymous)
16. Tota pulchra es amica mea / O pulcherrima mulierum / Salve (Anonymous)
17. O sancta Maria virgo virginum (Anonymous)
18. Verbum bonum et suave (Pierrequin de Therache, c.1470-1528)
19. Recordamini quomodo praedixit filium (Anonymous)
20. O beatissime Domine Iesu Christe / Fac me de tua gratia ut (Anonymous)

CD 2
1. Ave sanctissima Maria (Anonymous)
2. Ecce Maria genuit nobis (Mouton)
3. Congratulamini mihi omnes (Anonymous)
4. Egregie Christi martir Christophore / Ecce enim (Févin)
5. Alma redemptoris mater (Anonymous)
6. Dulces exuviae (Anonymous)
7. Dulces exuviae (Alexander Agricola, c.1446-1506)
8. Dulces exuviae (Josquin)
9. Dulces exuviae (Mouton)
10. Dulces exuviae (Johannes Ghiselin, fl. 1500)
11. Absalon fili mi (attrib. Josquin Desprez / La Rue)
12. Iesus autem transiens (Anonymous)
13. Anima mea liquefacta est / Invenerunt me / Filiae Ierusalem (Heinrich Isaac, c.1445-1517)
14. Tribulatio et angustia invenerunt me (attrib. Josquin)

Composer Info

Heinrich Isaac, c.1445-1517, Johannes Ghiselin, fl. 1500, Alexander Agricola, c.1446-1506, Pierrequin de Therache, c.1470-1528, Franciscus Strus, fl. 1500, Josquin Desprez, c.1450-1521, Petrus Alamire (c. 1470-1536), Pierre de la Rue, c.1452-1518, Antoine de Févin, c.1470-1511/12, Jean Mouton, c.1459-1522

CD Info

Obsidian CD CCL CD712