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Hyperion Records

CDA67604 - Manchicourt: Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu & other sacred music
CDA67604

Recording details: September 2005
Merton College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Summerly
Engineered by Justin Lowe
Release date: April 2007
Total duration: 67 minutes 21 seconds

GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE

'A must-have disc from the Brabant Ensemble … first-rate music stirs this young ensemble to their finest disc yet' (Gramophone)

'This well-selected collection places Manchicourt firmly on the musical map. The centrepiece of the recording, the Cuidez vous mass, is an inspired choice. From the clamorous lines of the opening Kyrie with their spicy harmonic clashes, through the superbly portrayed dramas of the Credo, and into the quieter realms of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, this choir is never less than energised and sure-footed … moving and compelling' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The brilliant Easter exultation of Regina caeli is created by Manchicourt's ingenious combination of intricate canonic writing with exciting syncopated rhythms … the Brabant Ensemble's committed and responsive performances' (The Daily Telegraph)

'I was amazed … there is really excellent music here' (Early Music Review)

'Though only a few recordings of Manchicourt's music have appeared over the past decade or so, this one is a significant addition … for its contrasting interpretive aesthetic' (American Record Guide)

'From the ecstatic opening bars of the Regina caeli, which begins the recital, to the more austere grandeur of Manchicourt’s only setting of the Magnificat, with which it closes, there is not a less than thrilling moment on the whole disc. Non-experts will scarcely be aware of the hyper-refined contrapuntal techniques, daring use of dissonance and cross-relations, interspersed with passages of telling homophony; they will simply be swept along by the sheer aural brilliance of Manchicourt’s polyphony. With only two previous recordings to its name, The Brabant Ensemble has already established itself as perhaps England’s most accomplished interpreter of Renaissance sacred music. Its intelligent phrasing, purity of vocal production and well-judged use of pause and inflexion are simply astonishing. Its vivid presentation of Manchicourt’s shimmering, flamboyant polyphony is as moving as it is intellectually stimulating' (International Record Review)

'The music is typical of the high Renaissance, influenced by Josquin and close to the style of Gombert; the Brabant performances all have a wonderful fluency and rhythmic clarity' (The Guardian)

'The more I hear of Manchicourt's music the more impressed I am … the Brabant Ensemble here sports a confidence and sureness of purpose which is indispensable in music as meaty and ambitious as this' (Goldberg)

'Stephen Rice's superbly talented vocal ensemble features many members of the same family, and there's a great harmony, in all senses, about its work. Here, the Brabant does the 16th-century composer Manchicourt proud' (FirstPost.com)

'Recorded at Merton College, Oxford by eager, fresh young voices, singing full throatedly with a forward impetus, it has made for delightful listening. Recommended strongly' (MusicalPointers.co.uk)

Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu & other sacred music
Kyrie  [4'07] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [5'47] LatinEnglish
Credo  [9'51] LatinEnglish

The Brabant Ensemble takes its name from the corner of northern Belgium and southern Netherlands that—as the Duchy of Brabant—hosted a remarkable flowering of compositional innovation in the generation 1520–1560. Under the watchful eye of their eminent musicologist–director Dr Stephen Rice, this talented group’s first excursion into this fertile seam of virgin repertoire surveyed the music of Thomas Crecquillon and won a host of warm accolades.

This second recording turns to the lesser-known figure of Pierre de Manchicourt, a master whose neglect seems all the more extraordinary once his output and contemporary renown are explored. Free from the dense textures and complexities which could be associated with the repertoire of this period, we find in Manchicourt music which at once combines melodic invention and astonishing rhythmic ingenuity within a whole of refreshing accessibility.

The programme is centred on his Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille which is presented alongside its eponymous model, a chanson by Jean Richafort. In addition we have several of his sacred motets (for varying voice combinations) and his only setting of the Magnificat.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Among the many Renaissance composers whose music has lain undiscovered for so long, Pierre de Manchicourt (c1510–1564) is one of the most surprising omissions from the canon of great names. Whereas certain of his contemporaries have attracted criticism from music historians for their rich textures, which are perceived as unvaried and consequently difficult listening, Manchicourt’s music—as this CD hopes to demonstrate—is much more approachable, yet retains a creative approach to harmony and melodic invention. The programme presented here explores his religious music, taking in a parody Mass (of which he wrote nearly twenty), several motets for varying voice combinations, and his only Magnificat setting. Manchicourt was also active as a composer of French chansons, of which over fifty survive.

The generally accepted birth date of the composer is c1510, based on a statement that he was a chorister at the cathedral of Arras in 1525. Since this rests on an uncorroborated assertion by a modern writer, however, it may be that Manchicourt was somewhat older than this. He was certainly born in Béthune in Northern France, as the title page of his motet collection published in 1545 states. For most of his career Manchicourt operated within the vicinity of his birthplace, holding positions at Tours, Tournai, and Arras. Finally, in 1560, he was recruited to head the chapel of Philip II of Spain, dying in Madrid on 5 October 1564. He was considered among the great composers by writers such as Rabelais (1552) and the chronicler Lodovico Guicciardini (1567).

The six-voice setting of Regina caeli that opens the programme is based on an ingenious canon between the two upper voices. Although the pitch interval of the canon is consistently a fourth, the time difference is varied; the singers are instructed ‘sans souspirer ne chantez poinctz’ (literally, ‘do not sing at all without breathing’). The hidden meaning of this phrase is that the singer must omit all minim rests—known colloquially as ‘souspirs’ at this time—and also that all rhythms extended by a dot (‘poinct’) should be sung as if the dot were absent. Obeying these rules turns the smooth rhythm of the upper voice into an energetic, highly syncopated line, which begins two bars behind its neighbour and reaches the end of the motet’s first section two bars ahead. In the second section, the roles are reversed. Meanwhile, the four lower voices also adopt playful syncopated rhythms, as for instance the tenors at the beginning of the second part.

Like the great majority of Mass settings written in the mid-sixteenth century, Manchicourt’s Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille is based on a pre-existent polyphonic work, in this case a chanson by Jean Richafort (c1480–after 1547). The chanson, itself thought to be a reworking of a monophonic song, is written for five voices with doubled soprano line, and this scoring is preserved in Manchicourt’s Mass setting. Richafort, as is customary for his generation, writes in a fairly loose contrapuntal style, with long melismatic phrases, and frequent reductions of texture. A feature of this chanson is the closeness of the imitative entries: not only the two equal soprano parts but also the three other voices at the lower octave often come in one after another at the same pitch, giving the effect of instantaneous confirmation of the poetic sentiment. The poem emphasizes God’s goodness to his people, and consequently the chanson is an appropriate vehicle for transformation into sacred music, in a way that many others decidedly were not.

Manchicourt adopts the melodic outline of the chanson’s opening at the beginning of the first three Mass movements, introducing a new counter-melody against this theme in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. However, he suppresses the rapid repeated notes of the chanson, retaining instead the unusual melodic shape, which after an initial rising fifth emphasizes the flattened seventh scale degree. This distinctive melodic gesture becomes the principal leitmotif of the Mass setting, though other sections of the chanson are also used, the second Kyrie for instance being based on the phrase ‘Jusqu’au jour de jugement’.

Most composers of Mass settings at this time were in the habit of sectionalizing the longer movements, and Manchicourt adheres to this practice, dividing the Gloria into two after the words ‘Filius Patris’. Both sections retain the full five-voice scoring, however, as had the ‘Christe’: reduced textures are reserved for later movements. Instead Manchicourt varies the texture by introducing an almost static chordal section at ‘suscipe deprecationem nostram’ (‘receive our prayer’). Towards the end of the Gloria the name ‘Iesu Christe’ appears for the second time, and is here emphasized with sustained chords high in the singers’ ranges. The final phrase, ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, once again adopts the melodic outline of the chanson, this time covering the angular interval of the seventh in the minimum possible time, delivering a climactic finale to the movement.

As the longest movement of the Mass Ordinary, the Credo presents significant compositional challenges, particularly when the Mass setting is based on so small a model as Richafort’s chanson. Manchicourt turns this challenge into an opportunity by setting many of the quasi-repetitive phrases of the text to the same melodic fragment, creating the effect of a litany. In the opening section, for instance, the words ‘Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero’ (‘God of God, light of light, very God of very God’) each repeat the same pitches, passing the motif between the voices antiphonally. The same melodic material—again based on the opening of the chanson—returns for the ‘et incarnatus’, the most solemn part of the Credo. Lower and upper-voice duets vary the texture in the following two sections (‘Crucifixus’ and ‘Et resurrexit’), and the ‘Et iterum’ is set to a trio between first soprano, alto and tenor. Unusually, since the Christological sections are often seen as the most emotionally charged words of the Credo, Manchicourt seems to have been particularly inspired by the last paragraph of the text, beginning at ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’ (‘And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit’). Returning to a five-voice texture, the final section of his Credo setting builds to a spine-tingling climax at ‘Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum’ (‘And I look for the resurrection of the dead’), where—as at the crucial moments of the Gloria—chordal homophony emphasizes the text, a sudden harmonic motion onto a chord of F major further suggesting the wrenching significance of these words.

The Sanctus once again makes use of sectionalization, this time introducing another tenor and bass duet for the ‘Pleni sunt caeli’. Like many of his contemporaries, Manchicourt sets the ‘Hosanna’ section in triple time, although intriguingly he does not alter the rhythm of the chanson melody. The result is a whirling kaleidoscope of cross-rhythms, with prominent use of hemiola technique, in which two bars of a fast triple time become three slower beats. The composer’s command of tessitura is also in evidence here, as the soprano parts reach the highest pitch of the entire mass. The Benedictus is set for a trio of two sopranos and alto (sung here by the three Ashby sisters).

In the final movement, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), a sixth part is introduced in the second half: this is a second alto voice, adding to the already preponderantly high texture of the work. The Mass thus finishes on an ethereal note, with the return in long notes of a motif, first heard in the ‘Christe’, at ‘dona nobis pacem’ (‘grant us peace’).

Manchicourt’s setting of Peccantem me quotidie, for four voices, is distinguished by its expressive use of homophony, a somewhat infrequent technique in the 1530s. The piece begins with a chordal statement of the opening line, ‘Sinning every day’, before reverting to Manchicourt’s more usual imitative writing. Extensive rising lines at ‘nulla est redemptio’ (‘there is no redemption’) build towards the climactic phrase ‘Miserere mei, Domine’ (‘Have mercy on me, Lord’), which is again homophonic, and set apart from the preceding line by a general pause.

Osculetur me is one of many motets from the immediate pre-Reformation period that appropriate the eroticism of the Song of Songs to the ends of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This conflation of carnal desire with religious adoration had become popular from the twelfth century onwards, the troubadours having frequently sung love poems to an unattainable and chaste ‘domna’ (‘lady’). In the early sixteenth century, Song of Songs texts were often amended to include specific reference to Mary; this procedure is not adopted in the present motet, but instead the tenor line sings a cantus firmus, also taken from the Song of Songs: ‘Tota pulchra es, amica mea’ (‘You are all-beautiful, my love’). The six-part texture and the highly charged emotionalism of the text make this one of Manchicourt’s most opulent motets.

Like Peccantem me quotidie, Ne reminiscaris, Domine is a penitential motet for four voices. Although unlike the former it begins imitatively, once again the use of block chordal writing is at the centre of Manchicourt’s expressive technique. After the imitative ‘neque vindictam sumas de peccatis nostris’ (‘and do not wreak vengeance for our transgressions’), all voices reach a cadence on a unison, before all returning with the highlighted phrase ‘Parce, Domine’ (‘Spare, Lord’). Later in the same phrase the reason why God should spare sinners—‘quem redemisti pretioso sanguine tuo’ (‘whom you redeemed with your most precious blood’)—is similarly emphasized with homophony.

Manchicourt set the words of the Magnificat canticle only once, presumably early in his career since it was published in 1534. Like almost all of his contemporaries, Manchicourt set half of the verses of the canticle polyphonically, the others being performed in chant. (The exception was Cristóbal de Morales (c1500–1553), who as a member of the Sistine Chapel choir followed local practice by setting all the verses in his Magnificat cycle.) Certainly the musical style of the polyphonic verses suggests an early date: their four-part texture is rather spare, in the manner of Richafort or other composers a generation older than Manchicourt is believed to be. Partly this is due to the heavy reliance on the second tone plainchant melody, which can be clearly heard in the first polyphonic verse at ‘in Deo salutari meo’ (‘in God my saviour’), where first tenors and basses, and then sopranos and altos, each have a string of repeated notes which mirror the recitation tone of the chant. Later in the canticle, reduced-voice sections create variety, with a low-voice trio for ‘Fecit potentiam’ (‘He hath showed strength’) and a soprano and alto duet at ‘Esurientes implevit bonis’ (‘He hath filled the hungry with good things’). Finally, the last two polyphonic verses are expanded to a five-voice texture by the addition of a second alto, Manchicourt heightening the effect of the ‘Gloria Patri’ with stretto imitative writing.

Stephen Rice © 2007

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