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Hyperion Records

CDA67913 - Rore: Missa Doulce mémoire & Missa a note negre
La Vie Seigneuriale: Scene Galante (c1500).
Musée national du Moyen Âge et des Thermes de Cluny, Paris / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: August 2012
The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Antony Pitts
Engineered by Phil Rowlands
Release date: August 2013
DISCID: 98117C0D
Total duration: 74 minutes 28 seconds

'Cipriano de Rore is best known today as one of the finest exponents of the madrigal but his sacred output deserves to be better known … Rore's contrapuntal writing, though considerably intricate at times, has a lucidity that the Brabant Ensemble's light sound emphasises' (Gramophone)

'A splendid selection of sacred works … The Brabant Ensemble is very experienced in this type of repertory, and achieves some magical effects in the Doulce mémoire Mass … of the motets O altitudo divitiarum is a truly outstanding and moving work. It is performed with delicacy and sensitivity to phrasing' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Rore's mellifluous use of polyphony, fluently articulated here by The Brabant Ensemble, fuels textures that are ear-catchingly active as well as expressive … a programme that strays appealingly off the Renaissance's beaten track' (The Daily Telegraph)

'It's the three motets between the Masses, two of them contemplative settings of words by St Paul, the third a celebration of the nativity, that make the bigger impression, and show off both the Brabant's care with the weighting of every word and the perfect balance they achieve between the voice parts' (The Guardian)

'The two-voices-per-part approach of The Brabant Ensemble is an excellent solution and, as usual, delivers ravishing results. The singing is lithe, pure, beautifully focused and, under Rice's expert direction, perfectly responsive to every musical inflection … another recording to treasure' (International Record Review)

'De Rore's is music of great self-confidence, conviction and beauty. The lines are varied yet express a concentration that makes for compelling listening. The harmonies are clear but at the same time embellish the composer's highly original ideas. The adherence of the melodies to the spirit of the texts is remarkable. It informs our listening with a fresh and binding integrity. Stephen Rice … has established a fine momentum in bringing these composers to our attention with the aptly-named Brabant Ensemble. Their singing is remarkably sensitive to the crystalline substance of the music of this era. Yet it is the substance, and not the veneer, that they address with every new release. There have been almost a dozen so far. The singers' tempi are gentle and finely-tuned though never sluggish. There is also a real sense that the dozen or so singers of the Ensemble, which was founded in 1998 and has recorded for Hyperion since 2006, are not recreating the music; still less reluctantly infusing it with new life. They are inhabiting it and performing something vibrant and robust. The Brabant Ensemble is also a true ensemble: the singers blend very well in all ways' (MusicWeb International)

'While there’s an austere beauty about the composer’s counterpoint, his treatment of the venerable Mass text is shot through with colourful contrasts of vocal texture, strategic silences and dramatic changes of mood' (

Missa Doulce mémoire & Missa a note negre
Kyrie  [3'32] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [4'47] LatinEnglish
Credo  [8'22] LatinEnglish
Kyrie  [4'10] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [5'36] LatinEnglish
Credo  [8'54] LatinEnglish

The Brabant Ensemble continue their investigation into unknown jewels of the Low Countries Renaissance, researched by their director Stephen Rice and recorded with equal amounts of passion and erudition by the young singers of the group.

Cipriano de Rore was and is principally known as a madrigal composer, and, as Stephen Rice writes, ‘blended the contrapuntal complexity of Low Countries polyphonic style with Italian poetic texts to create a newly expressive vernacular genre’. This recording represents something of a new departure in presenting some of the least well-known aspects of the output of a composer who is justly famous in other fields.

The album contains two Mass settings based on French chansons, Missa a note negre on a composition by Rore himself, and Missa Doulce mémoire, which takes one of the sixteenth century’s greatest hits, by Pierre Regnault dit Sandrin (c1490–after 1560) as its inspiration. Also included are three motets. Fratres: Scitote is apparently a unique instance of composition to its text: St Paul here tells the story of the Last Supper, in which Jesus takes bread, blesses and distributes it, and thereby institutes the ritual of Holy Communion.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Cipriano de Rore (1515/16–1565) is among the great names of the history of the madrigal, the secular genre that came to dominate Italian musical culture in the second half of the sixteenth century. Like other pioneers of the form, he was not Italian but from the Low Countries, being born in Ronse (French: Renaix), on the Flemish–French language border in what is now Belgium. Alongside older Northerners such as Philippe Verdelot (c1480/85–?1530/32) and Adrian Willaert (c1490–1562), Rore blended the contrapuntal complexity of Low Countries polyphonic style with Italian poetic texts to create a newly expressive vernacular genre. As the century progressed, and substantially as a result of Rore’s own innovations, madrigals became increasingly expressive of the poetry they set, and eventually ceased to prioritize counterpoint, declaiming the text in clearer, more homophonic textures, and eventually monodically.

A disquisition on the history of the madrigal may seem an odd way to begin a note accompanying a recording of sacred music: but in the case of Rore, it is unavoidable for two reasons. The first is that his fame rests disproportionately on his achievements in the secular sphere, principally in madrigal composition, but also chansons and a substantial body of secular Latin-texted works, reflecting the increased interest in Classical antiquity and its lyric forms current in mid-sixteenth century Italy. This recording therefore represents something of a new departure in presenting some of the least well-known aspects of the output of a composer who is justly famous in other fields.

The second reason for focusing on madrigalian composition is the extent to which its practices began to percolate into the sacred sphere during Rore’s lifetime, and in this regard also his impact on these developments was significant. If one considers Rore’s style in juxtaposition with the music of his direct contemporary Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c1510/15–1555/6), the difference is immediately apparent, most obviously in terms of texture. Though both composers favoured writing for five voices, the overlapping and constantly shifting voice combinations of Clemens stand in sharp distinction to Rore’s clear, often quasi-homophonic declamation of the text.

Rore’s entire musical career was made in Italy. It is possible that he was there very early in life, perhaps in the retinue of Margaret of Parma, the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor Charles V, but the first documentary evidence is from Brescia in 1542. The extent and variety of dedications to Italian noblemen among his works of the 1540s suggest a concerted effort to find gainful employment at a court; nearly half of his known compositions date from this early, freelance, stage.

By 1546 Rore had found a position as maestro di cappella to Duke Ercole II d’Este of Ferrara (grandson of Ercole I, around whose name Josquin Des Prez’s famous Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie was composed). He was to remain at Ferrara for twelve productive years, composing among many other works a Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie of his own, based on a repeating ostinato motif. He left the service of the Este in 1558, at first temporarily in order to travel to his native Flanders, but in the event permanently, since Ercole’s death the next year resulted in the hiring of Francesco dalla Viola in Rore’s stead. His next, and last, position was at the Farnese court in Parma, where he died in 1565.

Both of the Mass settings recorded here are based on French chansons: Missa a note negre on a composition by Rore himself, whereas Missa Doulce mémoire takes one of the sixteenth century’s greatest hits, by Pierre Regnault dit Sandrin (c1490–after 1560) as its inspiration. The chanson Doulce mémoire was published in 1537 or ’38 by the Lyons printer Jacques Moderne. Its subject matter, like so many of its genre, is lost love:

Doulce mémoire en plaisir consommée,
O siècle heureux qui cause tel sçavoir.
La fermeté de nous deux tant aymée
Qui à nos maux a su si bien pourvoir.
Or maintenant a perdu son pouvoir
Rompant le but de ma seulle espérance,
Servant d’exemple à tous piteux a voir.
Fini le bien, le mal soudain commence.
Sweet memory consummated in joy,
O happy time of such understanding;
The loving steadfastness of our [united] love,
Which knew so well how to attend our ills.
But now alas has lost its [former] strength
Sev’ring the thread of my [one] only hope.
A sad example all afflicted see,
Cease therefore joy, for sudden evil comes.
translated by Frank Dobbins, from ‘“Doulce mémoire”: A Study of the Parody Chanson’, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 96 (1969–70), pp. 85–101

The opening melodic motif, tracing a descending diminished fourth, was one of the most recognizable themes of the century. Necessarily it pervades Rore’s Mass setting, yet its fame allows considerable freedom in adapting Sandrin’s music without the sense of the chanson being lost. The chanson is written in the Parisian manner, with a far more chordal than imitative texture, and Rore’s approach to Mass composition frequently emphasizes the text in homophonic style, rendering the two quite similar in style at times. The Mass setting however is in five voices for the most part, compared with the chanson’s four: as is common at this time, certain sections are reduced in scoring, though Rore is more sparing in this regard than many of his contemporaries. The middle section of the Credo (‘Et ascendit … sedet ad dexteram Patris’) is set for four voices, resting one of the tenor parts, and the Benedictus is a trio for cantus, altus, and tenor. The Agnus Dei is notated in two sections, of which the second (beginning at 1'30") adds a baritone part to make a six-voice texture: in fact the three text sections of this movement are divided in such a way that the six-voice section enunciates both the second and third sets of words, with an audible caesura between the two (3'46"). As so often in the sixteenth century, the Agnus Dei brings out the best in the composer, but other movements of the Mass are also noteworthy for the text-driven expressiveness of Rore’s setting, for instance the Sanctus, where the exemplary text declamation of the opening section builds considerable rhetorical power; and the second Kyrie and ‘Et incarnatus’ of the Credo, both derived from the final couplet of Sandrin’s chanson.

The motets O altitudo divitiarum and Fratres: Scitote both set words of St Paul, of a contemplative nature. The first is a meditation on the divinity and wisdom of God, which humans cannot fathom. The high imitative style of the Low Countries seems appropriate for such an elevated topic, with slow-moving suspensions and passing notes illustrating the difficulty with which our minds strive to comprehend the magnificence of the Almighty. Towards the end of the piece, the full texture is mustered for a concerted statement ‘For of him and through him …’ but counterpoint is thereafter reasserted until the final Amen. For once Rore’s technique is used in the service of a meditative rather than an exegetical response to the text.

Unlike O altitudo divitiarum, which attracted settings from over a dozen of Rore’s contemporaries, of whom Orlande de Lassus (1530/2–1594) is easily the best known, Fratres: Scitote is apparently a unique instance of composition to its text. St Paul here tells the story of the Last Supper, in which Jesus takes bread, blesses and distributes it, and thereby institutes the ritual of Holy Communion. Spoken or sung during every celebration of the Mass, these words were (and remain) known to all Christians as among the most sacred: it is possible that this very centrality to the Mass liturgy accounts for the lack of parallel settings of this text. These were words uttered by the celebrating priest, rather than being delegated to singers; Rore’s motet would therefore have been more suitable for private devotional performance than as an appendage to the liturgy. Whatever the reason for the text’s comparative neglect by composers, this setting is one of the finest motets of the entire century. Rore begins with a forthright declamation of the word ‘Brothers’, which is demarcated as a separate introductory section; the texture is then built up from the bass, with echoes in the doubled upper voice, before a homophonic treatment of the Holy Name of Jesus. The following narrative of the blessing of bread is treated in an imitative style that is somewhat archaic in pairing upper and lower voices one after another; a sonorous descending phrase sets the words ‘Take and eat’, before the central ‘this is my body’ is set off entirely from the surrounding texture in block chords. These are notated in triple time, using the technique of coloration to separate this section on the page, as well as to create the effect of a series of fermatas, yet without the underlying tactus being suspended. The assertion of the Real Presence in communion is thus treated as an appropriately divine mystery in musical terms. The final section reverts to duple time to round off the motet with a repeated statement of the phrase ‘do this in remembrance of me’.

Illuxit nunc sacra dies is a more straightforward and much shorter piece in celebration of the Nativity. Its vigorous rhythms, use of imitation in thirds and close stretto entries all contribute to the sense of rejoicing, which a short section of triple time near the end underlines.

The second Mass setting recorded here bears the title Missa a note negre, reflecting its relationship with the subgenre of madrigals that became popular around the mid-century, in which shorter note values—hence ‘black noteheads’—were used substantially. This Mass is thus even more madrigalian in its declamation than Missa Doulce mémoire. As noted above, it is based on another chanson, set by Rore himself:

Tout ce qu’on peut en elle voir
N’est que douceur et amitié,
Beauté, bonté, et un vouloir
Tout plein d’amoureuse pitié.
Mais je n’en suis édifié
De rien mieux, car le regard d’elle
Me met en une peine telle
Que ne la puis dire à moitié.
Si ne la vois, je me lamente,
Quand je la vois, je me tourmente:
Le doux n’est jamais sans l’amer,
Voilà que c’est de trop d’aymer.
All that one can see in her
Is nothing but sweetness and friendship,
Beauty, goodness, and a spirit
Full of loving empathy.
But by this I am not inspired to
Better things, for looking at her
Gives me such pain
That I cannot tell the half of it.
If I do not see her, I lament,
When I see her, I am tormented:
There is no sweetness without bitterness,
So it is to love too much.

The chanson mixes Parisian and Low Countries style, beginning with homophonic treatment of the first eight lines, followed by an imitative section before returning to direct declamation for the lapidary final couplet. The Mass setting is reasonably conventional in its use of the opening phrase to begin the Kyrie and Gloria, though in later movements the rising third motif migrates to inner voices: the altus in the Credo and Sanctus, and the second tenor in the Agnus Dei. Another notable borrowing from the model is the low phrase which is found towards the end of several movements, where the cantus reaches low D (sounding middle C at the present performing pitch), derived from the phrase ‘Voilà que c’est’ in the chanson’s final line. As in Missa Doulce mémoire, a central section of the Credo is reduced to four voices, and the Benedictus is a trio: the second Agnus is similarly expanded to six voices, though here the added voice is a second cantus, lightening the texture but also adding a weight of sound that builds an impressive rhetorical plea before the Mass subsides into a peaceful triple-time ‘dona nobis pacem’.

Stephen Rice © 2013

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