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Hyperion Records

CDA67959 - Richafort: Requiem & other sacred music
The Dead Christ (c1480-1490) by Andrea Mantegna (c1431-1506)
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan / Alinari / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: August 2010
Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria
Produced by Colin Mason
Engineered by Markus Wallner
Release date: August 2012
DISCID: B910680E
Total duration: 69 minutes 53 seconds


'Not only do the performances here range from genuine tenderness … to majestic splendour, but the balance is perfect and the melodic lines are absolutely clear, so that every detail of Richafort's remarkable contrapuntal writing can be heard … the other works on the disc are given similarly wonderful performances … Cinquecento's imploring rendition of the masterpiece that is Miserere mei, Deus is surely perfect in the way it balances a profound understanding, and projection, of its intricate counterpoint with its vast melodic sweep … if I could nominate this recording as 'Outstanding' twice over, I would do, for I have run out of superlatives. It is, quite simply, sublime' (International Record Review)

'Cinquecento's sound has a magic of its own' (Gramophone)

'Cinquecento give a more finely blended and balanced performance than I have yet heard from them, with spacious legato lines, breadth of vision and appreciation of the architecture and majestic solemnity of Richafort's 6-part polyphony, framed by gorgeous works by Josquin, his probable master. Vividly sung and recorded' (Choir & Organ)

'Musically inspired by Josquin, this is a majestic, expansive requiem … the shades of mourning are illuminated by moments of light and serenity—glimpses of a sublime hereafter. Cinquecento captures the work's meditative quality to profound effect, the all-male vocal ensemble creating an aptly plangent sonority and a tone of high seriousness … the group can also produce all the opulence and bloom of a much larger ensemble. Throughout, the singing is exquisitely controlled: arching polyphonic lines are beautifully shaped, textural contrasts subtly enhanced, never over-dramatised, and the voices—silken and effortless—seem to be suspended in amber' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Stephen Rice’s authoritative booklet notes are a valuable resource when it comes to placing the music in its historical context and delving further into the complexities of its creation, but the expressive warmth and sonority of Cinquecento’s voices, superbly recorded, are the source to which you will want to return for more and more. Superbly unified, the dynamic shading which brings forth leading voice lines and gently points to significant harmonic shifts are done so naturally that the music seems to enter your soul through some kind of osmosis rather than something so banal as mere listening' (MusicWeb International)

Requiem & other sacred music

This release presents music associated with the Renaissance master Josquin Des Prez, a composer who towers above all others in the first part of the sixteenth century. Numerous works were attributed to him that have now been proven to be by his contemporaries and successors, including the central work on this recording, Jean Richafort’s expansive and beautiful Requiem. It is performed with affecting clarity by the all-male vocal group Cinquecento, whose many previous discs of Renaissance repertoire for Hyperion have garnered the highest critical praise.

Booklet notes by Stephen Rice, an acknowledged authority on this repertoire, place the music in its historical context and unpick the mysteries of its composition.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The title of ‘post-Josquin generation’ has been applied over the years to many composers active in Northern France and the Low Countries; this description arises partly from Josquin’s influence and fame, both of which were immense in his last years and the half-century following his death, and partly from modern misunderstandings of composers’ true historical positions. Since Josquin is no longer thought to have been born as early as 1440, as had been widely believed for many years, but more probably in the early to mid-1450s, it no longer makes sense (for example) to dub the Frenchman Jean Mouton, himself a ‘50s child’ and who outlived Josquin by only a year, as a member of the subsequent cohort of Low Countries musicians. Nor in reality do composers such as Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Thomas Crecquillon, or Cipriano de Rore, all of whom were below the age of ten when Josquin died in 1521, belong to the next, but rather the next but one, generation. The title is most appropriately bestowed, therefore, on those born in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, which is to say during Josquin’s adult career but before he acquired the legendary status that has surrounded, but also occluded, his picture since about 1500. These are the musicians on whose creative lives as performers and composers Josquin had the most decisive impact; and not surprisingly these are the musicians who wished to memorialize their colleague.

Jean Richafort is one among many who were described in the sixteenth century as pupils of Josquin. In his case, it was no less than the distinguished poet Pierre de Ronsard from whom we have this information: Ronsard wrote a preface to a chanson print entitled Livre de Meslanges, published in 1560 by the French royal printers Le Roy and Ballard, in which he lists Richafort and several others as having been Josquin’s students. In the absence of corroboration it is safest to assume that Ronsard’s meaning was figurative and that Richafort, Jean Mouton, Claudin de Sermisy and the other leading composers he mentions were among those influenced, rather than having been personally taught, by Josquin. Whatever the implication of Ronsard’s preface, it is certainly true that Richafort’s compositional ties with Josquin are even closer than those of his contemporaries. Richafort used material by Josquin in his Mass Praeter rerum seriem and in the motets Miseremini mei and Misereatur/Miserere. The former shares an attribution to the earlier composer in one of its printed sources, as does one of Richafort’s chansons, N’a vous point veu mal assenee, in its earliest surviving manuscript.

Also attributed to Josquin as well as Richafort is the Missa pro defunctis recorded here, though as with the other conflicting attributions, stylistic as well as source criteria point unequivocally to Richafort. This Missa pro defunctis setting, in six parts and running over half an hour in performance, is one of the most extended of the many Requiem Masses of this period. As is standard for the genre, the piece combines elements of the Ordinary and Proper of the Mass (being limited to specific occasions, Mass Propers were rarely set polyphonically at this time, but those for a Mass for the Dead would be required sufficiently often to merit the compositional effort involved). As well as the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei of the Ordinary, Richafort sets the Introit ‘Requiem aeternam’ (from which the genre of Requiem Masses derives its name); the Gradual ‘Si ambulem’; the Offertory ‘Domine Jesu Christe’; and the Communion ‘Lux aeterna’. (‘Si ambulem’ was replaced in the post-Reformation liturgy by ‘Requiem aeternam’, so that Missae pro defunctis of the later sixteenth century and onwards, such as Victoria’s settings, have the same text for Introit and Gradual, although the accompanying verses differ.)

The plainsong Requiem Introit is in mode 6, with final on F, and since every instance of the note B that it contains is flattened, the melody sounds effectively in F major. The association of major tonality with happiness and minor with sadness had not yet been formed in Richafort’s lifetime; more often the major modes were understood to sound harsh and the minor ones soft (indeed the Latin words durus and mollis were used to refer to B natural and B flat respectively, and persist in the German terms dur and moll for major and minor). The chant melody is lightly embellished in the highest voice, with three others making free counterpoint below it; meanwhile another plainsong melody, ‘Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis’, is sung as a cantus firmus. This plainsong is not part of the Requiem Mass, but an Invitatory (opening sentence) at Matins for the Dead. The ‘Circumdederunt’ chant is stated in canon at the upper fifth and at a distance of three breves: as will become apparent, this is a clear instance of homage to Josquin. The Introit verse ‘Te decet hymnus’ is as usual intoned to the Psalm tone, followed by a polyphonic but more chordal setting of the second half of the verse, in which the canonic cantus firmus is still present and heard perhaps more clearly. As is standard for Introits (not just in Requiems), the Psalm verse is followed by a reprise of the antiphon.

The cantus firmus is maintained in canon throughout the Kyrie, and also into the Gradual, despite the fact that the latter is based on plainsong with a different tonality (mode 2—similar to D minor with an unflattened sixth degree). Towards the end of the opening section of the Gradual, a new melodic element is added to the canonic cantus firmus voices: the phrase ‘c’est douleur non pareille’ (‘it is sorrow without equal’). This melodic strain is a direct quotation from Josquin, though in the original it refers not to death or bereavement but to lack of money, quoting the chanson Faulte d’argent. The chanson adopts the language of late-medieval love poetry, which habitually would speak of unrequited love in terms of overwrought emotion, with heavy use of words such as ‘las’ to punctuate the lover’s anguish. However, the ironic tone here, coupled with the derogatory reference to the venality of women, makes clear that the intent is parodic. Faulte d’argent would seem therefore a somewhat less than appropriate source of melodic material for a Mass-setting that presumably expresses genuine grief at the death of Josquin. Of course, the appropriation of profane material in sacred music of this period is well known, and its use in the most solemn of surroundings underlines the ease with which the Renaissance mind conflated the sacred and the secular—or, perhaps, saw religion permeating all aspects of secular life.

The remaining movements of Richafort’s Mass adopt similar strategies for presenting the borrowed material, reprising the Faulte d’argent quotation in the Offertory, but omitting it in the shorter movements towards the end of the work. In the Offertory the canon is reversed to sound at the lower fourth; elsewhere Richafort has varied the canonic delay, combining the ‘Circumdederunt’ melody with itself at two, three, and four breves’ distance (with suitable rhythmic flexibility, which, since a chant melody is inherently unrhythmicized, is quite permissible). When one bears in mind that for most of the work’s duration the chant of the Requiem Mass is paraphrased alongside this canonic structure, as well as the fact that a six-part texture is maintained for all except isolated verse sections, the scale of Richafort’s achievement becomes clear. For a composer of the ‘post-Josquin generation’, creating a memorial to his deceased colleague involved not only quoting his work and writing a varied canon of the kind he delighted in, based on a plainsong he had himself treated in canon, but also creating a structure worthy of the earlier composer, who (nowadays at least) is known above all for the beauty and clarity of his compositional designs.

The ‘Circumdederunt’ plainsong was at one time thought of as ‘a favourite cantus firmus of Josquin’s’ (Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance), due to its being used in three compositions attributed to him. Two of these—like so many works—have now been convincingly removed from the Josquin canon, leaving only Nymphes, nappés as an authentic work incorporating this melody. Richafort’s debt to Josquin becomes clear from the seventeenth breve onwards, where the cantus firmus enters, followed three breves later—just as in the Requiem—by its accompanying voice at the upper fifth. Indeed John Milsom, who demonstrated the inauthenticity of the other two pieces, pointed out that Richafort quotes not only the canonic cantus firmus, but also several bars of polyphony from Nymphes, nappés in the Introit and Kyrie of the Requiem. Its counterpoint is highly suitable for such treatment, being full of the static harmony, twisting melodic lines, and falling third intervals which are characteristic of Josquin’s style in mournful pieces of this type.

Despite its later use by Richafort, Josquin’s Faulte d’argent is far less musically lugubrious than Nymphes, nappés, underlining its parodic tone. The opening intertwines the contratenor and bassus voices in a closely imitative duet, while the discantus and tenor follow after four-and-a-half breves. Although their melodic material is the same in essence as the two preceding voices, the second duet imitates much more loosely, at a distance of three semibreves rather than a single minim. The tenor is in canon with an unnotated quinta pars (the singer would simply use the tenor’s music, applying a lower clef and beginning when the tenor arrives at a marked point), which follows three breves later at the lower fifth, so that the full five-voice texture is not heard until the tenth breve of the chanson (which lasts only 72 breves in total). This canonic structure determines the later interaction of the voices, providing a form of call-and-response texture as upper voices accompany the tenor, and lower ones the quinta pars. The final line (‘Femme qui dort …’) reprises the music of the opening.

Less closely linked, but nonetheless unequivocally related to Josquin, are the laments by Benedictus Appenzeller, Nicolas Gombert, and Jheronimus Vinders. All three were printed by the Antwerp-based composer and publisher Tielman Susato, in a volume of 1545 otherwise devoted to chansons by (or at least attributed to) Josquin himself. This is the earliest surviving source for the Gombert and Vinders pieces, but Appenzeller’s is also extant in a set of manuscript partbooks now held in Cambrai, but copied in 1542 in Bruges for Zeghere van Male, a linen merchant. Susato’s chanson print (Le septiesme livre contenant vingt et quatre chansons à cincq et à six parties) also transmits the three French-texted works of Josquin recorded here. The poem Musae Jovis, by Gerard Avidius, adopts a standard neo-Latin approach to the theme of death, contrasting earthly lament at the loss of the composer with the rejoicing in the heavens at his recruitment to the celestial choirs. The fact that this is couched in terms of Roman rather than Christian theology does not appear to have upset contemporary sensibilities.

Benedictus Appenzeller spent at least fifteen years in the service of Mary of Hungary, younger sister of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and regent of the Netherlands, at her court in Brussels. (Condé-sur-Escaut, where Josquin had spent his last years, is approximately fifty miles to the southwest.) Appenzeller’s version of Musae Jovis is relatively modest in scale, for only four voices and setting only the first twelve lines of text—thus concluding on a mournful note and omitting the references to Josquin’s admission to the ranks of the immortals. It employs the Phrygian modality, considered especially suitable for lamenting. Particularly effective moments are ‘ille occidit’ towards the end of the first section of music, with alternation of upper and lower voices, and several instances of emphatic homophony to underline important text phrases. The ‘pair imitation’ with which the two lower voices begin the piece, echoed by the two upper ones, was a technique favoured by Josquin.

Nicolas Gombert also set the poem in the Phrygian mode, but in a considerably more ambitious fashion. Gombert was perhaps ten years younger than Appenzeller, being born in the early to mid-1490s, and his six-voice lament seems to be in the style of the 1530s, when most of his works appeared, rather than of Josquin’s year of death, 1521. Like Appenzeller he includes archaic elements, and in particular one that refers unmistakably to Josquin: the ‘Circumdederunt me’ tenor appears, in the long notes of an old-style cantus firmus, but here it is transposed down one note, beginning on E instead of F, and thus conforming to the Phrygian tonality of the piece. Since Josquin’s Nymphes des bois, itself a lament for an older composer, employed exactly this procedure with the ‘Requiem aeternam’ chant, the intention is clear. The comparative rarity with which Gombert employed cantus firmus technique underlines the significance of the gesture in this case. The style of the motet is a constant ebb and flow of counterpoint, with much less overt formal punctuation than Josquin’s music; unity is achieved by limiting the melodic material used, giving an introspective tone to the setting. The final statement of Josquin’s elevation to the heavens is marked with a turn to triple time.

Jheronimus Vinders is by some distance the most obscure individual represented on this recording, known only for a brief tenure as zangmeester at what is now the cathedral church of Ghent, in 1525–6. As well as his ‘Epithaphium Josquini’, Vinders based a Missa Stabat mater on a motet by Josquin; his other known compositions include three further Mass-settings, half a dozen motets, and three Dutch songs. O mors inevitabilis creates an impressive texture in its brief duration of sixty breves, due principally to its seven-voice scoring. Two of the central voices paraphrase the ‘Requiem aeternam’ chant, one in a conventional manner and the other more freely, including apparently the Psalm tone to which the words are sung at the end of the Requiem Mass as part of the Communion Proper. A copy of the poem, along with a small portrait of Josquin, was hung in the church of St Gudule, Brussels, but would seem to have been lost during the sixteenth century.

As mentioned, Josquin’s Nymphes des bois, to a text by Jean Molinet, is set in the Phrygian mode, with the plainsong ‘Requiem aeternam’ sung in transposition to conform with that mode. Molinet’s poem is full of puns, assonance, and alliteration, larding the text with significance relating to the deceased Ockeghem. Molinet’s original describes the Fate Atropos, whose role it was to cut the thread of life, as a ‘très terrible satrappe’, who ‘a vostre Ockeghem attrapé dans sa trappe’, and also describes the composer as ‘vray tresorier de musique’, alluding to his position as Treasurer of the royal abbey of St Martin, Tours. In the earliest manuscript source of the work, the notation is all black, a device used on several occasions at this time for especially mournful funerary pieces. The version performed here is that printed by Susato in 1545, reflecting the change in musical and poetic style between Josquin’s composition of the lament, presumably in or just after Ockeghem’s death in 1497, and the era of Richafort, Gombert, and other post-Josquinian figures.

Josquin’s setting of the Psalm Miserere mei, Deus, associated with Ash Wednesday as well as other penitential occasions, is one of his most impressive creations. Its composition, in all probability, dates from Josquin’s year at the court of Ferrara, 1503–4. Since the entire Psalm is set but without doxology, thus corresponding to its liturgical use in Holy Week, its first performance may well have taken place at the beginning of April 1504. Due to the extreme length of the setting it might seem inappropriate for the liturgy, but the focus on Holy Week at Ferrara was well known, and in any case there are numerous spaces in the liturgy for extended meditations of the most austere kind, which this motet certainly is. At the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass, the altar and sanctuary are stripped of all their decorations, leaving only the bare framework of the table exposed. Josquin’s motet, most of all of this famously economical composer’s works, reflects this aesthetic perfectly. The tenor sings the same phrase of two pitches twenty-one times in total. During the first section it begins on high E and then works its way down an entire octave; in the second it reverses the process (but with note values half as long); and in the third it reverts to the longer notes, but descends only from E to A. Somewhat unusually, the statements of this ostinato theme are divided by varying numbers of rests: unlike in many pieces by Josquin, there is no rigid structure here, but form follows the exigencies of the text. It is this, together with the austerity of the surrounding counterpoint, with its heavy reliance on bare perfect intervals, and infrequent but telling use of homophony, that lends Josquin’s Miserere its effect, described by David Fallows as ‘devotional and even hypnotic’. It is hardly surprising, given the quality of this and many others of his compositions, that the Low Countries musical community felt itself bereft when, on Tuesday 27 August 1521, Josquin died. He was buried in front of the high altar of the church of Notre Dame, Condé-sur-Escaut, of which he had been Provost since 1504.

Stephen Rice © 2012

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