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Hyperion Records

CDGIM029 - Rore: Missa Praeter rerum seriem
The Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464)
Hôtel-Dieu, Beaune, France / Photograph © Paul M. R. Maeyaert, Etikhove-Maarkedal, Belgium
CDGIM029

Salle Church, Norfolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Steve C Smith & Peter Phillips
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: September 1994
Total duration: 72 minutes 10 seconds

'As one would expect with a group so experienced in sixteenth-century repertories, both English and Continental, this performance is characterized by great sensitivity to textual inflexion and to the many moments of that exquisite bonding of words and music that was to lead Monteverdi to credit Rore as one of the early masters of the seconda prattica … nevertheless, in the end it is Peter Phillips's ability to control the overall architecture of the music, as well as its detail, that provides the basis for a reading of such conviction; his direction, combined with The Tallis Scholars's strongly-focused singing and well-balanced ensemble, results in a gripping performance of rare beauty, intelligence and power' (Gramophone)

Missa Praeter rerum seriem

In 1994 this CD won both the Gramophone Early Music Award and the Gramophone/Classic FM People's Choice Award. Hitherto known chiefly for his madrigals, this was the first recording to feature an extensive selection of sacred music by the Franco-Flemish composer, Cipriano de Rore.

The Mass is also available on the specially priced double album The Tallis Scholars sing Flemish Masters.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In the revival of interest in Renaissance composers very few have become known through a balanced appraisal of all their work. Such lop-sidedness is extreme in the case of Cipriano de Rore, who since his lifetime has been celebrated as an epoch-making composer of madrigals, one of the most significant precursors of Monteverdi. Inconveniently for those who like to keep things simple, Rore was also a composer of sacred music of genius, a true successor to Josquin des Prés.

Rore followed the natural course of a talented Renaissance musician born in the Low Countries. Having been educated in his native Flanders, he sought employment in Italy where he made contacts in Venice, not least with Adrian Willaert, maestro di cappella at St Mark’s and also a Netherlander. From 1547 to March 1558 he was employed uninterruptedly at the court of Ferrara by Duke Ercole II d’Este, for whom he composed the Missa Praeter rerum seriem. When, in 1559, Duke Ercole’s successor, Alfonso II, refused to continue Rore’s employment in Ferrara he moved, at the request of the Farnese family, to Parma. In 1563 he was elected to succeed Willaert at St Mark’s, Venice, which was even then probably the most prestigious post for a musician in Italy. At the age of 47 it must have seemed as though Rore’s future was set very fair indeed; unfortunately, for whatever reason, it appears he was not suited to the task at St Mark’s and by September 1564 he had returned to Parma where he died in August or September 1565.

Despite the impressive number of madrigals which Rore wrote, his sacred output was not small: over eighty motets and five Masses. Of the music on this recording, it is the motets which show most clearly Rore’s training as a Franco-Flemish musician in the Josquin tradition; the Mass, although not in the least madrigalian, contains some fascinating pre-echoes of Monteverdi despite the fact that it was written some years before his birth. This Mass, based on Josquin’s Christmas motet Praeter rerum seriem, is one of the most elaborate parody masses of its epoch. In writing it, Rore was paying homage both to his employer, Duke Ercole II of Ferrara, and to Josquin, who was not only the greatest single influence on him but also his most celebrated predecessor at the d’Este court.

Josquin’s Praeter rerum seriem must rank amongst his very greatest achievements. It takes the form of a succession of carefully worked motifs around the devotional song on which it is based. For much of the piece the polyphony is presented antiphonally between the three upper voices, when the song is in the first soprano, and the three lower voices, when it is in the tenor. This method is introduced at the very opening with the lower scoring, resulting in so powerful a piece of writing that Rore based the openings of all five of his movements on it, as well as one subsidiary section (at ‘Et iterum’ in the Credo). The second part of Josquin’s motet is rather freer than the first, concealing the song in what has become a more consistently six-part texture, which breaks into triple-time where the text makes final reference to the mystery of the Trinity, before returning to the duple time of ‘Mater ave’.

In one sense very little of Rore’s Mass is original composition, yet he parodies his model so resourcefully that the stated material seems to take on new perspectives. To Josquin’s original six voices Rore added an extra soprano part. He then turned one of the existing parts, the first alto, into a long-note cantus firmus line which sings the words ‘Hercules secundus dux Ferrarie quartus vivit et vivet’ throughout to the devotional song melody quoted by Josquin. Rore’s extra soprano line gives a new colour to the writing, creating a brighter sonority which seems to take the music out of the middle Renaissance period altogether, even occasionally hinting at the Baroque. The passage at ‘Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum’ in the Credo is almost pure Monteverdi.

The most impressive writing of all comes at the start of each of Rore’s Mass movements, where he develops the magisterial opening of Josquin’s motet. In the Kyrie Josquin’s version is given almost straight for lower voices, though Rore adds a new line in the second alto. In the Gloria an inversion of Josquin’s ascending scale is used alongside its original; this occurs again in the Credo in a more ornate form. But it is only in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei that the full potential of Rore’s two soprano parts becomes apparent in the context of this phrase, which seems to have expanded and broadened. The Sanctus opens with long rhapsodic lines in a widely-spaced sonority; the Agnus Dei goes a stage further in involving all the voices from the outset and for the first time underpinning everything with a statement of the song. In general the song is not heard until a movement or a section is well under way, when the extreme length of its notes effectively prevents it from blending into the texture. Only in two reduced-voice passages, the ‘Pleni’ and ‘Benedictus’ (both in the Sanctus), is it omitted altogether.

All four of the motets recorded here have the unmistakable sound and technique of traditional Franco-Flemish polyphony, as far a cry from Rore’s Italianate madrigals as music of the period could provide. Two of them – Ave Regina caelorum and Descendi in hortum meum – contain quite advanced canonic writing; Infelix ego has a motto theme, which is stated according to a strict mathematical pattern; only Parce mihi, Domine is freely composed, though its dark sonorities, scored for SATTB, and long melodies hardly make it sound modern. The essence of these pieces, though, lies in the fluency with which Rore made the old techniques expressive. The two penitential works, Infelix ego and Parce mihi, Domine, by the length of their points and melodies (eventually reflected in the sheer length of the pieces overall), create an unforgettable mood of doubt and self-questioning. Throughout Infelix ego, a six-part motet scored for AATTBB, runs a cantus firmus motif of eight notes, one for each of the syllables of ‘Miserere mei, Deus’, which is quoted in the second alto part. As the music progresses the note-lengths of this cantus firmus are halved until, at the very end, all the voices take it up. By such a simple method Rore was able to lead this enormous work to a point of resolution while underlining the mood of insistence inherent in the ‘Miserere’ plea.

The two canonic pieces are rather less sombre. They are both scored for seven voices and involve three of these voices in strict canon. Ave Regina caelorum follows a genre typical of the middle Renaissance period and found in the work of, for example, Mouton and Willaert. This involves a free four-part texture, often scored for SATB, into the middle of which is inserted a three-voice canon. The canonic parts have relatively long notes and only sing periodically; and in this case all three maintain their own pitch levels (the root, fourth and fifth degrees) which gives the result a certain academic fascination. However, it is in the sonorities to which all these elements contribute that the expressive power of the piece lies. Descendi in hortum meum, with similar compositional scaffolding, has a completely different mood, one suitable to its highly-perfumed text from the Song of Songs. So artless does this masterpiece sound that it is hard to believe that rigid mathematical writing underlies it; but indeed the second alto (which leads), second soprano and first tenor parts are in canon, this time at the fifth and octave. The canon is maintained even in the triple-time section towards the end where Rore the madrigalist briefly joins forces with his genius for sacred composition to create this most beautiful, most wistful of all polyphonic passages: ‘Return, return, O Shulamite, return that we may look upon you.’

Peter Phillips © 1994

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