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Hyperion Records

CDH55296 - La Rue: Missa De Feria & Missa Sancta Dei genitrix
An unknown young woman by an anonymous artist. Flemish, c1530
(Originally issued on CDA67010)

Recording details: September 1997
Boxgrove Priory, Chichester, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: June 2011
Total duration: 64 minutes 36 seconds

'The beauty and integrity of La Rue's music warrant a strong recommendation' (Gramophone)

'Gothic Voices have once again opened a window on a forgotten world' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A revelation, not only of top-rate neglected music, but also how it should sound. A perfect marriage of musical style and scholarship. Insight and enjoyment hand in hand' (Classic CD)

Missa De Feria & Missa Sancta Dei genitrix
Kyrie  [3'13] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [3'56] LatinEnglish
Credo  [7'52] LatinEnglish
Kyrie  [2'12] GreekEnglish
Gloria  [3'39] LatinEnglish
Credo  [6'14] LatinEnglish

While most of us might regard Pierre de La Rue as a composer of 'early' music, for Dr Page and his Gothic Voices this is bordering on the avant garde: this recording represents a leap forward a century from the group's more accustomed repertoire, and the results are impressive to say the least.

La Rue was remarkably prolific; at least twenty-nine Masses can be ascribed to him with confidence, and the Missa De Feria and Missa Sancta Dei genitrix are among the finest. His music is full of imitation, a sense of choreography, and is coloured by a fondness for particularly low registers.

In addition to the two Masses, this disc includes the large-scale Pater de celis Deus, arguably the grandest of La Rue's motets and a work full of counterpoint in its three-part, six-voice canon, and three other motets performed as lute intabulations in editions specially prepared for this recording by Christopher Wilson.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The music of Pierre de la Rue is still very little known. A ‘major figure of the Josquin generation, and foremost composer for twenty-four years at one of the richest musical centres of his time, the Habsburg-Burgundian court …’, La Rue was a remarkably prolific composer. At a conservative estimate, he produced twenty-nine Masses, four further Mass movements, six Magnificats, fourteen motets and two dozen secular pieces (a more aggressive count would raise these totals markedly). As we might expect from this impressive set of works, La Rue was in a sense a ‘career’ composer who negotiated his way through a series of appointments to an enviable position at an exalted court. He first appears in the records of the Cathedral of St Goedele in Brussels for 1469/70, then in St Jacob’s, Ghent. After various other positions and a period at an unidentified institution in Cologne, he was employed with the Confraternity of Our Lady in ’s-Hertogenbosch from 1489 to 1492. Then in November 1492 he joined the Habsburg-Burgundian Chapel, where he was to spend the rest of his professional life.

The ensemble Gothic Voices has always devoted its energies to medieval music, so to approach Pierre de La Rue by working forwards was to find ourselves initially disorientated by things that most modern choirs, amateur and professional, take for granted. There is a real bass part, for example, and La Rue is fond of low ranges, as we hear in the Missa De Feria. His harmonic language, like that of his contemporaries, is based upon the intervals of the third and the sixth, so the music does not buzz with the open fifths and octaves so familiar to the singers of Gothic Voices from medieval music. (To my ‘medievalized’ ear, indeed, La Rue’s counterpoint seems remarkably consonant, and I can barely hear the idiosyncracy in the dissonances which musicologists who specialize in the Renaissance period find in La Rue, although I can see them in the score.)

Above all, perhaps, a Renaissance master like Pierre de La Rue gives the modern singer so much to grasp, at least in comparison with medieval composers. The device of imitation, a thoroughly un-medieval technique, creates a sense of choreography within the counterpoint as each singer is called to make the same gesture in turn, usually with a slight difference in emphasis as the imitative entries go by (each entry modifies the aesthetic and structural effect of its successor). The Missa De Feria provides many striking examples; so does the massive Pater de celis Deus, but there are effects of this kind on almost every page of the works recorded here. Something similar happens with the canonic writing for which La Rue has a particular fondness. Pater de celis Deus, arguably the masterpiece among his motets, has a six-voice texture with three parts in canon, placed at the fifth and the ninth; each canonic entry, or the rise of each canonic part to a moment of prominence within the texture, creates a sense of relay as the musical interest passes from one singer to another. In such a texture, so adroitly managed as it is here, the singers sense that they are being organized and adjusted to one another in mutual dependency and cooperation. Medieval music can also do this, but one has to look much harder for the means which establish that sense of authority or control, and to re-think more of one’s manner of listening in the process.

The title of the Missa De Feria suggests that this Mass is for weekdays with no Feast assigned, and in the Gloria, Credo and Agnus Dei La Rue uses the Roman plainsongs assigned for ferial days (in festis simplicibus). The ingenuity with which he finds canonic potential within these melodies is impressive and is one of the details that gives the Missa De Feria a more lavish and ceremonial quality than is suggested by its title. Another such detail is the scoring for five voices; many of La Rue’s Masses are set for four voices, including the Missa Sancta Dei genitrix recorded here. As with many polyphonic Mass-settings of the Renaissance, and indeed long after, there is a movement in the Missa De Feria from one kind of intensity to another. The Gloria and Credo, where two substantial texts have to be set, work by sheer scale and accumulation. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei, by contrast, have much less text and are therefore inherently melismatic. Here, as the most mystical moments of the Mass approach, the kind of language found in the Gloria and Credo, full of claims and propositions, is replaced by a language that is more sparse and more intense: a language of prayer and entreaty. The affective contribution of the music is especially noteworthy in these sections. For example, in the Gloria and Credo of the Missa De Feria La Rue simply has no space for the poignant imitation that opens the Sanctus with its prolonged first syllable.

Some of these contrasts are lightened in the radiant Missa Sancta Dei genitrix, set for four voices and in many ways a foil to the Missa De Feria. This is a compact work with a more consistent texture from one movement of the Ordinary to another. (This Mass is not entirely unrelated to the Missa De Feria, incidentally; there is an identical melodic figure on ‘Crucifixus’ and ‘Et resurrexit’ in the Credo of both Masses.)

To these pieces we have added three lute intabulations of motets by La Rue. These are for two lutes and have been made by Christopher Wilson with an eye to the arrangements in the books published by La Rue’s compatriot, Pierre Phalèse of Louvain. Some of the arrangements issued by Phalèse are for two lutes, and a great deal of the music for both one and two lutes is derived from vocal repertoire (including a setting of La Rue’s Chanson, Incessament mon pauvre cœur lamente). In comparison with some lute intabulations of the sixteenth century, those of Phalèse stay close to the counterpoint of the original compositions, decorating them only lightly. Christopher Wilson’s intabulations follow this straightforward method of arrangement, which may reflect a Flemish or northern European tradition of lute playing in the lifetime of Pierre de La Rue.

Christopher Page © 1998

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