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Hyperion Records

GIMBX302 - Sacred Music in the Renaissance, Vol. 2

Recording details: July 1992
Salle Church, Norfolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Steve C Smith & Peter Phillips
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: November 2010
Total duration: 309 minutes 52 seconds

Sacred Music in the Renaissance, Vol. 2
The Tallis Scholars Finest Recordings, 1990-1999

The second of three volumes featuring The Tallis Scholars' finest recordings, one for each decade, and each offering over five hours of the award-winning performances that helped establish Renaissance Polyphony as one of the great repertoires of western classical music. Volume 2 features recordings released between 1990 and 1999.

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My sleeve note for the original 1992 Gimell release of Brumel’s Missa Et ecce terrae motus makes interesting reading now:

It is hard to think of any other piece of music quite like the twelve-part ‘Earthquake’ Mass by Antoine Brumel (c1460–c1520). Both in its employment of twelve voices for almost its entire length and in its musical effects, there is nothing comparable to it in the Renaissance period, even if some of those effects may remind the listener of Tallis’s forty-part motet Spem in alium. Brumel’s masterpiece did not inaugurate a fashion for massive compositions, but it did quickly establish a formidable reputation for itself, admired throughout central Europe in the sixteenth century as an experiment which could not easily be repeated. It is tribute enough that the only surviving source was copied in Munich under the direct supervision of the late Renaissance composer Orlandus Lassus, who nonetheless never tried to rival its idiom in his own work.

There is an echo of this in its recent performance history. It still has a formidable reputation but is very rarely sung, far less often than Spem in alium. The Tallis Scholars have not been involved in a concert performance of it since 1995, and then with the Kyrie and Gloria only. Even when we collected the necessary forces together in the Birmingham Symphony Hall in 2006 to perform Gombert’s Missa Tempore paschali, whose third Agnus is based on the Brumel (giving the only lie I know to the observation that the Brumel Mass was an experiment which could not be easily repeated) we didn’t go on to sing any of the Brumel. There is no reason for this neglect, apart from its length and complexity: it never quite seems to fit. Its time will undoubtedly come, as it did for Spem in alium, but for the moment its isolated status is rather emphasized.

A pupil of Josquin Des Prez and one of the leading Franco-Flemish composers around 1500, Brumel was famous throughout the sixteenth century. In a period which has left a large number of laments in memory of its great composers, Brumel received an exceptional number, more than Obrecht, Mouton and Agricola put together. Thomas Morley (in A Plain and Easy Intro­duc­tion to Practical Music, 1597) was probably the last writer to praise Brumel for his skill, the only master he ranked alongside Josquin, making particular reference to his ability in the art of canonic composition. Brumel is important to modern commentators because he was one of the few leading members of the Franco-Flemish school to be genuinely French, which is to say that he was born outside the boundaries of the Burgundian Empire, somewhere near Chartres. He was initially employed in France proper at the Cathedrals of Chartres and Laon and (in 1498) at Notre-Dame in Paris where he was responsible for the education of the choirboys. However he seems to have had a restless temperament, which led to his dismissal on at least two occasions, and he soon began the peripatetic life of so many musicians of the Renaissance period. There is evidence that he was employed in Geneva, Chambéry and probably Rome; but the high-point of his career was the fifteen years he spent as successor to Josquin and Obrecht at the court of Ferrara (between 1505 and 1520) in the retinue of Alfonso d’Este I.

Brumel’s reputation as a writer of canons would not have been greatly increased by the simple example which underlies the Missa Et ecce terrae motus, for all that the presence of the canon plays an important role in understanding the unusual musical style of the whole. Brumel restricted his quotation of the Easter plainsong antiphon at Lauds, Et ecce terrae motus, to its first seven notes (which set the seven syllables of its title to D-D-B-D-E-D-D), working them in three-part canon between the third bass and the first two tenor parts during some of the Mass’s twelve-part passages. These statements occur in very long notes compared with the surrounding activity and their details may vary slightly from quotation to quotation (for example, which of the three voices begins and what the interval between them may be). By and large, though, the realization of this canonic scaffolding is not rigorous and many of the sections of the Mass are free of canon altogether.

However the influence of these slow-moving notes can be heard throughout the work, whether they are actually there or not, in the solid, slow-changing underlying chords. A casual listener to the Missa Et ecce terrae motus, confused at first by the teeming detail of the rhythmic patterns, may hear only some rather disappointing harmonies. Closer listening will reveal why Brumel chose to write in so many parts: he needed them to decorate his colossal harmonic pillars. In doing so he effectively abandoned polyphony in the sense of independent yet interrelated melodic lines, and resorted to sequences and figurations which were atypical of his time. The effect can even be akin to that of Islamic art: static, non-representational, tire­less­ly inventive in its use of abstract designs, which are intensified by their repetitive application. This style of writing is so effective that anyone who might be reminded of Spem in alium would be unable to conceive of the need for another twenty-eight parts.

The manuscript source for Brumel’s ‘Earth­quake’ Mass (Munich Bayerische Staats­biblio­thek Mus. MS1) was copied for a perfor­mance in about 1570 at the Bavarian court. The names of the thirty-three court singers are given against the nine lower parts (the boys are not named), amongst whom Lassus sang Tenor II. Unfortunately the last folios, which contain the Agnus Dei, have rotted, leaving holes in the voice-parts. Any editor of the piece is presented with the unusual task of trying to guess where the notes which he can read might fit, as they are placed on the page in individual parts rather than in score; then re-compose what is missing. This was done for Gimell by Francis Knights. A further Agnus Dei, on the Et ecce terrae motus chant and attributed to Brumel, survives in Copenhagen; but it is widely thought not to belong to the twelve-part Mass, since it is for six voices, which use different vocal ranges from those in the twelve-part setting. In addition its musical style differs in various important respects from that of the larger work, not least in quoting many more than the first seven notes of the chant. For these reasons it has been omitted from this recording. The Mass is scored for three sopranos, one true alto, five wide-ranging tenors and three basses. The tessitura of all these parts (except perhaps that of the sopranos) is unpredictable to the point of eccentricity. Countertenor II, for example, has a range of two octaves and a tone, the widest vocal range I have ever met in Renaissance music.

It would be going too far to say that Heinrich Isaac (c1450–1517) is an unjustly neglected composer; yet his reputation is still confined to the limbo which contains so many of the leading figures of the Renaissance period. He is probably a little more performed than Philippe de Monte, a little less than Cristóbal de Morales; but in the company of those few who were rated amongst the very best in their lifetimes, Isaac has much to prove to modern audiences. No one would think on current evidence to mention him in the same breath as his great contemporary Josquin Des Prez, yet in the early years of the sixteenth century they were held to be on the same level of achievement: the two pre-eminent composers in Europe.

In fact it would be fair enough to treat Josquin and Isaac as a complementary pair, in the way that Lassus and Palestrina, or Bach and Handel, or Wagner and Verdi are. This would be fascinating both in terms of their careers and their styles of writing. Josquin’s view of com­position was to keep to four-part textures even in music for grand occasions, whereas Isaac preferred the greater breadth of five or six voices. This Mass is for six voices – quite normal in the music of Isaac but rare enough elsewhere. Only the English routinely used so many voices, and one hears how Isaac rivals the English in deploying all these resources to create his characteristically thick and dissonant cadential formulas. Where Josquin preferred more intimate sounds, often constructing his contrapuntal lines of short motifs which he could combine in various permutations, Isaac, in going for the big sound, wrote longer spans of melody: melodies which maintain a looser relationship to each other in the polyphonic ebb and flow than Josquin’s tighter method. Nowhere is this more evident than in the supremely beautiful ‘Gratias agimus’ from the Gloria of the Missa de Apostolis, a phrase I have come to think of as one of the most beautiful I know, from any period. Isaac was, quite simply, one of the greatest masters of what might be called vocal orches­tration.

A comparison between Josquin and Isaac is anyway encouraged by the fact that they were both born in the Low Countries in the middle of the fifteenth century and spent much of their early careers in Italy. Isaac was in Florence by 1485 in the service of Lorenzo de’ Medici. His only other significant term of employment began in 1497 when he became court composer to the Emperor Maximilian I in Vienna, perhaps the most illustrious post available to a musician at that time. For the rest of his life he alternated between being resident in Vienna and Florence, though he never formally left Maximilian’s service, eventually coming to prefer the latter, where he died.

Isaac’s Missa de Apostolis is based on a selection of Gregorian chants taken from the repertoire of the Feast of the Apostles. It will immediately be noticed that the music follows a number of the unusual and conservative litur­gical procedures current in Germany and Austria around 1500, when this music was written. In particular a composer was expected to set the Mass in alternation between chant and polyphony, section by section and in every move­ment. This turns the Kyrie, for example, into a full invocation in nine separate sections. The chant duly carries straight through from the mono­phonic verses into the polyphony, appearing in all the different voice-parts at different times as a decorated cantus firmus. This process unfortunately breaks down in the Gloria where it proved impossible to rediscover the chant on which Isaac had based his music, and another one in the same mode had to be substituted. In addition the Credo was not set because it was not then customary to include it as part of the polyphonic Ordinary. In fact Isaac left a large body of separate polyphonic Credo settings, which presumably were used in contem­porary services, but none was found to fit this particular chant and vocal scoring. Although his polyphonic sections are constantly being inter­rupted by statements of unadorned chant, Isaac managed to set his texts on the grandest scale. This unhurried breadth of effect is one of his most valuable artistic achievements.

It is exactly this breadth of phrase which has made Isaac’s Tota pulchra es one of our most durable concert items. The originality of Isaac’s unusually long phrases, the beauty of the word-setting, and the quasi-recitative at the beginning of the second part, have all contributed to its popularity. Although the text includes famous words from the Song of Songs, it also includes material from the Book of Judith. Originally compiled as a prayer written in the fourth century, it became one of the five antiphons for the Psalms of Second Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, whose chant Isaac used in this setting. These notes can be heard in the first section between the first and third parts, which maintain a dialogue so close it is almost canonic. In the second part this alliance breaks down, to be replaced by a looser framework. The rapt silences towards the end of the setting are balanced by the recitative style referred to above: the Altitonans voice (sung on this recording by a high tenor) describes delicate turns and arabesques, whilst accompanied by harmonized chant which sustains long notes around it.

To describe Obrecht’s Missa Maria zart (Mass for Gentle Mary) as a ‘great work’ is true in two respects. It is a masterpiece of sustained and largely abstract musical thought; and it is possibly the longest polyphonic setting of the Mass Ordinary ever written, over twice the length of the more standard examples by Palestrina and Josquin. It would be good to know why Obrecht was moved to write such a colossus. Even in the late fifteenth century, seventy minutes of abstract polyphony in a service might have raised a few eyebrows, and, in the modern context, I have never heard of it being done in concert. In fact when this disc first came out it was argued by some reviewers that my speeds were too slow, adding unnecessary length to the whole. I will show below how the music was written and why it is so long, but it is worth saying again that I never impose speeds on my singers. On session and in concert we find the speed which suits our voices, the building and the music best. This was as true for this recording as for any other.

Jacob Obrecht (1457/8–1505) was born in Ghent and died in Ferrara. If the place of death suggests that he was yet another Franco-Flemish composer who received his training in the Low Countries and made his living in Italy, this is inaccurate. For although Obrecht was probably the most admired living composer alongside Josquin Des Prez, he consistently failed to find employment in the Italian Renaissance courts. The reason for this may have been that he could not sing well enough: musicians at that time were primarily required to perform, to which composing took second place. Instead he was engaged by churches in his native land, in Utrecht, Bergen op Zoom, Cambrai, Bruges and Antwerp before he finally decided in 1504 to take the risk and go to the d’Este court in Ferrara. Within a few months of arriving there he had contracted the plague. He died as the leading representative of Northern polyphonic style, an idiom which his Missa Maria zart explores to the full.

This Mass has inevitably attracted a fair amount of attention. The most recent writer on the subject is Rob Wegman: ‘Maria zart is the sphinx among Obrecht’s Masses. It is vast. Even the sections in reduced scoring … are unusually extended. Two successive duos in the Gloria comprise over 100 bars, two successive trios in the Credo close to 120; the Benedictus alone stretches over more than 100 bars’; ‘Maria zart has to be experienced as the whole, one hour-long sound event that it is, and it will no doubt evoke different responses in each listener … one might say that the composer retreated into a sound world all his own’; ‘Maria zart is perhaps the only Mass that truly conforms to Besseler’s description of Obrecht as the outsider genius of the Josquin period.’

The special sound world of Maria zart was not in fact created by anything unusual in its choice of voices. Many four-part Masses of the later fifteenth century were written for a similar grouping: low soprano, as here, or high alto as the top part; two roughly equal tenor lines, one of them normally carrying the chant when it is quoted in long notes; and bass. The unusual element is to a certain extent the range of the voices – they are all required to sing at extremes of their registers and to make very wide leaps – but more importantly the actual detail of the writing: the protracted sequences against the long chant notes, the instrumental-like repeti­tions and imitations.

It is this detail which explains the sheer length of this Mass. At thirty-two bars the melody of Maria zart is already quite long as a paraphrase model (the Western Wind melody, for example, is twenty-two bars long) and it duly becomes longer when it is stated in very protracted note-lengths. This happens repeatedly in all the movements, the most substantial augmentation being times twelve (for example, ‘Benedicimus te’ and ‘suscipe deprecationem nostram’ in the Gloria; ‘visibilium’ and ‘Et ascendit’ in the Credo). But what ultimately makes the setting so extremely elaborate is Obrecht’s technique of tirelessly playing with the many short phrases of this melody, quoting snippets of it in different voices against each other, constantly varying the extent of the augmentation even within a single statement, taking motifs from it which can then be turned into other melodies and sequences, stating the phrases in antiphony between different voices. By making a kaleidoscope of the melody in these ways he literally saturated all the voice-parts in all the sections with references to it. To identify them all would be a near impossible task. The only time that Maria zart is quoted in full from beginning to end without interruption, fittingly, is at the conclusion of the Mass, in the soprano part of the third Agnus Dei (though even here Obrecht several times intro­duced unscheduled octave leaps).

At the same time as constantly quoting from the Maria zart melody Obrecht developed some idiosyncratic ways of adorning it. Perhaps the first thing to strike the ear is that the texture of the music is remarkably homogeneous. There are none of the quick bursts of vocal virtuosity one may find in Ockeghem, nor the equally quick bursts of disrupted metre beloved of Dufay and others. The calmer, more consistent world of Josquin is suggested (though it is worth remem­bering that Josquin may well have learnt this technique in the first place from Obrecht). This sound is partly achieved by use of motifs, often derived from the tune, which keep the rhythmic stability of the original but go on to acquire a life of their own. Most famously these motifs become sequences – an Obrecht special – some of them with a dazzling number of repetitions (nine at ‘miserere’ in the middle of Agnus Dei I; six of the much more substantial phrase at ‘qui ex Patre’ in the Credo; nine in the soprano part alone at ‘Benedicimus te’ in the Gloria. This number is greatly increased by imitation in the other non-chant parts). Perhaps this method is at its most beautiful at the beginning of the Sanctus. In addition the motifs are used in imitation between the voices, sometimes so presented that the singers have to describe leaps of anything up to a twelfth to take their place in the scheme (as in the ‘Benedicimus te’ passage mentioned above). It is the impres­sion which Obrecht gives of having had an inexhaustible supply of these motifs and melodic ideas, free or derived, that gives this piece so much of its vitality. The mesmerizing effect of these musical snippets unceasingly passing back and forth around the long notes of the central melody is at the heart of the particular sound world of this great work.

When Obrecht wrote his Missa Maria zart is not certain. Wegman concludes that it is a late work – possibly his last surviving Mass-setting – on the suggestion that Obrecht was in Innsbruck, on his way to Italy, at about the time that some other settings of the Maria zart melody are known to have been written. These, by Ludwig Senfl and others, appeared between 1500 and 1504–6; the melody itself, a devotional mono­phonic song, was probably written in the Tyrol in the late fifteenth century. The idea that this Mass, stylistically at odds with much of Obrecht’s other known late works and anyway set apart from all his other compositions, was something of a swan song is particularly appealing. We shall never know exactly what Obrecht was hoping to prove in it, but by going to the extremes he did he set his contemporaries a challenge in a certain kind of technique which they proved unable or unwilling to rival. One thinks again of the status of Brumel’s Missa Et ecce terrae motus, equally setting a challenge, albeit a very different one, which was never really taken up.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah are five separate poems, allegedly written by the Prophet Jeremiah to bewail the destruction of Jerusalem and of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC. It is said that Jeremiah retired to a cavern outside the Damascus gate to write the book, a cavern that is still pointed out by tour guides. It was there, in an attitude of grief which Michelangelo immortalized in the Sistine Chapel (and which we used on the cover of our recent disc of Lamentations by Victoria) that the prophet may be supposed to have mourned the fall of his country. Of the five poems, four are acrostics like some of the Psalms (for example Nos 25, 34, 37 and 119), each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth poems have twenty-two verses each, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet; the third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not an acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

The strength of the feeling expressed in these verses is so intense that many commentators have been happy to assume that the writer had the reality of the city’s destruction before his eyes as he wrote. Certainly they have become important words in the liturgies of several Christian churches, as well as in Jewish worship. In the Western church they are sung at Matins on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, in a service which is known as Tenebrae on account of being held after dark. The darkness, the emotive events of Holy Week itself, the sombre texts and standardly intense music, combine to make Tenebrae one of the most powerful experiences in the Church’s year.

This recording presents six settings of the Lamentations. Each ends with the call ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God’, as was customary in the Roman Catholic liturgy of the sixteenth century, otherwise the actual verses chosen by these composers rarely overlap. All of them, with the exception of Palestrina, set verses from the first four poems and so followed the convention of preceding each verse with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Teth, Ghimel and so on – Palestrina chose his text from the fifth poem where there are none). And there is an expressive distinction between how they set the letters and the text proper: the former in elaborate, abstract music; the latter more syllabic, more matter-of-fact. Where the main body of the text has the kind of immediacy which delights in dissonant harmony and word-painting, the letters come over by comparison like an illuminated initial in a medieval manuscript, colourful against the black certainties of the script. It is this juxta­position, of the freely elegiac with the bitterness of Jeremiah’s complaints, that makes this music so fascinating.

Of these five composers perhaps Alfonso Ferrabosco is the least known. He was born in Bologna in 1542/3, and died there in 1588. However he spent much of his life at the court of Elizabeth I of England where he was the sole Italian fostering interest in the madrigal, an interest which bore fruit in the year of his death with the publication of Musica Transalpina. By that time he had returned to Italy, his desire to live in England possibly diminished by having been a spy, and surely affected by having faced charges for murder. Although he cleared his name of these charges he never returned, leaving his family behind, which included an illegitimate son also named Alfonso who later became renowned as a writer of consort music.

Alfonso the Elder set Lamentation texts no fewer than four times – remarkable in an other­wise quite small sacred output; and his son also left a set. The fact that the Ferraboscos were Catholic at least by birth, and the widespread interest in these texts among native English composers, some of whom certainly had Catholic leanings – Tallis, White, Byrd, Parsley – does suggest that these poems were being used to make a covert political statement. By any stan­dards the music is impassioned – Ferrabosco’s as much as Tallis’s. The two famous sets by Tallis were probably intended as independent motets for use in Holy Week and not for any ritual office; indeed it is possible they were not con­ceived as church music at all, but rather for private recreational singing by loyal Catholics. Although the texts of the two sets comply almost precisely to those of the first two Lessons of Matins on Maundy Thursday in the Sarum Use, they would not have been sung consecutively, being separated by a sung responsorium, In monte Oliveti. Tallis has in any case set his two lessons in different modes, which suggests that they were not performed as a sequence whether in a service or at home.

By contrast White set two separate laments which are customarily sung together. These are consummate pieces of vocal architecture, the emotion carefully channelled in both halves towards the concluding phrase ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum’ which in Elizabeth I’s England would have been taken as code for ‘restore the Catholic Church’. The power of White’s setting of these famous words has been apparent almost since the day it was written: the scribe of the unique source of the work added (in Latin) at the end of his transcription: ‘Not even the words of the gloomy prophet sound so sad as the sad music of my composer.’ White’s setting is unique in making use of the high treble voice – by his time not as high as it had been.

Presumably none of these animadversions on hidden meanings apply to the settings by Brumel and Palestrina – Catholics living in Catholic countries. Brumel’s only surviving set, one of the most beautiful in the repertory, is also one of the most sombre, building up a rare mood of desolation by low scoring and slow harmonic movement. As usual the Hebrew letters (in this case ‘Heth’ and ‘Caph’) are set separately from the main body of the text; less usual was the conception of the ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem’ section in triple time, though this rather well suits the accents in the word ‘Jerusalem’. However, unusually for a Franco-Flemish composer of the period, there is little true counterpoint in the writing and no imitation. The intense, essentially chordal style rather reminds one of the music of the Spanish composer Victoria of nearly a hundred years later. In this respect, as in the sequences to be found in the Mass described above, Brumel seems to have been in advance of his time.

Though there must be doubt as to whether the sets discussed so far were intended for liturgical use, with the Palestrina there is no doubt. He set these texts many times, and always with a specific service in mind. In this case it was Matins on Holy Saturday, the example included here being the third lesson or lectio. The first and second lectio were printed in the source material before this one, and it is interesting to note that they are both for five voices, whereas this is for six. Clearly Palestrina had a scheme in mind which would carry the listener through the service, building musically and emotionally towards its conclusion.

It is fair to say that Cipriano de Rore was both one of the most brilliant composers of the six­teenth century, and that he had one of the most divided musical personalities. Such a division was not particularly rare in the High Renais­sance: Lassus, Byrd, Gesualdo, even Palestrina wrote madrigals as well as Masses and motets, but they tended to do it in a com­posi­tional style which served both genres. With Cipriano de Rore the gap between the two is much wider. On the one hand he wrote secular music in a style which was so dramatically new that he is hailed as one of the most significant precursors of Monteverdi. On the other he wrote sacred music firmly within the (rather mathe­matical) confines of the Flemish school, a true successor to Josquin Des Prez.

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 forty-seven 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 these two categories it is the motets which show most clearly his training as a Franco-Flemish musician in the Josquin tradition; the Masses, although not in the least madrigalian, tend to be a little freer in method, especially when they are based on a pre-existing model. 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.

In one sense very little of Rore’s Missa Praeter rerum seriem 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 Jesum 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.

If there is one piece by Rore which seems to marry his sacred and secular styles together it is the motet Descendi in hortum meum. Ultimately it is still firmly in the Flemish tradition with some advanced canonic writing – which never­the­less never seems to interrupt the flow of the music (and I failed to notice that there was canonic writing underpinning it for some years). But beside the clever mathematical structures Rore was clearly striving to adapt old techniques to his own expressive purposes, which in this case had to encompass the wistful, lovelorn poetry of the Song of Songs. The most beautiful passage in this hybrid style comes towards the end at the words ‘Return, return, O Shulamite; return that we may look upon you’. But even though this music has the most seductive atmosphere about it, being in triple-time and apparently artless, the canon continues as before, the repeated melody led by the second alto, followed by the second soprano at the fifth and the first tenor at the octave.

The Portuguese school of Renaissance com­posers is only just beginning to be explored. It came to maturity relatively slowly, and when it finally did, in the first half of the seventeenth century, much of the rest of Europe had moved on to a new musical world. Only countries on the edge of the Continent – especially England, Poland and Portugal – continued as late as 1650 to give employment to composers who found creative possibilities in unaccompanied choral music. Even so, very few of these composers remained completely untouched by the experi­ments of Monteverdi and the new Italian Baroque school, so that their music became a fascinating hybrid, looking forward and back, often unexpectedly introducing twists and turns to what otherwise might be taken for pure ‘Palestrina’. Late Renaissance English com­posers are famous for this: it is time that their contemporaries in Portugal earned the same credit. Of the four leading names – Estêvão de Brito (c1575–1641), Filipe de Magalhães (c1571–1652), Duarte Lôbo (1565–1646) and Manuel Cardoso (c1566–1650) – it was Cardoso who mixed old and new most successfully, producing his own highly characterful style.

Cardoso spent his life as a member of the Carmelite order attached to the wealthy Convento do Carmo at Lisbon. Before taking his vows in 1589, he had been trained as a choirboy at Évora Cathedral. Between 1618 and 1625 he was employed by the Duke of Barcelos, who later became King John IV, a most useful patron since he was himself a keen musician and a competent composer. Cardoso’s surviving works are printed in five collections, two of which were paid for by King John. Of these five the first and last (1613 and 1648) are general collections of motets and Magnificats, while the other three (1625, 1636 and 1636) are books of Masses. All the parody Masses in the 1625 book are based on motets by Palestrina, which explains how Cardoso came to have such a secure grasp of the essentials of Renaissance style. The parody Masses of the second book (1636) are all on motets by the future John IV and in his third book of Masses (also 1636) Cardoso printed a set of six (two each for four, five and six voices) on a single motet by Philip IV of Spain. Although Cardoso was the most widely published Portu­guese composer of his time, his reputation would have been more internationally established if the Antwerp publishing house of Plantin had accepted an offer which Cardoso made them in 1611 to publish his works. In the end Plantin proved to be too expensive for this relatively provincial composer.

We cannot know the extent to which Cardoso experimented with the more obvious kinds of Baroque style, since all his poly­choral music was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The five publications referred to above are exclu­sively in Renaissance style, except that there is no other Renais­sance idiom quite like it. This is evident from the very first few bars of the six-part Requiem recorded here: the augmented interval between the opening tenor A flat and the second soprano E natural instantly strikes the ear, suggesting Baroque harmony of course, yet the polyphony continues untroubled, with old-fashioned imita­tion surrounding and concealing the chant (normally in the first soprano part) essentially as Josquin would have done it a hundred years earlier. These augmented intervals, along with false relations and certain chromatic inflections at cadences, were permanent features of Cardoso’s idiom; and it was these which so struck listeners when the original disc of this music was released by Gimell in 1990, estab­lishing him for the first time as a major figure of the period.

More generally, however, he kept closely to the mainstream Renaissance style he probably inherited from the Spanish. In this Requiem he adopted a method closely reminiscent of Victoria’s own six-part setting, which Cardoso must surely have known. As with Victoria, the chant is placed in one of the two soprano parts, not in the more normal tenor, and the sur-rounding polyphony is made to move in the same timeless state, in long melodic lines undisturbed by cadences. This timelessness is actually achieved by the slow harmonic turnover which proceeds from distributing the chant in semibreves (in modern transcription) and the basic pulse of the counterpoint in minims. Only in the ‘Domine, Jesu Christe’ are these note-lengths halved (minim chant with crotchet move­ment around it), which allows greater agitation for such words as ‘Libera eas de ore leonis’.

The Requiem is scored for SSAATB; the closing ‘Libera me’ is for four voices only (SATB), though the style of the earlier move­ments has been perfectly maintained in it. Cardoso’s idiom is just eccentric enough to make the harmony at the words ‘dum veneris’, as transmitted by the source, intentional. The possibility that it is nonetheless a printer’s error remains; but we decided to believe it, even though the result is far from textbook Palestrina. The Requiem was published in the 1625 book of Masses, but it is not known for whose obsequies it was written.

Peter Phillips © 2010

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