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Hyperion Records

CDA67854 - Schoendorff: The Complete Works
Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593)
CDA67854
Recording details: April 2010
Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Markus Wallner
Release date: May 2011
Total duration: 59 minutes 55 seconds

'Cinquecento's famed flexibility, harmonic blend and impeccable balance are caught perfectly in the stillness of the monastery at Pernegg in Austria. This is a disc to savour' (Gramophone)

'The music, a wonderful discovery, is polyphony of the highest quality, and Cinquecento marries smooth ensemble to marvellous interpretational vision. The recorded sound is excellent, doing full justice to their almost instrumental sonorities' (Choir & Organ)

'The voices of Cinquecento produce balanced, tuneful, clear and stylish performances … the quiet tensions of the 'Et incarnatus est' section are beautifully rendered, and the Benedictus is displayed and sustained with perfect poise … the recording deserves credit, too, for lending substance and space to the mere six voices that produce these compelling harmonies' (BBC Music Magazine)

'[Cinquecento] gives resounding interpretations of the pieces … the ensemble's sonorous tone is based principally on a perfect balance between the voices, taut and intelligent pacing and a supremely confident shaping of musical line. The effect of their performances is enhanced as much by the lucid and warmly resonant recorded sound as the euphonious clarity of Schoendorff's writing' (International Record Review)

The Complete Works

Gramophone award nominees Cinquecento add another glorious recording to their Hyperion discography. This vocal sextet, comprising six professional singers from five European countries, are rapidly becoming one of the most admired early music ensembles of the time. The lithe, clear yet rich and warm tones of the six singers are the perfect instruments for the complex polyphony of the sixteenth century. Their profound collective and individual musicianship, mellifluous phrasing, perfect intonation and commitment to their chosen repertoire are clearly apparent in this gem of a disc.

In this recording the group uncover the complete surviving works of Philipp Schoendorff. Schoendorff, originally a pupil of the illustrious Philippe de Monte, was a successful choirmaster at the Prague court of the Emperor Rudolf II. Also included are a Magnificat by his teacher de Monte and the two motets on which his pupil based his Masses.

No fan of Renaissance polyphony should overlook this outstanding recording.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Rudolf II (1552–1612) has gone down in history as something of a tragic figure, known as ‘the eccentric of Prague Castle’ or ‘the saturnine emperor’. Yet he was in reality a great patron of the arts and sciences, despite the increasing budgetary restrictions imposed on the imperial court in the late sixteenth century.

The son of Maximilian II, Rudolf had been sent to Spain to be educated at the court of his uncle, the devoutly Catholic Philip II, with the aim of reassuring Philip (and Rome) as to the religious orthodoxy of the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs—this, of course, at a time when religious struggles were tearing western Europe apart and the Turkish threat was ever present. On his return to Vienna the young archduke was soon elected King of Hungary (1572) and then of Bohemia (1575), before inheriting the imperial crown after his father died suddenly in 1576. From 1583 until his death he no longer resided in Vienna, where he deemed the palace too cramped and insufficiently prestigious, but at Prague Castle. A humanistic and ‘pansophical’ personality, Rudolf II saw the arts and sciences as the way to achieve a better understanding of the cosmos and biblical revelation. In his desire to demonstrate the relationship between the human microcosm and the macrocosm of the universe, he surrounded himself with the most eminent scholars of his time—Tycho Brahe, Giordano Bruno and Johannes Kepler, to name only a few. Artists such as painters, sculptors, poets and goldsmiths were there merely to satisfy the most immoderate of his passions: collecting. The painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whom he had always known since he had already served Rudolf’s father and grandfather, even immortalized him in his own way as a symbol of autumnal abundance (Vertumnus).

For generations music had played a key role in both the private and the political life of the court. In this respect, although he had not inherited his father’s passion for music, Rudolf II was interested in assuring continuity from one reign to another. Hence he had no hesitation in re-engaging his father’s musicians along with their master, the illustrious Philippe de Monte.

For generations, too, the court had recruited musicians (children or adults, and preferably the finest) from the northern regions of the Empire—the Low Countries and especially the prince-bishopric of Liège—for there was general admiration for ‘the natural perfection and melodious grace possessed by the men and the women of this region when they sing or play any instrument’ (Lodovico Guicciardini, 1567).

Hence a dozen or so Liégeois were to be found in Vienna, and later Prague, under the direction of Philippe de Monte. One of them was Philipp Schoendorff, a late sixteenth-century representative of the type of all-round musicus inherited from the Middle Ages, combining the talents of singer and instrumentalist, composer and pedagogue—the very sort of musician that the impending Baroque era would gradually see disappear. The works of this trumpet player from Liège which have been conserved in contemporary printed collections or manuscripts have now been transcribed and thereby made accessible to today’s musicians. Schoendorff served three emperors in succession, Maximilian II, Rudolf II and his brother Matthias: thirty years of music at the imperial court.

In the collection Odae suavissimae in gratiam et honorem … D. Jacobi Chimarrhaei …, which Schoendorff published at the end of his career and dedicated to his patron and friendly father-figure Jacques (Jacob) Chimarrhaeus de Ruremonde for the latter’s sixtieth birthday, his signature to the preface is followed by ‘Leodius’ (from Liège). We know neither his date of birth nor when he began his training, but it is known that he was already a choirboy at the court of Archduke Matthias. When his voice broke, his acknowledged talent meant that he was not sent back to his homeland as was the custom, but taken in and trained personally by the court chaplain and alto Jacques Chimarrhaeus, who also hailed from the diocese of Liège. It was doubtless here that he began playing the trumpet and learnt the art of composing according to the rules of the great ‘Netherlands polyphonic tradition’. He probably also took lessons from his Italian-influenced compatriot Lambert de Sayve, whom he had met at the start of his career with Archduke Matthias in Linz. The best way for the young Schoendorff to attract attention and secure his position among the impressive members of Rudolf’s chapel—some fifty musicians (chaplains, singers, instrumentalists, copyists, instrument makers, tuners, etc)—was to dedicate a composition to the monarch. This he duly did in 1587 with his Missa super La dolce vista. At the same time the work pays friendly tribute to the master of the imperial chapel Philippe de Monte by making use of one of the latter’s madrigals, published in 1569. Schoendorff did not stop there, for he also composed a Mass for six voices on a motet by his superior, Usquequo Domine. In addition to this he wrote two motets and a Magnificat (the scholarly literature mistakenly mentions a second). One can only regret the loss of the top two parts in the two six-voice secular motets which Schoendorff wrote when he joined with the finest composers at the court to honour the almoner and director of the chapel in the collection Odae suavissimae. Their strictly syllabic style is quite different from that of the sacred works and suggests the more intimate environment in which they would have been performed.

Philippe de Monte composed motets only in the second part of his career, from 1568 onwards. The two-part motet for six voices Usquequo Domine oblivisceris me?, which Schoendorff chose as the model for his Mass, was published in Venice in 1587. It is a setting of the six verses of Psalm 12 (Vulgate). The use of the Psalms in the Roman Catholic liturgy at this period seems to have been influenced by the Protestant practice of performing them in full. By the late 1580s Philippe de Monte, now a sexagenarian personally affected by the often itinerant life (one need only think of the many imperial diets) and the financial difficulties of the court, was in such bad health and poor spirits that he expressed a desire to resign from the court. In this context, the setting of this Psalm takes on special significance and seems to reflect the Kapellmeister’s state of mind.

Schoendorff’s Missa Usquequo Domine in six voices has been preserved, along with others by such imperial musicians as Philippe de Monte, Carl Luython, Giorgi Flori and Jacob Regnart, in a manuscript compiled in the late sixteenth century for St James’s church in Kuttenberg (Kutná Hora, east of Prague). Philippe de Monte’s motet contains all the ingredients we find in the Mass. The melodic material gradually breaks free from its model, but the six-voice texture is maintained pretty much throughout. The use of six voices became widespread at this time, because this made it possible to double parts and above all to vary the sound by combining them in pairs, in threes, two against four, and so on, thus creating a variety of planes of sound which one might compare to the innovations of perspective in painting (‘Christe eleison’). Another advantage of this technique is that it enables the composer, by giving each group of voices a different part of a phrase, to get through the text more quickly and thus to shorten the piece. This is the principle of dovetailing normally applied in the Gloria and Credo of a Missa brevis. Homophony is used for expressive purposes (in the motet ‘dolorem in corde meo’, ‘Respice’, ‘exaudi me’; in the Mass ‘suscipe deprecationem’, ‘Jesum Christum’, ‘per quem omnia facta sunt’), and when all the voices join forces it is to underline an important point in the text (‘Et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam’). We also encounter, as in the motet (at ‘exsultabunt’ and ‘Cantabo’), melismas on ‘Sanctus’ and ‘in nomine’, as well as rhythmic shifts from duple to faster triple time (at ‘Exsultabit cor meum’ in the motet), a device traditionally reserved for the expression of joy or divine perfection: ‘in gloria Dei Patris’.

Schoendorff’s Magnificat sexti toni for five voices comes from a collection of nine settings of that text published in Venice in 1593 by one of his colleagues, the Carmelite friar, tenor and court chaplain Vincenzo Nerito, who dedicated it to Chimarrhaeus. This publication was so successful that it was reissued seven years later by a Nuremberg printer. The Magnificat is sung at Sunday and Festal Vespers. As one of the innovations of the Counter-Reformation, a new Marian feast had been extended to the Church Universal in 1585: the Presentation of the Virgin (21 November). Complying with a wish already expressed a generation previously by the Council of Trent, the setting of the canticle from Luke’s Gospel alternates plainchant with polyphony while respecting the clarity of the Latin prosody, thus guaranteeing the intelligibility of the text (‘et divites dimisit’). However, as the eminent instrumentalist he was, the composer also displays his taste for ornamentation and coloratura (‘ad patres nostros’, ‘in brachio suo’).

The five-voice motet Te decet hymnus, published in Nuremberg in 1600, a setting of the first two verses of Psalm 64 which are sung as the Introit of the Office of the Dead, is faithful to the technique of imitation limited to the entries of the different voices. In the central part homophony makes its appearance with pairs of voices (‘et tibi reddetur’, ‘Exaudi orationem’, ‘ad te omnis’) before a conclusion in freer counterpoint.

The Magnificat quarti toni for four voices by Philippe de Monte is part of a group of eight Magnificat settings (in the eight liturgical tones) which have come down to us in a manuscript of 1602. These works are probably earlier in date than the manuscript, and they may plausibly be linked with the revival of the cult of Mary mentioned above. The texture is often homophonic, with tenor and bass treated in falsobordone. The music generates an atmosphere of intimate mystical clarity.

The five-voice motet Veni Sancte Spiritus, published along with the Te decet hymnus, takes over from plainchant the opening melody in descending thirds of the invocation to the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The syllabic style sometimes accentuates the prosody (‘et tui amoris’), while runs are used to convey the lightness of the Holy Spirit and the jubilation of the Alleluia. Not only does the head-motif follow a descending curve, but the five voices enter successively from cantus to bassus: this expressive device allows us to ‘hear’ the Holy Spirit descending on the faithful. The spiritual union granted to them despite their diversity of language is twice symbolized by homophony in three voices on the words ‘gentes in unitate fidei congregasti’.

The Italian madrigal La dolce vista della donna mia is a work of the Italian period of Philippe de Monte, known to us from the second edition of his first book of madrigals for six voices (1569). This gently nostalgic piece of an elegiac, inward character was extremely popular and was frequently reprinted, sometimes in lute tablature. Monte himself reused it for a Mass in eight voices for two choirs.

Like the first Mass on this recording, Schoendorff’s Missa super La dolce vista belongs to the tradition of parody Masses, which borrow the themes of a sacred or secular work by a known or anonymous composer in order to exploit and vary their melodic material over the customary five sections of the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus–Benedictus, Agnus Dei). This tradition dating from the late Middle Ages enjoyed increasing success during the Renaissance—a success which the Council of Trent attempted to curb, not least because the borrowed material was often popular, frivolous or even erotic in character. Musicians saw in the practice a way to pay tribute to (or shrewdly benefit from the reputation of) an admired colleague or a revered master, as is the case with the two Masses recorded here. The manuscript containing this Mass is preserved in Nuremberg and dates from 1594.

Schoendorff’s Mass, considerably shorter than that of his master of the chapel, retains the same structure and the six voices of the madrigal, along with their division into answering groups of two, three or four voices. This brief, syllabic Mass, conjuring up memories of a madrigal probably enjoyed by an emperor partial to the pleasures of love, in the end complies with both the prescriptions of the Council of Trent and the requirements of a sovereign with little taste for long religious services.

Bénédicte Even-Lassmann © 2011
English: Charles Johnston

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