Incomprehensibilia firme/Praeter rerum ordinem
is indelibly marked with Busnois’ fingerprints when translated into sound. Rob Wegman’s case for the authorship of this piece, like Gallagher’s for O pulcherrima
, rests on considerations of mensural layout, cantus firmus layout and motivic behaviour. Yet in this instance resemblances to pieces firmly ascribed to Busnois, in particular his motet In hydraulis
, are so striking that it is difficult to imagine this motet being the work of anyone else. In its extraordinary control of musical architecture, relentless forward drive and brilliantly glittering surface, Incomprehensibilia
stands as one of the most impressive musical edifices of its era. Coming from a time when composers’ voices were marked more than anything – at least by our standards – by stylistic consistency, a piece such as this strikes a pose of such originality, individuality and self-confidence that it seems almost to belong to another age. Holding the vast musical juggernaut together is the cantus firmus, its three sections forming the armatures for the three sections of the motet. Each section begins in reduced scoring, with a different voice stating the chant each time before it is taken over, in a fully-scored passage, by the customary tenor. Beginning placidly, the non-chant bearing voices soon release their latent energy in brilliant arabesques – now in dialogue, now in imitation, now in tenths – that propel the music into glorious climaxes before launching it into the still greater activity of closing passages alla breve. To grasp the substance of this work, though, is still to wonder at its sum. To the three ‘incomprehensibles’ of the Catholic Church alluded to in the text, drawn from the so-called ‘Athanasian Creed’, one is tempted to add a fourth: the motet itself.
from notes by Andrew Kirkman © 2000