The three mass movements are written in an essentially lyric idiom which, while being notably concise, nevertheless shows a clear sense of musical shape and contour, as well as a liking for occasional harmonic twists and moments of melodic daring. These details serve to give point and focus to the polyphony, and endow it with a sense of eventfulness within its relatively short span. The movements show a close functional and stylistic relationship to the ‘workaday’ plainchant idiom with which every musician of the era would have been familiar, and with which his whole sense of melodic profile would have been imbued. But Binchois shows a special sensitivity to the ways in which polyphonic ‘interval music’ of this kind can be made to subtly extend and intensify, by harmonic means, the aura that surrounds monophonic lines, while still staying close to both the letter and the spirit of the chant melodies. The Kyrie ‘in simplici die’ in particular has a beautiful – and beautifully simple – chant, found nowhere else except for the fragment used in Nove cantum melodie
, and which in its (reconstructed) alternatim form shows a clear musical growth through the series of nine invocations to the final extended polyphonic ‘Kyrie eleison’. From their presentation in the manuscript sources, where they are provided with the plainsong intonations heard here, the Sanctus/Agnus pair might well appear to be chant-based too. But, unusually for Binchois in such movements, they too lack a known chant model, and in this case it is much less easy to decide whether or not the music does in fact refer to such a model (though the intonations at least should in theory be traceable). If, in contrast to the exciting complexities of Nove cantum melodie
and to the poise and flow of Domitor Hectoris
, these mass movements of their very nature tend to show us the succinct, even aphoristic side of Binchois’s art, they are nevertheless expressive of an idiom which, within its economy and concision, also implies more than it states, and thus is able to achieve an unobtrusive sophistication in even its simplest lyric utterances.
from notes by Philip Weller © 2005