Hyperion monthly sampler – August 2012
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Movement 1: Introitus Requiem aeternam
Movement 2: Kyrie
Movement 3: Graduale Si ambulem
Movement 4: Offertorium Domine Jesu Christe
Movement 5: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 6: Agnus Dei
Movement 7: Communio Lux aeterna
The plainsong Requiem Introit is in mode 6, with final on F, and since every instance of the note B that it contains is flattened, the melody sounds effectively in F major. The association of major tonality with happiness and minor with sadness had not yet been formed in Richafort’s lifetime; more often the major modes were understood to sound harsh and the minor ones soft (indeed the Latin words durus and mollis were used to refer to B natural and B flat respectively, and persist in the German terms dur and moll for major and minor). The chant melody is lightly embellished in the highest voice, with three others making free counterpoint below it; meanwhile another plainsong melody, ‘Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis’, is sung as a cantus firmus. This plainsong is not part of the Requiem Mass, but an Invitatory (opening sentence) at Matins for the Dead. The ‘Circumdederunt’ chant is stated in canon at the upper fifth and at a distance of three breves: as will become apparent, this is a clear instance of homage to Josquin. The Introit verse ‘Te decet hymnus’ is as usual intoned to the Psalm tone, followed by a polyphonic but more chordal setting of the second half of the verse, in which the canonic cantus firmus is still present and heard perhaps more clearly. As is standard for Introits (not just in Requiems), the Psalm verse is followed by a reprise of the antiphon.
The cantus firmus is maintained in canon throughout the Kyrie, and also into the Gradual, despite the fact that the latter is based on plainsong with a different tonality (mode 2—similar to D minor with an unflattened sixth degree). Towards the end of the opening section of the Gradual, a new melodic element is added to the canonic cantus firmus voices: the phrase ‘c’est douleur non pareille’ (‘it is sorrow without equal’). This melodic strain is a direct quotation from Josquin, though in the original it refers not to death or bereavement but to lack of money, quoting the chanson Faulte d’argent. The chanson adopts the language of late-medieval love poetry, which habitually would speak of unrequited love in terms of overwrought emotion, with heavy use of words such as ‘las’ to punctuate the lover’s anguish. However, the ironic tone here, coupled with the derogatory reference to the venality of women, makes clear that the intent is parodic. Faulte d’argent would seem therefore a somewhat less than appropriate source of melodic material for a Mass-setting that presumably expresses genuine grief at the death of Josquin. Of course, the appropriation of profane material in sacred music of this period is well known, and its use in the most solemn of surroundings underlines the ease with which the Renaissance mind conflated the sacred and the secular—or, perhaps, saw religion permeating all aspects of secular life.
The remaining movements of Richafort’s Mass adopt similar strategies for presenting the borrowed material, reprising the Faulte d’argent quotation in the Offertory, but omitting it in the shorter movements towards the end of the work. In the Offertory the canon is reversed to sound at the lower fourth; elsewhere Richafort has varied the canonic delay, combining the ‘Circumdederunt’ melody with itself at two, three, and four breves’ distance (with suitable rhythmic flexibility, which, since a chant melody is inherently unrhythmicized, is quite permissible). When one bears in mind that for most of the work’s duration the chant of the Requiem Mass is paraphrased alongside this canonic structure, as well as the fact that a six-part texture is maintained for all except isolated verse sections, the scale of Richafort’s achievement becomes clear. For a composer of the ‘post-Josquin generation’, creating a memorial to his deceased colleague involved not only quoting his work and writing a varied canon of the kind he delighted in, based on a plainsong he had himself treated in canon, but also creating a structure worthy of the earlier composer, who (nowadays at least) is known above all for the beauty and clarity of his compositional designs.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2012