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Missa Mort m'a privé
The Mass setting is based largely on the five-voice chanson, a common compositional technique of the period. Within the Habsburg court, the knowledge of the chanson and the meaning of its text would have given point enough to the Mass, but Crecquillon’s symbolic construction is considerably more complex than that. He uses material not only from his chanson model, but also from the four-voice one, as well as making allusion to the two other chansons that are included here. More than that, the ‘divine will’ portion of the main chanson model is reserved for a limited number of points within the Mass, and where it is not inherently prominent—for instance in opening a musical section—it is clearly signposted by changes of texture. Similarly, it is the corresponding ‘divine will’ fragment of the four-voice work that Crecquillon incorporates into the Mass. These fragments and the additional material from the remaining chansons here are disposed in ways that provide a commentary on Charles. There are even three references to the Persons of the Trinity, a musical analogue to the object of Isabella and Charles’s adoration depicted in Titian’s painting.

The listener may hear, in the very opening section of the work, the Kyrie, a small portion of the chanson Oeil esgaré. The text of this chanson has a dark hue in bemoaning the loss of a look, a glance which is desperately sought but which cannot be found, although it is less certain whether this text, like that of Mort m’a privé, was written specifically for Charles. The portion of music borrowed is from the last line of the chanson so that the two texts together effectively say: ‘Lord, have mercy and rescue his [Charles’s] heart from pain and torment.’ This sets out the consolatory intention of the Mass as a whole. The second section of the Kyrie prominently twins the two ‘divine will’ fragments to ask more specifically that it should be the divine will to have mercy on both Charles and Isabella.

Other particularly audible examples of such conjunctions may be heard in the Credo. At the ‘incarnatus’, parts of both ‘divine will’ fragments, one in long note values, are combined to reinforce the belief in the divine essence of the Royal couple. Then, at the words ‘Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum’ (‘And I look for the resurrection of the dead’), Isabella’s ‘divine will’ fragment is clearly heard, with an upward transposition, illustrating Isabella’s hoped-for rising. This is immediately followed by Charles’s ‘divine will’ fragment, prominent in setting the final words: ‘et vitam venturi saeculi’ (‘and the life of the world to come’).

Similar symbolism runs through the Sanctus and Benedictus. The Hosanna section uses both fragments, expressing the hope that both Charles and Isabella would so praise God in Heaven with the Heavenly hosts—yet another echo of Titian’s Gloria. The Benedictus was commonly associated with the divine element of kingship and again Isabella’s fragment can be heard in the opening of the section, emphasizing, like the ‘incarnatus’ of the Credo, that Isabella is a focus of the work. Perhaps more importantly, though, this is the moment most closely linked to the central mystery of faith, the moment when the sacrifice of the Mass is effective, benefiting not just the living, but the dead whose sins are yet to be fully expiated. It is no coincidence that Charles’s daily private said Mass was for Isabella. This Mass too was for Isabella’s soul as the musical reference here makes clear once more.

The final section of the Mass, the Agnus Dei, contains the second of Crecquillon’s quotations from other chansons, from a very sardonic comment on the world: Le monde est tel. The movement opens with the ‘standard’ material, but this soon gives way to the additional quotation, a substantial portion from the music for the last line of text of Le monde. Once again, the significance is in the conjunction of the words of the Mass and those of the borrowed music. The Agnus Dei asks for mercy and peace and the borrowed chanson text adds, in effect, ‘or never will he [Charles] profit otherwise’. This Mass section ends with the most sustained, and musically quite insistent, use of Charles’s ‘divine will’ quotation, suggesting first that the mercy and peace prayed for are the gifts willed by God to those who believe and trust, and second, the urgency of that plea for such relief. Having prayed for Isabella so clearly, this remarkably complex musical testament to Charles’s devotion to his dead wife ends, as it began, with a prayer for consolation and comfort for Charles himself.

from notes by Martin Ham © 2006

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Details for CDA67596 track 6
Agnus Dei
Recording date
5 September 2004
Recording venue
Merton College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Recording producer
David Skinner
Recording engineer
Justin Lowe
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