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Mort m'a privé a 4
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The text that Crecquillon set is highly unusual: it is one that speaks of loss in very personal terms rather than in the conventionalities of the day. The emphasis in this text on patience and submission to God’s will precisely mirrors Charles’s letter to his brother following Isabella’s death. The reference to ‘great ancestry’ fits Charles well too: his family tree was littered with Biblical Patriarchs, minor saints and mythological figures; Charles’s reliance on Isabella as a confidante and his distraught reaction to her death are also reflected in this verse. The whole stanza seems to have been written specifically to reflect his state of mind after Isabella’s death—he himself may even have penned it, although we cannot be sure.

Crecquillon’s two settings of this text in themselves seem designed to be emblematic of the Imperial couple, the five-voice setting representing Charles and the four-voice one Isabella. These settings are in different modes, something that would have carried a particular resonance in itself at the time but which is difficult for the modern listener to recapture—the mode for Charles’s version would have had overtones of homage and respect, whilst that for Isabella would have carried intimations of sorrow and loss; the difference in the number of voices also speaks of the respective difference in status. Despite the difference of mode, there is a very subtle musical link between the two works, significantly in the setting of the words ‘divine will’. The bass, or ‘ground’, in this fragment of music in the five-voice version is the same as the uppermost voice carrying the same words in the other setting, suggesting that Isabella was the ground of Charles’s happiness.

from notes by Martin Ham © 2006

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