Hyperion Records

Discessu is one of the oddest pieces of polyphony written in the mid-century, with an enigmatic puzzle canon based on Maximilian’s name. The vowels of the phrase ‘Maximilianus Archidux Austriae’ are rendered into solmization syllables (thus ‘Maximilianus’ becomes fa-mi-mi-mi-fa-ut or F-E-E-E-F-C). This procedure, known as soggetto cavato because the subject is ‘carved’ from the dedicatee’s name, was pioneered by Josquin Desprez in his Mass Hercules Dux Ferrarie: the syllables derived from Ercole, Duke of Ferrara produce a rather more interesting melody than those of Maximilian. Maessens’s soggetto is then imitated at the lower fifth in the first part of the motet, and subsequently at the upper fourth. A Latin poem indicates that—in addition to the two canonic voices—the discant and tenor parts can be reversed, making multiple versions of the piece possible. As an exercise in simultaneous double canon Discessu is extremely impressive: for its original audience these features evidently outweighed the somewhat ungainly musical effect of the piece.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2007

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