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Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille
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Like the great majority of Mass settings written in the mid-sixteenth century, Manchicourt’s Missa Cuidez vous que Dieu nous faille is based on a pre-existent polyphonic work, in this case a chanson by Jean Richafort (c1480–after 1547). The chanson, itself thought to be a reworking of a monophonic song, is written for five voices with doubled soprano line, and this scoring is preserved in Manchicourt’s Mass setting. Richafort, as is customary for his generation, writes in a fairly loose contrapuntal style, with long melismatic phrases, and frequent reductions of texture. A feature of this chanson is the closeness of the imitative entries: not only the two equal soprano parts but also the three other voices at the lower octave often come in one after another at the same pitch, giving the effect of instantaneous confirmation of the poetic sentiment. The poem emphasizes God’s goodness to his people, and consequently the chanson is an appropriate vehicle for transformation into sacred music, in a way that many others decidedly were not.

Manchicourt adopts the melodic outline of the chanson’s opening at the beginning of the first three Mass movements, introducing a new counter-melody against this theme in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. However, he suppresses the rapid repeated notes of the chanson, retaining instead the unusual melodic shape, which after an initial rising fifth emphasizes the flattened seventh scale degree. This distinctive melodic gesture becomes the principal leitmotif of the Mass setting, though other sections of the chanson are also used, the second Kyrie for instance being based on the phrase ‘Jusqu’au jour de jugement’.

Most composers of Mass settings at this time were in the habit of sectionalizing the longer movements, and Manchicourt adheres to this practice, dividing the Gloria into two after the words ‘Filius Patris’. Both sections retain the full five-voice scoring, however, as had the ‘Christe’: reduced textures are reserved for later movements. Instead Manchicourt varies the texture by introducing an almost static chordal section at ‘suscipe deprecationem nostram’ (‘receive our prayer’). Towards the end of the Gloria the name ‘Iesu Christe’ appears for the second time, and is here emphasized with sustained chords high in the singers’ ranges. The final phrase, ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, once again adopts the melodic outline of the chanson, this time covering the angular interval of the seventh in the minimum possible time, delivering a climactic finale to the movement.

As the longest movement of the Mass Ordinary, the Credo presents significant compositional challenges, particularly when the Mass setting is based on so small a model as Richafort’s chanson. Manchicourt turns this challenge into an opportunity by setting many of the quasi-repetitive phrases of the text to the same melodic fragment, creating the effect of a litany. In the opening section, for instance, the words ‘Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero’ (‘God of God, light of light, very God of very God’) each repeat the same pitches, passing the motif between the voices antiphonally. The same melodic material—again based on the opening of the chanson—returns for the ‘et incarnatus’, the most solemn part of the Credo. Lower and upper-voice duets vary the texture in the following two sections (‘Crucifixus’ and ‘Et resurrexit’), and the ‘Et iterum’ is set to a trio between first soprano, alto and tenor. Unusually, since the Christological sections are often seen as the most emotionally charged words of the Credo, Manchicourt seems to have been particularly inspired by the last paragraph of the text, beginning at ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’ (‘And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit’). Returning to a five-voice texture, the final section of his Credo setting builds to a spine-tingling climax at ‘Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum’ (‘And I look for the resurrection of the dead’), where—as at the crucial moments of the Gloria—chordal homophony emphasizes the text, a sudden harmonic motion onto a chord of F major further suggesting the wrenching significance of these words.

The Sanctus once again makes use of sectionalization, this time introducing another tenor and bass duet for the ‘Pleni sunt caeli’. Like many of his contemporaries, Manchicourt sets the ‘Hosanna’ section in triple time, although intriguingly he does not alter the rhythm of the chanson melody. The result is a whirling kaleidoscope of cross-rhythms, with prominent use of hemiola technique, in which two bars of a fast triple time become three slower beats. The composer’s command of tessitura is also in evidence here, as the soprano parts reach the highest pitch of the entire mass. The Benedictus is set for a trio of two sopranos and alto (sung here by the three Ashby sisters).

In the final movement, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), a sixth part is introduced in the second half: this is a second alto voice, adding to the already preponderantly high texture of the work. The Mass thus finishes on an ethereal note, with the return in long notes of a motif, first heard in the ‘Christe’, at ‘dona nobis pacem’ (‘grant us peace’).

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2007

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Details for CDA67604 track 7
Sanctus and Benedictus
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-07-60407
Duration
6'25
Recording date
4 September 2005
Recording venue
Merton College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Jeremy Summerly
Recording engineer
Justin Lowe
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