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Philippe Rogier

born: c1561
died: 29 February 1596
country: Flanders

‘Rogier, honour, glory and light of Flanders …
left this life in the flower of his genius,
depriving us of our sweet Orpheus’

Thus wrote the Spanish poet and playwright Lope de Vega in his poem Laurel de Apolo in 1630. Although evidently well known and highly regarded in his lifetime and in the years following his death in 1596, the music of Philippe Rogier is largely known (especially to English audiences) through a motet, Laboravi in gemitu meo, that exists in two early seventeenth-century English manuscripts, the Tristitiae remedium compiled by Thomas Myriell in 1616 (British Library Add, MSS 29372–7) and a manuscript in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (MSS Mus. F 1–6) dating from the 1630s. However, in both manuscripts the motet is ascribed to Thomas Morley. Quite how Morley came across this work is unknown, but he was evidently taken with it, even though he did ‘edit’ it somewhat, excising a few bars here and there. In fact, Rogier’s motet, or perhaps Morley’s version of it, seems to have proved very popular in England—there is a setting of the same text by Thomas Weelkes, scored for the same combination of six voices and remarkably similar in its melismatic effulgence.

Philippe Rogier was one of a long line of Flemish composers who worked at the Spanish court. He arrived in Madrid in 1572 as one of the choirboys who had been recruited from the Low Countries by Geert van Turnhout, Philip II’s maestro de capilla. He seems to have remained in Spain for the rest of his short life, becoming assistant to George de La Hèle in 1584 before succeeding him on his death in 1586. Rogier was well provided for by Philip II, having non-residential appointments at the church of Notre Dame in Yvoir and Tournai Cathedral as well a pension from the Bishop of León. The high regard that the musically astute Philip II held for Rogier was not misplaced, because he is one of the most fascinating and rewarding composers of the late sixteenth century: extraordinarily versatile, capable of plumbing the emotional depths in his penitential works (of which there are many) as well as exalting the heights in his festive music. He also seems to have been remarkably prolific. The library of King João IV of Portugal, destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, contained 243 works by Rogier, including 8 Masses and 66 motets as well as a variety of other liturgical music, chansons and villancicos.

What survives of his music today is largely found in the following sources: a book of Masses published posthumously by Rogier’s student Géry de Ghersem in 1598, a book of motets published in Naples in 1595, and a number of motets in a choirbook in the library at El Escorial, where they appear alongside works by Palestrina and Morales.

from notes by David Trendell © 2010


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