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Music for the Court of Maximilian II

Cinquecento Detailed performer information
Label: Hyperion
Recording details: June 2006
Dominikanerkirche, Retz, Austria
Produced by Stephen Rice
Engineered by Markus Wallner
Release date: February 2007
Total duration: 67 minutes 28 seconds

The court of Maximilian II—Holy Roman Emperor and undisputed King of much of Europe—offered an unparalleled opportunity for artistic and musical development: ideas and influences could be widely exchanged in a context of amicable rivalry. Lassus, perhaps the only composer represented on this disc whose name remains familiar to this day, was employed far away from Maximilian’s power base, but his monumental skills were supplied—on secondment, as it were, from Bavaria—to provide the motet Pacis amans in celebration of Maximilian’s crowning as King of Bohemia.

What this fascinating programme reveals is how music by Lassus’s lesser-known contemporaries can stand direct comparison with that of the illustrious master. Opening with Jacobus Vaet’s wondrous depiction of the raising of Lazarus, Videns Dominus, the inspirational singing presented here takes us on an exhilarating tour of Maximilian’s bejewelled royal chambers, an environment every bit as opulent and artistically ambitious as that of contemporary Tudor England.

Informative—and enlightening—booklet notes by Dr Stephen Rice (also the recording producer) provide the listener with a full guide to the context and sometimes complex interrelationships of these composers whose reputations surely deserve their own bit of the ‘Lazarus effect’.

Music for the court of Maximilian II is the debut recording by the thrilling all-male ensemble Cinquecento. Based in Vienna, its six members represent five countries, bringing together and, we believe, truly ‘fusing’ the very best of their respective choral traditions. The results, gloriously captured on tape in the Austrian Dominikanerkirche of Retz, offer an exhilarating new outlook on this rich seam of repertoire as yet largely untapped. Future projects are eagerly awaited, and will include a pioneering survey of music by Jacobus Regnart.


‘From this showing, Cinquecento would be well placed to advocate Vaet further. An all-male a cappella ensemble, they sound clear and bright, and articulate the music lucidly’ (Gramophone)

‘The fine motets recorded here suggest that his [Vaet] skill in achieving the closest possible union between text and music was comparable with that of Lassus. This is especially obvious in the darkly sonorous Videns Dominus, which tells the story of the raising of Lazarus, with its slow sustained evocation of Jesus's grief, and the climactic rising and falling scale figures symbolising the opening of the tomb. Ascendetis post filium provides the basis for an attractive Mass by his colleague Antonius Galli, which also contains many Lassus-like touches, including sudden brief bursts of triple time and the reiteration of quirky little rhythmic figures … Cinquecento's six male voices produce a rich and expressive sound … this is a very promising debut disc’ (The Daily Telegraph)

Continuo lacrimas, Vaet's gracious lament on the death of the composer Clemens non Papa, is a small masterpiece both in technique and emotional resonance … Cinquecento is an all-male vocal ensemble with members drawn from five European countries … the voices are young, lithe, pure in intonation and warm in timbre—in short, ideal for interpreting Renaissance polyphony. Their phrasing is supple, mellifluous and understated, while always alert to the musical rhetoric … no lover of Renaissance polyphony should overlook this outstanding début recording’ (International Record Review)

‘This revelatory disc, beguilingly sung, includes Galli's exquisite Missa Ascendetis post filium’ (Classic FM Magazine)

‘Such a collection of rarities would be commendable even if the performances were not so fine. Cinquecento makes this a triumphant debut recording, indicating that we can look forward to more Renaissance polyphony of similar interest. The six male voices, based in Vienna but coming from five countries, display a fine ensemble, doubtless a necessary result of working together without a leader. The Mass by Galli is worth the price of the disc, a fine work of the period and the sort of thing that was just waiting to be revived. Give this disc a hearing and be prepared for a revelation’ (Fanfare, USA)

‘A jaw-droppingly beautiful collection of a capella choral works by Jacobus Vaet, Antonius Galli, Pieter Maessens and Orlando Lassus performed by the male six-voice ensemble Cinquecento. All were written for the 16th-century Hapsburg court, and they run the gamut from Vaet's sweetly straightforward antiphon 'O quam gloriosum' to Galli's brilliant parody mass on 'Ascendetis post filium'. Cinquecento's sound is creamy and sweet, and the music is exceptionally fine. Highly recommended’ (CD Hotlist, USA)

‘This is Cinquecento's debut recording, an all-male ensemble which promises to rival the best of their kind in the choral scene. Indeed these are thrilling, exhilarating performances which should go a long way towards establishing this repertoire on a sounder footing. Worth buying, if only for Vaet's masterly motets … [Missa Ascendentis post filium] is a slow and 'deliberate' work. Listen to the mournful 'Kyrie' with some of the qualities of a dream, moving slowly and barely making an impact on the world, on which it yet so totally relies. That, convincingly, is how Cinquecento present it. No fuss, no undue emphasis on its heights and depths. Yet it's all the more impressive for their holding back as they feel their way through the music. Their performance—listen to the Gloria—has a particularly effective mix of majesty, magnificence and intimacy. Pretty much how you would expect and have wanted a contemporary performance to have sounded. This Mass is perhaps the high-point of this disc; the Credo, for instance, is a movement of ethereal beauty, intensely personal and low key but with a conviction—given the parallel dedication and careful drive of Cinquecento—that lends this highly colored work such power and feeling’ (Classical.net)

«Pour servir cette 'Musique à la cour de Maximilien II de Bohême', oncle de Charles Quint, le chant de l'ensemble Cinquecento est séduisant. La qualité des tutti, l'accord homogène (et légèrement réverbéré) entre l'agilité des pupitres aigus et l'ampleur des basses font sonner les nombreuses trouvailles harmoniques qui parsèment ces oeuvres méconnues … la chapelle de Maximilien II regroupait surtout des compositeurs flamands de la génération de Nicolas Gombert, c'est-à-dire inspirée par un flux musical continu. Des aspérités harmoniques viennent rehausser des textures denses sous la forme de fausses relations que Cinquecento fait sonner avec beaucoup d'adresse, surtout dans le beau motet de déploration Continuo lacrimas» (Le Monde de la Musique, France)
Born in 1527, Maximilian II of Habsburg reigned as Holy Roman Emperor from 1564 to 1576. He succeeded his father, Ferdinand I, who had ascended the imperial throne following the abdication of his elder brother, Charles V. Charles relinquished his crown in 1556 after a lifetime of attempting to control the enormous territories—including the Low Countries, Spain and the Central European Habsburg lands—that he had inherited in 1516. Ferdinand I established the cadet branch of the family as imperial overlords: although nominally the Emperor was elected, the hegemony of the Austrian Habsburgs became steadily more entrenched, and they ruled almost uninterrupted until the nineteenth century.

As early as 1529, Ferdinand established a chapel for his children; by 1551 Maximilian’s chapel had its own musical establishment, and Jacobus Vaet is documented as its Kapellmeister by 1554 at the latest. It seems additionally that Vaet wrote a motet for the marriage the previous year of Maximilian’s sister Catherine to King Sigismund II of Poland, indicating that he was already in Habsburg service in 1553. Although Maximilian was at that point still Archduke of Austria rather than a ruler in his own name, the appointment as chapelmaster was an impressive achievement for Vaet, who must have been about twenty-four years old at the time. It appears likely that Pieter Maessens smoothed Vaet’s way into Habsburg service: Maessens, who had been magister cantus at Notre Dame in Courtrai when Vaet was a boy chorister there in the 1540s, moved to the chapel of Maximilian’s father Ferdinand and had responsibility for the recruitment of personnel to both choirs. This must have been an onerous task since the imperial chapel was a large establishment: under Maximilian the number of singers rose to approximately seventy.

Vaet would undoubtedly be among the best-known composers of the sixteenth century had he not died at the age of about thirty-seven, on 8 January 1567. The deterioration in his health seems to have been rapid: in 1566 he was well enough to accompany Maximilian onto the battlefield, and his last child was baptized on Christmas Eve 1566. Vaet’s compositional output was large considering that his career lasted approximately fifteen years: he is known to have produced nine settings of the Mass (including a Requiem Mass), sixty-six motets plus sundry minor liturgical items, a set of Magnificats, and three French chansons. In the dedication to his motet collection published in 1562 Vaet states that, since his other duties left him little time to compose, he had decided to prioritize texts in praise of God Almighty and of the House of Austria. Seventeen of the extant pieces are indeed ‘state motets’ in honour of the Habsburgs; the remainder take the standard texts of the time, such as Psalm fragments, prayers, other Biblical excerpts and liturgical texts.

Stephen Rice © 2007

Né en 1527, l’empereur du Saint Empire romain germanique Maximilien II de Habsbourg régna de 1564 à 1576, à la suite de son père, Ferdinand Ier, lui-même monté sur le trône impérial après l’abdication de son frère aîné, Charles V—ce dernier renonça à la couronne en 1556, au terme d’une vie passée à tenter de contrôler les énormes territoires qu’il avait hérités en 1516 (entre autres, les Pays-Bas, l’Espagne et les terres des Habsbourg en Europe centrale). Ferdinand Ier fonda la branche cadette de cette famille de souverains impériaux et, quoique l’empereur fût théoretiquement élu, l’hégémonie des Habsbourg autrichiens s’ancra de plus en plus fermement, leur permettant de régner presque sans discontinuer jusqu’au XIXe siècle.

Dès 1529, Ferdinand fonda une chapelle pour ses enfants; en 1551, la chapelle de Maximilien disposait de sa propre institution musicale, où Jacobus Vaet fut répertorié comme Kapellmeister en 1554 au plus tard. Vaet semble, par ailleurs, avoir écrit un motet pour le mariage de Catherine, la sœur de Maximilien, avec le roi Sigismond II de Pologne, ce qui indique qu’il servait déjà les Habsbourg en 1553. Maximilien avait beau n’être encore qu’archiduc d’Autriche (et non souverain en tant que tel), être nommé maître de chapelle était impressionnant pour un Vaet âgé d’environ vingt-quatre ans. Probablement Pieter Maessens a-t-il aplani les difficultés de son entrée au service des Habsbourg: magister cantus à Notre-Dame de Courtrai lorsque Vaet y était petit choriste, dans les années 1540, il passa à la chapelle du père de Maximilien, Ferdinand, et fut chargé de recruter le personnel des deux chœurs. Cette tâche devait s’avérer onéreuse, la chapelle impériale étant, sous Maximilien, une vaste institution de quelque soixante-dix chanteurs.

Vaet eût, sans nul doute, figuré parmi les compositeurs les plus célèbres du XVIe siècle s’il n’était mort, vers trente-sept ans, le 8 janvier 1567. Sa santé semble s’être détériorée rapidement: en 1566, il allait encore assez bien pour accompagner Maximilien sur le champ de bataille et on baptisa son dernier-né la veille de Noël 1566. Vaet composa beaucoup, surtout si l’on considère la brièveté de sa carrière (une quinzaine d’années). On lui connaît neuf messes, dont une de requiem, soixante-six motets et diverses pièces liturgiques mineures, ainsi qu’un corpus de magnificat et trois chansons françaises. Dans la dédicace de son recueil de motets publié en 1562, il déclare que, ses autres fonctions lui laissant peu de temps pour composer, il avait décidé de privilégier les textes louant Dieu Tout-Puissant et la maison d’Autriche. Dix-sept des pièces encore existantes sont ainsi des «motets officiels» en l’honneur des Habsbourg; quant aux autres, elles font appel aux habituels textes de l’époque, fragments de psaumes, prières, textes liturgiques ou autres extraits bibliques.

Stephen Rice © 2007
Français: Hypérion

Maximilian II. von Habsburg wurde 1527 geboren und regierte von 1564 bis 1576 als Kaiser des Heiligen Römischen Reiches. Er war der Nachfolger seines Vaters Ferdinand I., der seinerseits nach der Abdankung seines älteren Bruders Karl V. den Kaiserthron bestieg. Nach einem lebenslangen Bemühen, die gewaltigen Territorien—einschließlich der Niederlande, Spaniens und der Habsburgischen Gebiete in Mitteleuropa—, die er 1516 geerbt hatte, zu kontrollieren, legte Karl 1556 seine Krone ab. Ferdinand I. etablierte die Linie des jüngeren Sohnes als kaiserliche Oberherren: obwohl der Kaiser nominell gewählt wurde, verfestigte sich allmählich die Hegemonie der österreichischen Habsburger, die bis ins 19. Jahrhundert nahezu ununterbrochen herrschten.

Schon 1529 richtete Ferdinand eine Kapelle für seine Kinder ein, und 1551 besaß Maximilians Kapelle ihr eigenes musikalisches Ensemble, für das Jacobus Vaet spätestens 1554 als Kapellmeister dokumentiert ist. Es scheint, dass Vaet bereits im vorhergehenden Jahr eine Motette für die Hochzeit von Maximilians Schwester Katharina zu König Sigismund II. von Polen schrieb, was darauf hinweist, dass er bereits 1553 im Dienst der Habsburger stand. Obwohl Maximilian damals noch Erzherzog von Österreich war und noch nicht Herrscher unter seinem eigenen Namen, war die Anstellung als Kapellmeister eine beeindruckende Errungenschaft für Vaet, der damals etwa 24 Jahre alt gewesen sein musste. Es ist wahrscheinlich, dass Pieter Maessens Vaets Weg in den Dienst der Habsburger ebnete: Maessens, der Magister cantus an Notre Dame in Courtrai war, als Vaet dort in den 1540er Jahren als Chorknabe sang, wechselte zur Kapelle von Maximilians Vater Ferdinand und war für die Anstellung neuen Personals für beide Chöre verantwortlich. Dies muss eine mühsame Aufgabe gewesen sein, da die kaiserliche Kapelle eine grosse Einrichtung war: unter Maximilian stieg die Anzahl der Sänger auf etwa 70 an.

Vaet würde zweifellos zu den bekanntesten Komponisten des 16. Jahrhunderts zählen, wäre er nicht schon am 8. Januar 1567, im Alter von etwa 37 Jahren gestorben. Seine Gesundheit scheint sich schnell verschlechtert zu haben: 1566 war er gesund genug, Maximilian auf das Schlachtfeld zu begleiten, und sein letztes Kind wurde an Weihnachten 1566 getauft. Die Anzahl von Vaets Kompositionen war beträchtlich, wenn man bedenkt, dass seine Laufbahn nur etwa 15 Jahre andauerte: wir wissen, dass er neun Messvertonungen (einschließlich eines Requiems) schrieb, 66 Motetten und verschiedene kleinere liturgische Stücke, eine Reihe von Magnificats und drei französische Chansons. In der Widmung zu seiner 1562 veröffentlichten Sammlung von Motetten schrieb Vaet, dass er, weil seine anderen Pflichten ihm wenig Zeit zum Komponieren erlaubten, beschlossen hatte, vorzugsweise Texte zum Lob des allmächtigen Gottes und des Habsburger Hauses zu vertonen. Siebzehn seiner überlieferten Stücke sind „Staatsmotetten“ zu Ehren der Habsburger, die übrigen vertonen Standardtexte seiner Zeit wie Auszüge aus den Psalmen, Gebete, und andere biblische und liturgische Texte.

Stephen Rice © 2007
Deutsch: Renate Wendel

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