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A programme of Spanish masterpieces engendered by the sixteenth-century craze for the music of Josquin and, in particular, these later composers' fascination with the Italian's use of ostinato 'hooks' to bind together his works.
In 1538 Pope Paul III brokered a ten-year truce (which didn’t last) between the two most powerful rulers in Europe: Charles V (King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor) and Francis I (King of France). These rulers and the pope—accompanied by their household chapel musicians—met on 14 July at Aigues-Mortes in Southern France, and there survives a musical memento of that occasion: the six-voice motet Jubilate Deo omnis terra by one of the papal singers, the Spaniard Cristóbal de Morales. Five of the six voices sing a specially composed text saluting the three participants (‘Carolus’, ‘Franciscus’, and ‘Paulus’) and praising them for bringing peace, but the sixth voice is given different text and musical material: throughout the motet, this voice repeats a six-note ostinato phrase, singing the single word ‘gaudeamus’ (‘let us rejoice’). This motto is a fragment of plainchant: it forms the opening intonation of the Introit chant at Mass on many feast days, such as Gaudeamus omnes in Domino for All Saints’ Day, of which we include the opening antiphon section on this recording. Thanks to its frequent and festive liturgical use, this chant motto would have been familiar to—indeed, instantly recognisable by—all those present at the meeting between Charles, Francis, and Pope Paul, and by employing it in his motet Morales thus evoked an atmosphere of joyful high festivity. But in choosing this motto Morales was also surely referring to Josquin, whose Missa Gaudeamus likewise treats the opening six-note intonation of the chant as an ostinato; indeed, Morales kept the rhythm which Josquin uses for the motto in his Agnus Dei, making the link to Josquin explicit. Although the associative reverberations of Morales’s device were greater for a sixteenth-century audience than for us, nevertheless—even to a modern listener—the repetition of this motif and its accompanying celebratory word in the motet lends it an accumulative impact as the ‘essential theme’ of the work; Morales even uses the device to produce an acceleration for the motet’s thrilling final climax (from the acclamations ‘Vivat Paulus! Vivat Carolus! Vivat Franciscus!’ to the end), bunching the ostinato statements more closely together and presenting them at double their previous speed rhythmically, so that they infuse the music with energetic urgency.
The rhetorical power of this ostinato motif, and the prestige which Morales’s motet acquired through the prominent political and festive context of its composition and first performance, were exploited several decades later by another Spanish composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria, who wrote a ‘parody’ Mass—the Missa Gaudeamus—based on the material from Morales’s work, and incorporating the ‘gaudeamus’ ostinato theme. Victoria included the Missa Gaudeamus in a grand manuscript choirbook presented to Toledo Cathedral, and also published it—in a significantly different version: the one recorded here—in his first book of Masses, printed in Venice in 1576. The work represents an early-career act of homage to Victoria’s most famous Spanish predecessor, Morales, but it also invited the well informed purchaser of Victoria’s book to recall the celebrated previous composer of a Missa Gaudeamus, Josquin, and therefore to view Victoria as successor to both Morales and Josquin. Victoria, indeed, fashioned explicit links between his Mass and Josquin’s, beyond the ‘gaudeamus’ motto itself. As had Josquin, Victoria shines the spotlight on the ‘gaudeamus’ theme in his final Agnus Dei by assigning the ostinato statements of it to a top voice as well as to a tenor. And as had Josquin, Victoria saturates this concluding section of his Mass with overlapping entries of the motto: he arranges the superius and tenor ostinato statements in canon, so that the motto is (for the first time in his Mass) continually present, and he dramatises the first canonic entry of the tenor by bringing in all three lower voice parts simultaneously as the tenor begins its ‘gaudeamus’. He also calls attention to the motto here by giving it not the Agnus Dei text but its original ‘gaudeamus’. The same occurs in Victoria’s Kyrie, so that listeners and singers are alerted to the motto as his Mass begins. Admittedly, for much of the Mass the ostinato motif is relatively hidden: it is assigned almost entirely to the Altus parts in the middle of the texture, and these voices use the motto to sing whatever text the other voices are declaiming at that point. As a result, the motto’s presence can often be sensed only indirectly, such as in the influence which it has on the surrounding harmony or by re-using the material which Morales weaves around it: the imposing cadential gesture which ends the first part of Morales’s motet is retained by Victoria for all three statements of the motto in his first Kyrie. But for the closing bars of that Kyrie section and of the two longest movements Victoria ostentatiously ‘reveals’ his motto theme, drawing back the curtain and presenting it triumphantly in the topmost voices—reaching to their peak notes—to mark the words ‘in gloria Dei Patris’ (‘in the glory of God the Father’) in the Gloria and ‘et vitam venturi saeculi’ (‘and the life of the world to come’) in the Credo. Through such gestures, Victoria reveals himself to be a masterful orator in the tradition of Josquin.
Victoria bound his Mass together not only through the ostinato but through ubiquitous quotation of the opening ‘Jubilate Deo’ motif of Morales’s motet, and he also selected one extended block of music from that motet—the beginning of the second part, ‘O felix aetas, O felix Paule’—to quote more or less intact in two places in the Mass. This is the telling moment in Morales’s work where the singers, having invited all to rejoice in the meeting of Paul, Charles, and Francis and the achievement of peace, sing directly to these three: ‘O vos felices principes’ (’O you happy princes’). Morales here wrote a passage of majestic simplicity, taking as his model a passage from a Marian motet by Josquin (Inviolata, integra, et casta es Maria). Victoria in turn deployed this music for the most solemn part of his Mass text, ‘Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto’ (‘and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit’) in the Credo, and then transformed it into the joyful ‘Hosanna’ which follows the Benedictus. Thus Victoria is—as more generally in his decision to write a Missa Gaudeamus—looking back to Josquin via Morales.
The notable and long-lived popularity of the ostinato technique among Spanish composers of the Golden Age may itself be traced to the influence of Josquin, and most importantly perhaps to Josquin’s five-voice setting of the Marian antiphon Salve regina. The fame of this work in sixteenth-century Spain is exemplified by its being given pride of place in a book of music for the Marian ‘Salve’ services at Seville Cathedral compiled in 1550, preceding settings by such composers as Morales and Guerrero. Josquin’s motet is a tour de force of skilful imitative counterpoint, while also incorporating the famous ‘Salve regina’ chant in two distinct ways: the whole chant melody is presented in decorated form in the topmost voice, and its opening four-note motive (setting the first word, ‘Salve’) appears as an ostinato in the second voice from the top, alternating between two pitch-levels. It hence serves—as the ‘gaudeamus’ motto does in Morales’s Jubilate Deo and Victoria’s Missa Gaudeamus—as a powerful unifying element. But rather than simply ensuring unity through the device, Josquin tellingly manipulates its relationships to the free voices, so that it sometimes functions as a subtle background force steering the harmony or leading the music to cadence points, while at other moments it is spotlighted for expressive effect, as for example at the beginning of the final part of the motet, ‘Et Jesum benedictum’. Victoria’s six-voice Salve regina, published in his debut collection of 1572, shows yet again the force of Josquin’s legacy among Spanish composers, and exemplifies more generally the desire of Renaissance musicians to demonstrate their musical lineage through emulation of the works and techniques of renowned masters, and indeed their aspirations to surpass them. Victoria takes his cue from Josquin in using the ‘Salve’ motif as an ostinato, and in the second part of the setting (beginning with the words ‘Ad te suspiramus’) he retains Josquin’s technique of alternating between two pitch-levels for the motto; because Victoria gives the ostinato to one of his two highest voices, in this section of the piece every other statement stands out boldly at the top of the texture as had not been the case in Josquin’s Salve. But in borrowing Josquin’s idea Victoria goes much further than had his forerunner, giving us his own tour de force of prodigious contrapuntal skill. First, he adds a second ostinato motif, ‘mater misericordiae’, sung by an inner part; secondly, he constantly varies the overlap between this and the ‘Salve’ motto, to show the various ways in which the two can work together; and thirdly, he not only transposes the ‘Salve’ motto between two pitches (as had Josquin) but transposes the ‘mater misericordiae’ motto between three pitch-levels, so that we end up with an extraordinary jigsaw involving a myriad of relationships between the two. While all of this is going on, the listener is aware not of the contrapuntal showing off, but of beautifully shaped and powerfully emotive polyphonic writing.
The influence of Josquin’s ostinato techniques is likewise seen in the music of Francisco Guerrero, an older Spanish contemporary and acquaintance of Victoria, and the best known composer in the Iberian world in the later sixteenth century. Josquin’s other most famous ostinato motet was (and is) his setting of the psalm Miserere mei Deus, in which these opening three words of the text are repeated periodically throughout to a simple motive. (This motive, or variants of it, was then quoted by numerous sixteenth-century composers when setting the words ‘miserere mei’; an echo of this practice can be detected at the final ‘miserere nobis’ in the Gloria of Victoria’s Missa Gaudeamus.) However, rather than merely alternating between two pitch-levels for the ostinato as in Salve regina, Josquin here moves each statement one step higher or lower than its predecessor, changing the direction of this process in each of the three sections of the long motet. Guerrero’s setting of the Song of Songs text Surge propera, amica mea echoes this practice: Guerrero chose as his ostinato motto ‘Veni, sponsa Christi’, ‘Come, bride of Christ’, and in so doing he Christianises the old-testament text sung by the other voices: the ‘beloved’ (from the Song of Songs) is here ‘the bride of Christ’, which in this context refers to Mary. In the first part of the motet, the motive descends a step at each statement, while in the second it rises again, promoting the gradual crescendo as we move from the cooing of the turtle dove (‘vox turturis’) to the striking end-climax to the piece, with ‘Christi’ ringing out at the top of the final sonority. The perfumed and sensual imagery of Song of Songs texts frequently drew musical responses of particular power and colour from Renaissance composers, and this work is no exception: for example, the muscular soaring lines which Guerrero employs to set the concluding invitation for the beloved to arise (‘surge’) joyfully break the bonds of ‘normal’ melodic behaviour in the polyphonic styles of the period.
Guerrero’s best known motet, Ave virgo sanctissima, which is likewise in praise of Mary, provides another demonstration of the rhetorical effectiveness of repetition and varied repetition of motto themes in the hands of the greatest Renaissance composers. The core compositional device here is canon rather than ostinato, but the canon is unusual in the degree to which it is clearly audible to the listener and the way in which the construction of the canonic voices governs the rhetorical shaping of the work. The two superius voices echo one another in canon at a close time-interval, and the principal climax of the work comes where they turn to the famous ‘Salve’ motif—the same four-note theme that lies at the heart of Josquin’s and Victoria’s Salve regina settings—and declaim it multiple times at successively higher pitch-levels, until they reach the top of their range at the peak of this ‘wave’ of motto statements. The final paragraph of the piece mirrors this process, the motto for ‘nitens, olens velut rosa’ (‘beautiful and perfumed as the rose’) being sung thrice by each superius part at progressively lower pitch-levels to steer this extraordinary work to its tranquil close.
Owen Rees © 2020