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. 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.
from notes by Owen Rees © 2020