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Huc me sydereo a 6

6vv; NJE 21.5
author of text

Of the following three large-scale motets in six-voice versions, two represent the so-called si placet tradition, with one or two voices added by a later musician to a four- or five-voice original. Huc me sydereo (21.5) is one of the most intriguing, as well as impressive, works in the canon. Its strength derives to a considerable degree from the quality of its poetry, the work of Maffeo Vegio (1407-1458), a distinguished humanist who among other achievements composed a thirteenth book to supplement Vergil’s Aeneid, which has circulated widely ever since. The poem, written in elegiac couplets, mixes Classical references into a meditation on the Passion; in the outer eight lines, Christ addresses the world from the cross, whereas the middle four (spanning the divide between the two sections of the motet) take the voice of an external party. Vegio adopts highly charged language to underline the brutality of the cross, which he deploys with great poetic skill: lines such as ‘ille pedes clavis fixit et ille manus’ are both graphic in their imagery and beautifully balanced rhetorically. Josquin’s response to the eloquence of Vegio is emotionally moving as well as technically expert; perhaps the most overtly expressive device is the series of descending scales which set the second half of the poem’s first line: ‘descendere iussit Olympo’ (from 0'48 to 1'31). Initially, the vocal lines compass a fifth, but as the imitative point develops, whole octave descents are heard, and finally the outer voices cover a twelfth, d"-g in the soprano (at notated pitch) and d'-G in the baritone and bass. The voices necessarily reach their highest pitch at the beginning of these phrases, meaning that successive melodic repetitions are intensified by beginning higher each time. The later stages of the piece are mostly characterized by a quiet intensity, with significant use of fauxbourdon technique (chains of first inversion triads, most obvious at ‘frangere iura crucis’, and the two concluding phrases of the halves: ‘verbera tanta pati’ and ‘sat mihi solus amor’). More overt emotion is heard at ‘quem nequeunt durae’, with a rising sequence on ‘durae’, and at the above-mentioned ‘ille pedes’.

The motet is structured around a chant tenor, ‘Plangent eum’ (‘They lament for him’), which is heard three times: once in the prima pars, beginning after twenty-four breves, as the upper voices come in with the third poetic line, ‘Langueo nec quisquam’ (2'06), and twice in the secunda, in ever-shorter note values. Around the tenor are five free voices, though three of the work’s seventeen sources lack the sexta vox, which differs in style from the other four, and is highly virtuosic with a two-octave range. The piece can be, and indeed is more often than not, performed a 5. As ever with Josquin, controversy rages as to the authenticity of this sexta vox, with John Milsom in The Josquin Companion asserting that it is ‘generally rejected as being uncharacteristic of Josquin’s style’, and Jaap van Benthem (in Josquin and the Sublime) stating that it is inauthentic and ‘seriously affects the setting’s subtle counterpoint and its balance of proportions’. Willem Elders, on the other hand (in Josquin Des Prez and his musical legacy), believes that ‘most scholars agree that it stems from the hand of Josquin himself’. Bonnie Blackburn in her NJE edition considers three possibilities: that Josquin added the sexta vox after writing the first five; that someone else wrote it; or that the motet was Josquin’s six-voice conception all along. The fact that two of the sources lacking it (the Brussels and London manuscripts) are among the earliest lends weight to the first hypothesis, though the source situation more generally does not suggest a separate line of transmission of an earlier version a 5. David Fallows makes the best case in its favour: describing the other five voices as constituting ‘a motet of the most polished and classical design’, he suggests that ‘Josquin quickly saw that he needed to throw a diagonal band across the structure … as though he drafted it as a work in five voices and then realised that it was just a touch too anodyne’.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2021


Josquin: Motets & Mass movements
Studio Master: CDA68321Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Part 1: Huc me sydereo
Track 5 on CDA68321 [5'31]
Part 2: Felle sitim magni regis
Track 6 on CDA68321 [3'24]

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