NOTES BY ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Glories of the Renaissance
In history, art or music, a particular era can only be appreciated as a result of a continuing process. To the audience of the Victoria era, music began with Handel and, to a lesser extent, Bach. Messiah, preferably performed with a chorus of hundreds and a huge orchestra playing an “improved” version of the “primitive” Baroque scoring, was the dawn of “real” music. To the audience of the early mid-twentieth century, Bach became more accessible, largely through the lush transcriptions of two illustrious conductors of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the excesses of flamboyant concert organists.
During the last twenty-five years, a generation attuned to the leaner, linear sounds of classicists such as Wanda Landowska, E. Power Biggs and classically trained “progressive jazz” musicians such as the Brubeck quartet, has learned to appreciate Baroque music performed in a style closer to that envisioned by the composers. At the same time, the concert-goer has been exposed to the glorious repertoire of the High Renaissance that gave birth to the Baroque.
As one of the leaders in the dissemination of Renaissance music and the Gregorian chant that is the key to its interpretation, Roger Wagner reached yet further back to the foundation of the Renaissance when he prepared his doctoral thesis on three Masses of Josquin des Prés. At that time (twenty years ago) only a few motets were available in performing editions. Today the record purchaser can choose among various interpretations of five different Masses of Josquin, five of Dufay, four of Ockeghem, and numerous motets of the period.
Now, in the closing third of the twentieth century, the Master chorale aficionado is (we hope) ready and curious to hear the Glories of the Renaissance, not as an early curiosity but as the culmination of six hundred years of polyphonic music. In 1574 Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria and Gabrieli were the new music – and Monteverdi was yet to boldly experiment with the complete overthrow of the independence and equality of vocal and/or instrumental lines. It is the hope that the listener can hear this new and revolutionary music in context: Machaut – the culmination of four centuries of experimentation in rhythmic and textural variety; Dufay – the delight in the discovery of the possibilities of the canon; Josquin – the genius who could take pleasure in playing a trick on his singers while using a “popular” tune and with equal skill write music that for luminous clarity, subtlety and beauty could set a standard for over three centuries.
As a counterpoint, we hear the Italian contemporaries of Machaut in sprightly and very secular music that fertilized the music of Josquin and the great triumvirate of the High Renaissance – Palestrina, Lassus and Victoria. While the polychoral splendor of Gabrieli was spreading to Bohemia (Handl) and New Spain (Belsayaga), England, as always, went its own unique way. Although the religious ambiguities of the Tudor era produced fine sacred music (from simple psalms to Tallis’ Spem in alium for eight choirs, a 40), it is the secular madrigal that best evokes a very merry olde England, where even young Henry VIII delighted in poetry and music at a time when Mary and Anne Boleyn were still maids-in-waiting.
This evening’s concert, devoted to the Glories of the Renaissance and its Medieval Heritage, is by its nature permeated with Gregorian chant, for all sacred music (and much secular) was based directly or influenced by chant (the reverse also applied).
The flowing monody, originally probably sung much as it is heard tonight, gradually became ossified and slowed down to become a cantus firmus for the solo cantores between the Xth and XIIIth centures. By the time of Leonin and Perotin (who flourished immediately before and after the erection of Notre Dame de Paris) as many as one-hundred fifty notes of motetus or triplum (the sometimes higher third part) might be sung against a single note of the original chant. It should be noted that until the time of Josquin des Prés in the XVth century, only chant was sung by a choir of many voices; polyphony was sung by soloists against an instrumental cantus firmus.
Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377)
Just as the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) closed the Renaissance period of music, so the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) indirectly brought about the Ars Nova and the birth of Renaissance music.
Machaut in his early career traveled in the train of “the colorful John of Luxemburg, King of Bohemia, whom Carlyle described as a ‘restless, ostentatious, far-grasping, strong-handed man, who kept the world in a stir wherever he went.’ He went all over Europe – from Lithuania to Italy, and from Poland to France – and took Machaut with him after meeting the young man in Paris in 1323.” (Guillaume de Machaut: Levarie, p. 15)
The early death of King John of Bohemia at the battle of Crécy in 1346 made it necessary for Machaut to seek the patronage of others. Among his benefactors were Charles V and his younger brother John, Duc du Berry, “who had the leisure and the passion to become the most famous bibliophile and art connoisseur of his age…The personal care and expensive bindings bestowed on the Duke’s library are partly responsible for the good preservation of Machaut’s output.” (Ibid., p. 16)
Although the vast majority of his work – musical and poetical—is secular in content, as befitted the troubled times, his most famous work is La Messe de’Nostre Dame. Long supposed to have been written for Charles V’s coronation in 1364, it is now known and has been confirmed to this writer by Dr. Robert Stevenson that the Mass was written to be performed regularly at Lady Chapel at Rheims endowed by Machaut and his brother.
It should be noted that Machaut, at the age of 60 became amorously involved with a teenage girl from the nobility of Champagne, Peronnelle d’Armantières. Much poetry, music and mutual pilgrimages ensued and were described by Machaut in an autobiographical poem Voir Dit. Peronelle later married a man closer to her age, but Machaut resolved to “revere her in his art till the end of his days.” (Ibid., p. 18)
The Mass utilizes two styles and, Janus-like, employs techniques of the past as it anticipates the future. The Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Ite Missa est, as well as the Amen of the Credo are in isorhythmic form. In other words a rhythmic pattern (talea) is repeated several times in varying relationship to the theme (color) of the cantus firmus, which, since it held (tenere) the chant theme became known as the tenor part. The two higher decorative parts were traditionally named the motetus and triplum and often alternated notes in the ancient form of hoquetus (hiccup). The fourth and lowest part was the contra tenorum bassus – and so was formed the prototype of the modern four part choir. The Gloria and credo are in conductus form in which the words are pronounced together and the form, although borrowed from the past, at times sounds prophetically like the sensitive sonorities of one hundred fifty years later. The cantus of the Kyrie is from and alternated with the Gregorian Mass IV and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei derive the cantus from that of Mass XVIII. But a seven-note motive is constantly used throughout the entire Mass as a unifying force.
Josquin des Prés (c. 1440-1521)
The complete conquest of France by Henry V of England and the subsequent Regency of the Duke of Bedford brought John Dunstable to the continent and through him and the peculiarly English gymel (parallel movements in thirds) which grafted on the Ars Nova, paved the way for Dufay, Ockeghem, Obrecht and the full-flowering of the Renaissance in the person of Josquin des Prés.
As Roger Wagner notes in his analysis of Josquin’s Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, Josquin had inherited “the techniques of composition. In textbooks (Ockeghem) is named first among the manipulators of recondite canonic devices. That Josquin was thoroughly trained in this method is clearly demonstrated by his treatment of musical materials throughout his works.” (An Introduction to Three Masses of Josquin: Wagner; Caecilia Vol. 85 #1, February 1958).
As Machaut in 1350 was the master of the rhythmic intricacies of his predecessors and utilized them to produce a new and more subtly expressive style, Josquin built on the canonic complexities developed by Dunstable, Dufay, Ockeghem and Obrecht. And complex they were! Not only could a canon occur at any interval, but it could be sung (played) upside down (inversus), backwards (cancrizans inversus). (Ibid., p. 21)
As Wagner notes in regards to Josquin’s use of the theme as a cantus firmus his use of those devices “is no mark of his genius. A hundred other composers might have done just what he did. But his imagination began to work when he extracted from the mechanical device other workable materials which were to be so manipulated as to provide the musical texture in which the cantus firmus is embedded.” In doing so Josquin developed “a constant flow of sound, so organized as to give artistic shape to the whole. The important word here is ‘flow’ – that is, movement. This is achieved in part by the canonic treatment, which always propels the leading voice into the beginning of its second phrase while the second voice is still completing its first phrase. It is this process that staves off harmonic cadences, or full closes, until… (Josquin) wants to take a fresh start.” (Ibid., p. 35)
Each age uses a unifying device. Ars antiqua: the cantus; Ars nova: isorhythmic structure. But even though Josquin’s particular emphasis on canon faded with the passing of the Renaissance, his musical vocabulary is familiar to us 450 years later, for with Josquin begins a flow, a blend, a use of harmonic (i.e.)vertical unity between parts that continued through Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Mahler. Josquin rather than Monteverdi, marks the beginning of “European” music.
To borrow a thesis from Henry Pleasants, “serious” music is now entering a new era, perhaps as radical a departure from the music of the past as when Leonin, Perotin and Machaut hurled their multiplicity of notes against the simple monody of Gregorian chant in the vaulted cathedrals of Notre Dame de Paris and Rheims.
Stravinsky. Schonberg. Penderecki. Ligeti. Kraft. Gershwin. Brubeck. Shifrin. Each in his own way, the composer of this century of transition repudiates the recent (300 year) past, rediscovers the rhythmic complexities familiar to the European of the XIV century, the African of the XVIII century or the Asiatic of two thousand years ago.
Cristóbal de Belsayaga (c. 1585-1630)
The Chorale has been indebted many times to Dr. Robert Stevenson, not only for his awesome musicological talents, but also for his constant interest in the Chorale and its aims. Magnificat Sexti toni a 8 was brought to the Chorale’s attention by Dr. Stevenson, who has been kind enough to furnish the writer with the following notes:
“The first music treatise written anywhere in the Americas (1595) flowed from the pen of a longtime resident at Cartagena – in what is now Colombia – who specialized in working with the thousands of blacks entering South America through the port in the sixteenth century. Also, Cartagena was a city made famous by St. Peter Claver (1580-1654), “Apostle of the Blacks.” Here, around 1610, Cristóbal de Belsayaga composed his splendid Magnificat Sexti toni a 8.
“In 1616, Belsayaga transferred to the ancient capital of the Incas, Cuzco. A few years later, he was invited to become the chief music director in Lima, Peru. An ardent disciplinarian, he took the indolent singers assigned to his care in Lima Cathedral so to task that they revolted against his authority. The fire rocket that landed on his skull during an outdoor musical celebration on May 30, 1630, causing his death the next day, may not have been set off purely by accident.
“Belsayaga’s Magnificat exploits the constant antiphonal effects that distinguish Tomás Luis de Victoria’s musical anthology printed at Madrid in 1600. However, his rhythms become on occasion livelier and more syncopated that was ever Victoria’s norm.”