Missa Faysant regretz - Kyrie
De tous biens plaine (IV)
De tous biens plaine (II) (c.1445-1506)
Missa Faysant regretz - Gloria -Josquin
Comme femme desconfortée (II) à
Comme femme desconfortée (I) à 4
Missa Faysant regretz - Credo
* * * intermission * * *
Tout a par moy à 4 -Agricola
Missa Faysant regretz - Sanctus -Josquin
Tout a par moy à 3
Missa Faysant regretz - Agnus Dei -Josquin
(or Antoine Brumel)
Benedicta es caelorum Regina à 6
Capella Alamire re-awakens from a nearly five-year
nap with this concert, so these notes may be as much about the group as
they are about the music we are presenting. That music centers on
the mass Faysant regretz by the most prominent composer of the period,
Josquin DesPrez. The mass also is celebrated by scholars and performers;
there are at least four recordings of the work to date, by choirs from
France, Russia, and two from England, including one released this year.
The Capella was never interested in re-performing well-known works in the
past; so what new thoughts can we bring to this mass?
The answer lies in what the Capella has brought to many of its concerts and recordings: the group explores issues of pitch in Franco-Flemish music, and there is hardly a work from the repertory that lacks such issues. The illustration from the beginning of the Kyrie (on your program cover) shows the problem in the small. The opening gesture of the soprano voice presents the pitches "D E D C D" etc., and yet when we sing it, we do not sing E-natural, but instead E-flat. Furthermore, we fully believe that E-flat was meant by the composer. The E-flat was recognized by singers of the time through the context; that does not mean the harmonic context, for there is an E-natural just before this soprano phrase, but instead the linear context of this voice part. Furthermore, the opening gesture is a quotation from a plainchant Kyrie well-known at the time (thus a context of another sort), a chant in which that upper note was always sung with a flat. Lastly, there are lute intabulations of this Kyrie in which E-flat is plainly marked. Thus, with a little scratching about, and some thought applied to the matter, the correct sounding of this phrase can be arrived at. But when we hear prominent ensembles in recent recordings sing E-natural here instead, it seems to us that our thoughts are still needed; thus this concert. That is what the Capella is for: to discover and sound out how this music was meant to work. In fact, in these troubled and relativistic times, simply to establish that there was an intention, a particular way of hearing and performing, may be enough.
In truth, it is not always easy to find a unique hearing of a work. The Faysant regretz mass contains some difficult passages that we have tried two or three ways, and we are still not sure we have chosen the right path. But for most of this mass, we are sure, and have discovered in this music that feature that arises so often in Franco-Flemish music of this time: it seems to celebrate cross-relationships. E-naturals are placed next to E-flats throughout the mass, as in the opening of the Kyrie just discussed. In Josquin, these cross-relationships are not rudely juxtaposed within chords, as they might be in Gombert or Lupi, but instead are deployed as part of harmonic patterns, or in even longer-range relationships that serve to articulate the form. Remember that we are talking about E-flats that are most often not signed explicitly, and you will begin to see what makes this topic so treacherous.
Josquin based his mass on a sturdy little motive drawn from the beginning of the 2nd part of a chanson by Walter Frye, Tout a par moy. The motive is F-D-E-D and sung as "fa-re-mi-re," even when it is placed at other pitch levels. On the other hand, when the tune appears in the following manner: F-D-E-D E-C-D-C D-Bb-C-Bb C-A-Bb-A Bb-G-A-G, it is clear that the motive cannot always be sung as fa-re-mi-re; the intervallic relationships do change. Figuring out how they change is the main challenge of the work.
Josquin was not the only composer to abstract this motive from Frye's chanson. Alexander Agricola's instrumental fantasia on Tout a par moy makes an ostinato of the "fa re mi re" motive in his second part, and may have been the source of Josquin's decision to use this motive in the mass. Agricola creates a different ostinato in the first part of his fantasia, one made from the opening motive of Frye's chanson, an upper neighbor figure: D-D-E-D. Both motives appear in the final movement of Josquin's mass, in ostinato simultaneously, while the superius sings the melody from Frye's original chanson. With so many debts paid in one texture, it is a wonder that Josquin can make any music at all, but this final Agnus shows no restraint, and transcends all its references. Furthermore, the two motives conflict in their sounding of the pitch E; the upper neighbor figure again calls for Eb, so that the cross-relationship between E-natural and E-flat announced in the Kyrie, and pursued throughout the mass, takes up the center of attention again here at the end of the mass.
The other works on the program allow us to explore Agricola's fascinatingly rich instrumental style. Ideas about instrumentalists partaking in vocal music are out of fashion currently, but no scholar has questioned that Agricola's work was meant for instrumental performance; the style is too exuberantly ornate to suggest voices. Agricola's music has not received as much attention as it deserves, perhaps because of negative assessments from both the 16th century ("unusual, crazy, and strange"), and the 19th century ("he tends to write a kind of surly, bad-tempered, dark counterpoint"). Our small exploration has suggested that the nervous quality of individual lines is due to their instrumental conception, a conception that deserves another look not only in Agricola's music, but in 15th century music in general. -PWU
Erik Gross Kevin Leong
Logan McCarty Eric Rice
Jesse Rodin Terry McKinney
Charles Turner Shannon Canavin
Peter Urquhart, director
The instrumental consort
Matthew Wright, lute; Douglas Freundlich, lutes and contrabass viol; Emily Urquhart, bass viol; Peter Urquhart, tenor viol