|Kyrie from Missa L'homme armé||-Antoine Busnois (c.1430-1492)|
|Ave Maria||-Johannes Ockeghem (c.1410-1497)|
|Gloria from Missa L'homme armé||-Pierre de La Rue (c.1460-1518)|
|Credo from Missa L'homme armé sexti toni||-Josquin DesPrez (c.1440-1521)|
|Sanctus from Missa L'homme armé à 4||-Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553)|
|Ave Maria à 5||-Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-c1560)|
|Agnus Dei from Missa L'homme armé à 4||-Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)|
Notes on the Music
The Busnois mass, one of the earliest L'homme armé cycles, is also the most clearly dependent upon the architecture of its cantus firmus. The tune appears in the tenor in long notes, and is structured with a fascinating numerological precision for all five sections of the ordinary. Busnois' mass was held in great esteem in the renaissance: it was quoted and discussed by theorists of the time, and the composer Jacob Obrecht borrowed the tenor, verbatim and in its entirety, for his own L'homme armé mass.
Pierre de la Rue was a contemporary of Josquin's, and was generally considered to have led a more provincial life than his more famous countryman. His musical style is also less cosmopolitan; there is a rough-hewn, intensely linear aspect to this music that is often attributed to his "northern" outlook, in contrast to the smoother, more homophonic and "Italianate" style of Josquin. Josquin's Missa L'homme armé sexti toni was probably written during his years in Italy, possibly for the Capella Sistina at the Vatican. The tag sexti toni means "sixth mode"; the modal difference from the preceding two mass sections should be immediately perceptible, for the sixth mode sounds like a major key, whereas Busnois and La Rue wrote their masses in a dorian mode that sounds like a minor key. Josquin's mass, like Busnois', is highly architectonic, but thoroughly typical of Josquin in its wealth of imitative and ornamental detail.
Morales, a Spaniard by birth, was employed by the papal choir during the 1530's and 40's, the period during which his two L'homme armé masses were published. The four-voice mass, from which the Sanctus performed tonight was drawn, is distinguished by the use of the phrygian mode, unusual for the L'homme armé melody. The effect of the phrygian for modern listeners is most evident at the final cadences of each section of the Sanctus. Like Morales, Palestrina wrote two L'homme armé masses, one for five voices (1570), and the other for four (1582). The later 4v mass, the Agnus Dei of which is being sung tonight, is quite free in its observance of the cantus firmus. The melody appears variously in all voices throughout the mass; at the beginning of the first Agnus, it can be heard very clearly sung by the sopranos. In the second Agnus, however, the cantus firmus returns to the tenor in the old long-note style; an extra 5th voice is added to set off this final expression of the venerable melody.
Two motets are inserted into our mass cycle, both employing the most familiar of all Marian votive texts. Like much of Ockeghem's music, the Ave Maria is strikingly individual. There is no cantus firmus, very little imitation, and an avoidance of clear cadence or phrase structure. Despite what might appear to be a callous disregard for text-music relationships, this motet is marvellously expressive of the supplicating nature of the text, in its long inventive lines and striking harmonic fluctuations. The Gombert motet, although separated by 50 years of stylistic development, shares many of the same features. In fact, the avoidance of text-music relation and clarity of phrasing in favor of a meditative, long-lined quality has often been mentioned as a primary characteristic of the most typically "Northern" composers. The familiar Ave Maria antiphon is used here as a cantus firmus, but Gombert's use of pervading imitation spreads the melody to all voices equally. Gombert's music tends to be quite dense, resulting in some extraordinarily difficult problems of "musica ficta." In performing this Ave Maria, we have chosen to read the music from the original parts instead of a modern score. Thus, the process required to reach a "solution" of some of these problematic passages has automatically favored linear over harmonic considerations. This results in some surprising clashes between lines.
Why did composers use the L'homme armé melody for sacred music? Was it simply an excellent cantus firmus, or a challenge handed down from generation to generation of composers? From the translation attached, one can see that the poem invokes the imagery of warfare; the armed man might refer specifically to the mounted soldier. One scholar has suggested that the development of the early cyclic mass related to the need of the Church to unite following the Great Schism of the 14th century (G. Chew). The image of the "Church Militant" defending Europe against the onslaught of the Turks (Constantinople fell in 1453) might be the reason for the sustained popularity of this "military" mass among composers employed by royal and papal patrons. Another interpretation relates the text to the changes in military procurement policies that occurred in France in the 1440's, a period of "civil lawlessness, of looting and pillaging that had been carried out in French lands by unemployed mercenaries during the last decades of the Hundred Years' War" (L. Lockwood). Perhaps the L'homme armé poem was a "popular outcry against the soldiery," absorbed by the Church in the form of a mass celebrating papal supremacy and order over the ravaging effects of nationalistic ambition. Regardless of its precise meaning, the existence of the L'homme armé mass cycles points to an interpenetration of the political and sacred worlds in the 15th century to an extent that is hard to conceive of today. Nonetheless, the events of our own times similarly suggest the need for a central order, whether it be temporal or religious, lest the ravaging effects of our modern-day mechanical mercenaries be unleashed, thus ending forever any need for nations, churches, or music.
The armed man should be feared.
Everywhere it has been proclaimed
That each man shall arm himself
With a habergeon of iron.
Capella Alamire was formed for the purpose of exploring the repertoire of the Renaissance. Alamire is the pseudonym of a Flemish music scribe employed by the Habsburg court, ca. 1500, in the Netherlands and northern France, an area which produced many of the greatest composers and singers at the time. In addition, the word Alamire is a solmization term for the pitch a (sung as la, mi, or re). The name represents our desire to eventually come to a better understanding of how singers of the renaissance dealt with their music, by studying the role of solmization in the interpretation of mensural notation.
Capella Alamire: Medora Batstone, David Coffin, Larry DePalma, Steven Ebstein, Jim Fauntleroy, Peter Fekula, Adam Finkel, Janna Frelich, Jill Gleim, Herman Godfried, Betsy Hopkins, Michael Mikowski, Bruce Ohr, Betsy Sabga
We would like to thank the following for their assistance and support:
North House, Harvard College
Christ Church Cambridge
St. James's Episcopal Church
Rev. Larry Hill