Friday, May 28, 2010

Canonici: Consort of Voices

Skyline Presbyterian Church

6301 Westgate Blvd.   Tacoma, WA  98406

Ancient Tapestries, Canonici’s first project,  presents sacred music from four of the most famous French and Flemish composers of the 15th and 16th centuries. This concert is centered around one of the mass settings by Josquin des Prez. Josquin, as he is better known, was one of the most highly esteemed composers of the early sixteenth century. His music appears repeatedly in collections owned by kings and queens, including King Henry VIII of England. His music for the church is his most sophisticated, especially his motets of which Gaude Virgo, Mater Christi remains one of the most popular.

The Missa “La sol fa re mi” by Josquin was probably written in the composer’s later years. Like many of his works, it is based on a single theme, or cantus firmus, that is composed on the musical syllables LA SOL FA RE MI, or A-G-F-D-E in modern notation. The theme always appears in the tenor, sometimes in very long notes as in the beginning of the Credo, or sometimes in shorter note values as in the last part of the Kyrie. It is believed that Josquin composed this mass for an unidentified nobleman who was known for being a great procrastinator. This nobleman had apparently made a promise to Josquin, often stating “Laisse faire moy,” or, “Let me take care of it.” When the nobleman delayed in delivering on his promise, Josquin’s responded by composing his mass: LAISSE FAIRE MOY = LA SOL FA RE MI. By the end of the work the theme has been sung countless times, appearing in all four voices at one point or another. It is a prime example of how the brilliant Josquin used simple means to compose one of his most beautiful masses.

Woven between the movements of the mass are several motets by Josquin’s predecessors and contemporaries. The motet Ave Regina Caelorum was one of several settings of this Marian text composed by Guillaume Dufay, the leading composer of the mid-fifteenth century. He held prestigious musical positions all throughout Europe and was well-regarded by his employers and peers, especially in Flanders where he worked for the famous court of the Burgundian Duke Philip “the Good.” Ave Regina Caelorum is unlike the music of Josquin in that the parts move together rhythmically, producing harmonies that are very unique to this early period of music.

Johannes Ockeghem was the most important composer who bridged the gap between Dufay and Josquin. He worked in Antwerp and later lived in France, where he served at the court of three different kings. In the Marian antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater the chant melody is heard in the countertenor voice, with the other three voices weaving long melodic lines around it.

Pierre de La Rue has only recently been receiving recognition through performance as one of the Josquin’s most important peers. He spent much of his career working for the Burgundian court. The ethereal O Salutaris Hostia, a communion hymn, is part of his Missa Sancta Anna.



Missa “La Sol Fa Re Mi”, Josquin des Prez (c.1455-1521)

Ave Regina Caelorum, Guillaume Dufay (c.1397-1474)

Alma Redemptoris Mater, Johannes Ockeghem (c.1420-1497)

O Salutaris Hostia, Pierre de La Rue (c.1452-1518)

Gaude Virgo, Mater Christi, Josquin des Prez