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Saturday morning quotes 6.19 In pace

September 24, 2016

commefemme-clipWe make a slight departure from our usual format for today’s post.  As so much invisible effort goes into a thoughtfully researched concert program—and there is such limited space for printed program notes—we take this opportunity to outline an appealing program of music in the hope that it will offer some small insight into the way we research, assemble, and refine our concert repertory.

Our program is in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and is built upon the little-understood intersection of sacred and secular music of the late 15th century, a theme inspired in part by ideas that are distilled in The Flower of Paradise: Marian Devotion and Secular Song in Medieval and Renaissance Music, by David J. Rothenberg.


The concert program begins with a rare two-part setting of the Stabat Mater dolorosa text set to an otherwise unknown melody as found in Amiens, Bibliothèque Centrale Louis Aragon, MS 162 D (circa 1500), a collection of two- and three-part polyphony composed and collected specifically for use by the confraternity of St. Barbara at the Corbie Abbey, modern edition by Danish musicologist Peter Woetmann Christoffersen.  Christoffersen, Emeritus associate professor of Musicology, University of Copenhagen, has produced a very impressive body of work focused mainly on the contents of several 15th-century chansonniers, work that is available on line.  The complete Stabat Mater text is set with a counter voice in parallel motion that frequently crosses the tenor line, creating a mesmerizing textural effect. As far as we know, our performance is the first rendering of this setting in 500 years.

Guillaume DuFay’s (1397 – 1474) “Vergene bella, che di sol vestita”, among the earliest surviving musical settings of the poetry of Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374), is one the most moving devotional tributes to the Virgin Mary.  While Johannes Ockeghem’s (c. 1425 – 1497) “Quant de vous seul” has not been categorized as a disguised devotional text, the rondeau’s poetry could be interpreted as such.  “D’ung aultre amer” by Ockeghem has been more clearly identified as a devotional text through Josquin’s literal quotation of the text and tune in the secunda pars of his moving four-voice motet, “Tu solus qui facis mirabilia”.

“Comme femme desconfortée”, musical setting attributed to Giles Binchois (c.1400 – 1460), is an evocatively mournful rondeau text that is linked allegorically and musically to the setting of Stabat Mater dolorosa by Josquin des Prez (c. 1450 – 1521). Josquin quoted the tenor of Binchois’ chanson verbatim throughout the motet, quadrupling the length of the notes—a line with endless longae that can only be sung by tenors capable of breathing through their ears.

“In this motet we see Josquin at his best.  He combines extensive imitation with moments of rhetorically sensitive text declamation.  Given the late emergence of the liturgical melody of the “Stabat Mater,” it is unsurprising that Josquin makes no reference to any chant melody.  His sole musical building block is the tenor of Comme femme desconfortée, which he takes as his cantus firmus.”

– Rothenberg, p. 202

Josquin’s sublime setting of the Stabat Mater was quite popular well into the 16th century, with printed versions arranged for solo lute by the likes of Simon Gintzler and Francesco da Milano.  Our performance for solo voice and lute is edited from an historical version published by Pierre Phalese in 1552, with the addition of the sustaining voice of a bowed viol on the important tenor line.

While our concert program is in part inspired by the work of two living musicologists, we also acknowledge Francesco Spinacino (fl. 1507), whose published work anthologized some of the best compositions of the late 15th century.  We dip into his large repertory of recercars and also his ample selection of arrangements of late 15th-century chansons and motets. Historians usually consider Spinacino a 16th-century lutenist-arranger, forgetting that he was a contemporary of Agricola, Josquin and Ockeghem.  This fact adds strength to our choice to draw upon Spinacino’s accidentals and ornamental divisions when performing the original setting, which adds historical spice to our performances.

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