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  • the florid richness and emotional devotion of music before Baroque till recently the starting point of most peopleâ s awareness of the art Characteristics of Dufay are his intricate workmanship and the development of independent balance among the vocal parts that lead us naturally to the satisfying clarity which has itself given old music a strangely contemporary feel The Binchois Consort under their founder Andrew Kirkman has a special affinity

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  • Busnois: Missa L’homme armé; Domarto: Missa Spiritus almus; Pullois: Flos de spina | The Binchois Consort
    measure from its performers But there is much more here than just gymnastics Busnois has to modern sensibilities anyway an uncanny sense of timing with everything seeming to fall felicitously suavely sculpted components building into a masterly overall design Thus points of repose are just as absorbing as points of tension the brilliant pacing and manipulation of rhythm pitch and counterpoint seeming to draw the listener irresistibly onward Everything seems calculated to entice the ear into Busnois s often subtle and nuanced soundworld and to listen intently to the gracefully arching and gently climaxing melodic lines in such reduced voice passages as the Christe section of the Kyrie is to receive an impression of real feeling and sincerity of utterance The same almost mesmerizing brilliance is so striking in the Marian motet Gaude celestis domina that even had it not been identified by Rob Wegman from a quotation in Tinctoris hearers familiar with Busnois s other works would have immediately suspected his hand here also The driving and often highly syncopated rhythms energetic passages in tenths and thrilling metrical and rhythmic shifts of gear immediately call to mind the similar idiom of In hydraulis and Incomprehensibilia firme the latter recorded by the Binchois Consort on A Marriage of England and Burgundy CDA67129 Compared to the Mass and Gaude celestis domina the Marian motet Anima mea liquefacta est comes as a stylistic surprise Though exhibiting similarly long pliable melodic lines and concluding with a driving syncopated passage that relates its style to parts of Busnois s other works on this disc this piece presents its composer in a rather different and much more introspective light Its darker sonorities combination of low voices polytextuality its tenor sings the text of the scaffold chant the Marian responsory Stirps Jesse and Song of Songs text relate the piece as Paula Higgins has shown to an early fifteenth century repertoire and a number of scholars have suggested that it may occupy an early position in its composer s output Its sombre tone gives Anima mea a lamenting plangent quality and has led Higgins to hypothesize that the piece may have been associated with a royal death Whatever occasioned its composition though this is a deeply felt and moving work and unusual though it is in the context of Busnois s other works it is similarly expressive of an emotional temperament Even such an individual voice as that of Busnois did not emerge from nowhere however one of his more signal influences as outlined in an article by Rob Wegman which described it fully for the first time was the other Mass on this disc the Missa Spiritus almus by Petrus de Domarto Hardly a household name today Domarto as again attested by Tinctoris was a figure of considerable repute in the mid late fifteenth century His approach to metre and particularly cantus firmus layout may have instigated a trend which also embraced one and perhaps two Masses by his apparently younger contemporary the Missa O

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  • believe it was composed by Busnois himself His was definitely one of the first if not the first Masses to be composed on this tune and another 40 or so were written subsequently by various composers of various nationalities In fact many of Busnois works inspired emulations and the other two works on this disc by him are equally mesmerising and exhilarating The Franco Flemish composer Domarto also enjoyed considerable

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  • Josquin and his contemporaries | The Binchois Consort
    the modern style of composition particularly in his Tota pulchra es Now Nicolaes Craen a man in truth of outstanding natural qualities has seemed to me in his motet Tota pulchra es to have very successfully ignored the practices of the old musicians and we shall be able to learn from this how laudably he has moved beyond even the ancient laws For Luscinius Craen s ability lay in his method and skill in composing harmonies providing a model to be followed by all aspiring composers of his day Its great beauty notwithstanding the chief claim to fame of Verbum bonum et suave lies in confusion over its authorship a confusion offering clear proof that the cachet of Josquin s name was as great in some quarters in the sixteenth century as it is today Writing in 1558 the theorist Zarlino famously related I remember what I have heard the most excellent Adrian Willaert tell many times namely that they used to sing that six part motet Verbum bonum et suave under the name of Josquin at the Papal chapel in Rome on nearly every feastday of Our Lady It was ranked among the most excellent compositions that were sung in those days Now Willaert had moved to Italy from Flanders during the pontificate of Leo X 1513 21 and finding himself in the place where they sang that motet he noticed that it was ascribed to Josquin When he pointed out that it was in fact his own as it indeed was such was their malice or rather to put it more generously their ignorance that they never wanted to sing it again Veni sancte spiritus was universally accepted as a work by Josquin until 1985 when an attribution to his lesser known contemporary Forestier was noticed in a manuscript considered to be of greater authority Its credentials before that time seemed impeccable ascribed to Josquin it was showcased as the first piece in Ott s collection of motets Novum et insigne opus musicum published in 1537 8 and with its brilliant construction around two canons at the fifth seemed every inch the expression of the better known composer s legendary contrapuntal brilliance Whether by Josquin or not Veni sancte spiritus is an extraordinary musical achievement worthy to stand beside anything of its day further as one of the central pieces of the Josquin canon recognised in the sixteenth century it is an integral part of the picture of Josquin on which the modern view of the composer is based The four voice De profundis has conflicting attributions to Josquin and Champion presumably one of the brothers Jacques and Nicolas Champion who were employed in the Hapsburg Imperial Chapel in the first third of the sixteenth century For Glarean though there were no doubts either about the authorship of this piece or its quality for him it was the quintessence of Josquin in both its beauty of expression and its novelty Here indeed I should like everyone to observe

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  • or Josquin des Prà s So we generally just call him Josquin A Frenchman Grove describes him as one of the greatest composers of the entire Renaissance and certainly the most important before the latter half of the sixteenth century Scholarship has revealed that much music ascribed to Josquin was in fact by other composers using his name and fame On the other hand there is also much which he

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  • A Marriage of England and Burgundy | The Binchois Consort
    notion that the pieces were commissioned directly from their composers Most obviously two of the Masses Frye s Missa Summe trinitati and Missa Flos regalis have lost their Kyries The omission of Kyries from English festal Masses their large dimensions and long prosula texts out of keeping with liturgical traditions elsewhere was a fate suffered frequently by such Masses in continental transmission Why two Masses lost their Kyries while the other three hung on to theirs is a mystery it is a circumstance though that resonates with other discrepancies between the copies which would seem to suggest that the Masses reached their copyist s desk via diverse routes rather than as a unit As it happens a motet Salve virgo mater surviving in the manuscript Trent 88 is so intimately related in cantus firmus structure and style to the four Summe trinitati movements in Brussels that it is almost surely the lost Kyrie of that Mass masquerading in another guise It has been reinstated on this disc with the prosula text Conditor Kyrie an item like the responsory that forms the Mass s cantus firmus that was specified by the Use of Salisbury for Trinity Sunday All in all then it seems more likely that if the five Masses were indeed used in the ceremonies associated with the marriage they were assembled from diverse sources perhaps with a mind to their relevance to the occasion rather than being commissioned directly for the celebration itself Alternatively it is possible as Rob Wegman has suggested to me that they were already in the possession of the Burgundian Court and were simply supplied with initials in recognition of their use at this auspicious moment in its history As it happens the five opening Masses of the Brussels manuscript are not its only evidence of a Burgundian interest in English music An anonymous Mass later in the source also recorded on this CD bears many of the hallmarks of English style and some years ago I constructed a case that it may also be by Frye Modest in scale and with a short Kyrie designed for alternatim performance with chant this Missa Sine nomine nonetheless shares much of the melodic rhythmic and contrapuntal idiom of Frye s authenticated Masses such as Summe trinitati that are conceived on a grander scale A similarly alternatim Kyrie ascribed to Frye and based as discovered by Brian Trowell on the same composer s song So ys emprentid survives in a fragmentary state in the Lucca Choirbook Stylistically related in its general rhythmic and melodic profile to Frye s other ascribed Masses as well as to the anonymous cycle the surviving discantus of the Lucca Kyrie bears a more direct relation to the Kyrie of the Brussels anonymous Mass the corresponding section openings of the two pieces are strikingly similar while the two Christe II settings trace substantially the same melodic contour throughout Further strong melodic relationships link the Lucca Kyrie to other parts of the Brussels anonymous Mass as can be seen for example by comparing Kyrie I of Lucca with Agnus Dei I of Brussels Finally the Brussels anonymous Mass has a direct stylistic counterpart as Gareth Curtis and Rob Wegman had earlier noted in another authenticated work by Frye his setting of the Prose for St Nicholas Sospitati dedit Mass and Prose setting share the characteristic features of English discant a simple rhythmically integrated style and voice parts in almost entirely distinct ranges with the tenor as the lowest voice In fact Sospitati dedit recalls the Brussels Mass from its very beginning its opening motif though admittedly echoed in many pieces from this period is almost exactly the same as the figure which begins each movement of the Mass On a local level the pieces just discussed share a lot of common ground all have the same highly varied and heavily syncopated lines embracing periodic sometimes obsessive rhythmic repetitions while their melodic profiles frequently show a similar persistence in repeatedly returning to a single note within a short space of time Cut from the same cloth though they may be however the two Masses on this disc fashion it in ways that are quite different The concision and economy of the Missa Sine nomine with its lucid texture and brisk text setting create an arresting impression from bar 1 Careful listening though entices the ear increasingly into a brittle sound world in which brief and highly sculpted melodic ideas are passed from one voice to another in what strikes us as something akin to chamber music Propelled forward by a high density of musical events the Mass nonetheless articulates a wide range of moods with the most economic use of material Compare for example the conclusion of the Credo its sense of acceleration and excitement generated by brief rests syncopation and rhythmic disparity between the parts with the serenity and expansiveness which at the opening of the following Sanctus is shaped from the basic ingredients of melodic repetitiveness and rhythmic simplicity Compared to the anonymous Mass the Missa Summe trinitati unfolds in a series of musical events that is at once more leisurely and more complex Resistant to easy comprehension Frye s texture becomes on closer listening a source of endless fascination The stylistic consistency of his idiom is entirely belied by the sense of freedom and invention that he brings to bear on it to become acquainted with the style of the Missa Summe trinitati is to be gradually absorbed into a perpetual interplay of melodic and rhythmic ideas held in check by a subtle sense of timing Repetition sometimes of melodic motifs but much more typically of brief rhythmic patterns plays a major role in Frye s articulation of musical space at one and the same time slowing down the pace of musical events and drawing attention to key moments Such repetitions emerge increasingly from the texture with each hearing drawing attention to themselves in different ways by being melodically exact or varied flowing

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  • history of the Court of Burgundy To judge from the extent and enthusiasm of surviving testimony outstripping those of any similar 15th century state occasion this was the marriage of the century It was also an opportunity for display on a grand scale with numerous musical events and celebrations Although we don t know exactly what was performed there is a manuscriptâ the Burgundian Court manuscript â whose contents may

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  • Music for St James the Greater | The Binchois Consort
    majorem its colourful text recounting well known miracles of Saint James see for example Jacobus de Voragine s The Golden Legend has long been associated with the Mass on the basis of the clearly audible stylistic similarities between the two works Ernest Trumble has pointed out the possible further significance of the fact that following the Mass which they would have attended before departing from the church for Compostela pilgrims would have had their staffs or bourdons blessed Thus this final item of ritual before departure would have followed the communion whose text is set in Dufay s Mass in the parallel motion technique known as fauxbourdon The possible punning significance of the use of this technique in a Mass for the pilgrim saint has not been lost on scholars in the past but a scenario such as this would give it a powerful extra charge However the liturgical evidence of the choice of Propers in Dufay s Mass is far from clear and Barbara Haggh has suggested rather that Dufay may have composed the Mass for Auclou elsewhere possibly in Rome or Bologna The latter was proposed some years ago by Alejandro Planchart as a possible site for the composition of the Mass Certainly Dufay and Auclou whose careers were further intertwined through shared associations with the Papal Court Cambrai Cathedral and St Donatian s Bruges were both in Bologna in the later 1420s in the orbit of the papal legate there Cardinal Louis Aleman Thus the motet could have been composed in Bologna either with the Mass or as a later appendage to it Much has traditionally been made of the stylistic variety encompassed by the nine movements of this Mass cycle something which has been seen as a likely reflection of composition in a series of stylistic layers Such a division seems to be articulated by the Mass s manuscript sources the first three Ordinary movements albeit in somewhat garbled readings in the Trent Codices the complete Ordinary labelled de apostolis in the Aosta Codex and finally the entire Mass in the Bologna manuscript Q15 Further grist for the same mill has been drawn from Dufay s varied approaches to borrowed chants tenor statements of appropriate chant melodies in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei versus absence of obvious chant references in the first three Ordinary movements with one exception each third section of the Kyrie paraphrases the Kyrie chant Cunctipotens a melody usually associated with feasts of apostles By contrast the first three Proper sections which are generally more elaborate than their Ordinary counterparts are each built solidly on chant paraphrases in the tenor Finally outside the whole scheme stands the fauxbourdon Communion its chant laid out in parallel fourths in the two upper parts However the mill has undoubtedly been driven by anachronistic assumptions as David Fallows has noted establishment of standardized procedures for musically linking the movements of a polyphonic Mass was still some way off at the time the Mass for Saint James the Greater was composed It may rather be more fruitful to see the Mass s stylistic diversity as a reflection of liturgical considerations Proper movements separating Ordinary movements with in turn the Sanctus and Agnus Dei parts of the Eucharist per se standing apart from the Ordinary sections Kyrie Gloria Credo which preceded it Such a view may draw support from the presence of the sort of brief repeated ideas identified by Fallows at various points in the Mass precisely the sort of motivic common ground which one might expect to have resulted from an uninterrupted span of composition Diverting in the abstract however concern with such details dissipates as soon as we enter the sound world of the music To experience the profundity of Dufay s Mass with at least to modern voices and ears its broad consistency of vision is quickly to see surface detail blend into the whole to the point that it almost seems prudent simply to let the music speak for itself A few observations will suffice The texture of the Mass for Saint James the Greater is typically one of finely chiselled rhetorical gestures passing from voice to voice Always far above the routine this sometimes as in the Alleluia rises to a pitch of heightened eloquence As in the same composer s Mass for St Anthony of Padua performed by The Binchois Consort on Helios CDH55271 it is in the Offertory the moment at which we are ushered into the liturgy of the Eucharist proper where this expression reaches its summit As in all the most deeply affecting music of its age the pacing in this movement seems wonderfully judged the extraordinary interlocking triadic figures between the upper voices at sonus eorum providing a fitting prelude to the concluding alternations of shared melodic phrases on the verba eorum which brings this remarkable movement to a close At the other end of the expressive scale and also as in the St Anthony Mass it is in the Hosanna of the Sanctus where this deep contemplation is finally released in what are perhaps the most expansive musical gestures of the Mass It is surely not too fanciful to see in the Mass for Saint James the Greater a mirror of the spiritual journey of the Mass itself from dignified preparation through mystical enactment to fulfilment and final peroration It is possible that the motet Rite majorem was intended for a liturgical performance in close association with that of the Mass Planchart has observed that the text of the motet with its life and miracles format closely mirrors the similar text of the Prose for St Nicholas Sospitati dedit A parody of the latter frequently did duty as the Vespers prose for St James and it may be that a similar purpose was envisaged for Rite majorem This is a tightly structured motet its lower voices presenting the same melodic succession and two statements of a rhythmic pattern in each half while an isorhythmic scheme heard twice

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