A Tale of Two Josquins

A Tale of Two Josquins

In November 2019, Gimell released the eighth and penultimate in their series of Josquin Masses, a coupling of Josquin des Prés' Missa Mater Patris along with Noel Bauldeweyn's Missa Da pacem (a work long thought to have been by Josquin):

For those of us of a certain age, the Tallis Scholars will be forever linked with a Classics for Pleasure (CfP) LP of the Allegri Miserere, coupled with works by Mundy and Palestrina. No-one involved with that enterprise at the time had any idea the success that LP would enjoy, but relistening to the 1980 performance of the Allegri Miserere (they subsequently re-recorded it), it's hardly surprising:

These days, on the Gimell label, the world is their oyster, and this prolonged exploration of the magical, mystical world of Josquin has been a triumph. The timing of the series is perfectly judged: although we don't know Josquin's birth year (somewhere around 1450), we do know he died in 1521, so its culmination just prior to that is perfect for the 500th anniversary of his death.

Josquin was probably the most respected composer of his age, and polyphony was king. Looking first at the eighth release in the series, the Josquin/Bauldeweyn, is to open the first box of treats. There's a saying about Josquin, that he wrote more music after he died than when he was alive - it refers to the mislabelling of  music, and here we have a mass by someone else that was for a long time (until the 1970s, in fact) attributed to him. You might see Noel Bauldeweyn's dates rendered as (fl. 1509-1513). He didn't write it before the age of four! Instead, it means he flourished from 1509-1513, dates used when we don't have the complete picture of birth and death dates. Curiously, for years the Mass was considered Josquin's best effort in this field; Phillips suggests it is more uneven than pure Josquin, but asked, tellingly, "Who wrote the good bits?". Talking of the good bits, try this glowing specimen:

Bauldeweyn: Missa Da pacem: Et incarnatus est

Josquin's Missa Mater Patris, also on that penultimate release, quotes from Antonio Brumel's Mater Patris, a tiny piece in which most movements are less than a minute. But no less cherishable for it: here's Brumel's "Et precibus nostris":

It is a fabulous, refreshing disc. It is impossible for either volume here to claim superiority; the one is simply the extension of the other.

When I talked to Peter Philips about the final instalment once, he referred to the Hercules dux ferrariae Mass as one in which the dedicatee's name is "written through it like in a stick of Blackpool rock". It is, in technical terms, a "soggetto cavato" mass, in which a name is "translated" into music and worked with. Written, some say, in the early 1480s (others claim 1503/4, which seems more likely as Josquin was working at Ferrara at that time) it  takes the matierial from the name of Ercole, Duke of Ferrara ("Hercules dux ferrariae," in Latin). Now is not the time to go into the practcalities of how he mapped the name (a process called "solmisation") but we can hear how the eight-note phrase he gleaned is sung some 47 times during the mass, 45 of them by the tenors. The piece is a masterpiece of contrapuntal ingenuity.

By far the shortest mass on the disc is Missa d'ung aultre amer. At its heart is a chanson (song) by Johannes Ockeghem, a song of the utmost beauty. Listen to this (if you listen to nothing else, listen to this!) in a performance on a recent two-disc set of Ockeghem Chansons by Cut Circle directed by Jesse Rodin:

Ockeghem: D'ung aultre amer

... or (let's be indulgent!) in this slightly more fragile performance, just as beautiful. I'm including this video also because of the interest of the inclusion of then-contemporary art by Jean (sometimes Jehan) Fouquet (c. 1420-81), as well as hearing an alternative reading of the song:

Ockeghem: D'ung aultre amer

Josquin's Missa D'ung aultre amor is an act of homage: he was known to refer to Ockeghem as "bon père". Josquin takes the Ockeghem song on a walk, as the painter Paul Klee might say, in a piece of the utmost concision. Nothing is wasted.

When it comes to the near-half hour Missa Faysant regretz, the model was a three-part rondeau by either Gilles Binchois or Walter Frye. Whomever the model is by, Josquin's mass contains some of the densest polyphony out there: in his booklet notes, Peter Phillips likens Josquin's processes to those employed in  Bartók's Third String Quartet!. Josquin extrapolates four notes from the rondeau (F-D-E-D): what he does with those four notes (unlike Hercules, not concentrated on one voice) is little short of miraculous. The third Agnus Dei, for example, the final movement of the Hercules Mass, divides into six voices, the sopranos in canon with the tenors, the surrounding voices acting as a glorious summation of the techniques:

Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae: Agnus Dei 3

A fitting end to a glorious series. Both of these final volumes were recorded by the not inconsiderable talents of Philip Hobbs and prducced by both Peter Phllips and Steve C. Smith.

So, which other volumes to recommend? Perhaps we should go back to 1986 and the Missa Pangue Lingua? The colours on my CD booklet of that release are muted by time, but the singing remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.

At the time of writing (early in the morning of the day of release itself) only a couple of tracks are available via Amazon, one of which is given below - the full link via the Gimell website is also given, and when Amazon adds the link to the full disc, this will be added. The full Spotify link, however, is available, as are purchase links to the other discs mentioned in today's article.

Hercules Dux Ferrarie via the Gimell website