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Loyset COMPÈRE (c1445 - 1518): Sacred and secular music

[I] "Missa Galeazescha - Music for the Duke of Milan"
Odhecatona; La Pifareschab; La Reverdiec; Ensemble Pian&Forted; Liuwe Tamminga, organe
Dir: Paolo Da Col
rec: May 2005, Belluno (I), Chiesa di San Pietroabc; June 2005, Bologna, Basilica di San Petroniode
Arcana - A 436 (© 2017) (65'12")
Liner-notes: E/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Alexander AGRICOLA (1445/46-1506): Ave Domina Sancta Maria a 4ac; Ave, pulcherrima Regina a 3a [2]; L'homme banni a 3c [1]; Tota pulchra es (arr Hans KOTTER (c1485-1541))e; Loyset COMPÈRE: Ave Maria gratia plena (arr Fridolin SICHER (1490-1546))e; Missa Galeazeschaabc; Heinrich LÜBECK (?-?): Etzliche Punctenn aus einer Sonaded; Sonata No. 6d; Sonata No. 100d; Johannes MARTINI (fl c1430-1440): La Martinella (arr Hans KOTTER)e; Toujours bienb; Gaspar VAN WEERBEKE (c1445-after 1516): Ave, stella matutina a 4abc; Christi mater, avea; Mater digna Dei a 4abc; Virgo Maria (arr Fridolin SICHER)e

Sources: Ottavio Petrucci, ed., [1] Harmonice musices Odhecaton A, 1501; [2] Motetti de Passione de Cruce de Sacramento de Beata Virgine et huiusmodi, 1503

[Odhecaton] Alessandro Carmignani, Gianluigi Ghiringhelli, Raoul Le Chenadec, Renzo Bez, alto; Fabio Furnari, Paolo Fanciullacci, Mauro Collina, Vincenzo Di Donato, tenor; Marco Scavazza, Enrico Volontieri, baritone; Giovanni Dagnino, Sergio Foresti, bass
[LP] Stefano Vezzani, Alberto Ponchio, shawm; Mauro Morini, David Yacus, sackbut
[LR] Livia Caffagni, Claudia Pasetto, vielle; Doron David Sherwin, mute cornett; Ella de Mircovich, harp; Claudia Caffagni, lute
[P&F] Gabriele Cassone, Luca Primo Marzana, Jonathan Pia, Mauro Bernasconi, Luciano Marconcini, Corrado Colliard, trumpet; Riccardo Balbinutti, timpani

[II] "Magnificat, Motets & Chansons"
The Orlando Consort
rec: Sept 24 - 27, 2013, Loughton (Essex), Parish Church of St John the Baptist
Hyperion - CDA68069 (© 2015) (68'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics -translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Au travail suis sans espoir de confort a 3, chanson; Dictes moy toutes voz pensées a 3, chanson; Magnificat 1. toni a 4; Mes pensées ne me lessent une heure a 3; chanson; Ne doibt on prendre quant on donne a 3, chanson; O bone Jesu a 4, motet (attr); Tant ay d'ennuy/O vos omnes, motet-chanson a 3; Une plaisant fillette ung matin se leva a 4, chanson; Ung franc archier a 4, chanson; Vous me faites morir d'envie a 3, chanson

Matthew Venner, alto; Mark Dobell, Angus Smith, tenor; Donald Greig, baritone

Scores

These two discs are the first entirely devoted to Loyset Compère that has ever crossed my path as a reviewer. In my collection I have just one disc with motets and chansons, recorded by the Orlando Consort in 1993 (Metronome MET CD1002-01). He shares the fate of other contemporaries of Josquin Desprez in that they are almost completely overshadowed by the great master. Ironically, according to the article about him in New Grove, as it has turned out that Compère was about ten years older than Josquin, "it seems very likely that Compère was a pioneer in some of the stylistic and technical features they share", and which previously were attributed to Josquin. That is how cruel music history can be sometimes.

Not that much is known about him: we don't know for sure when and where he was born. It seems that he was from what is now the Belgian-French border, and it is likely that he studied in Paris around 1460. From 1474 to 1476 he was in the service of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan. In the latter year his employer, by all accounts a cruel tyrant, was murdered. As a result the chapel was reduced, and Compère was among those who were forced to leave. Nothing is known about his whereabouts in the next ten years. From 1486 Compère is documented as a singer at the royal court of Charles VIII of France. From 1598 until his death he held various administrative posts in Cambrai and Douai.

Odhecaton devoted its disc to a specific genre of sacred music, the so-called motetti missale. This is a cycle of motets which were performed during mass, as substitutes for the usual chants of the Ordinary and the Propers. This seems to have been a speciality of Milan, as no other place is known where this genre was cultivated. Compère wrote three such motet cycles, and these almost certainly date from his years in Milan. On this disc Gaspar van Weerbeke is also represented. He was Compère's colleague in Milan, and he also composed a number of motetti missales.

According to recent research, such motets were performed during the messa bassa, or 'low mass', "that is the mass 'in parole', which in Milan was customary during important occasions and liturgical feasts, and not only reserved for votive and devotional weekly services" (booklet). The origin of such motet cycles and the reason they were created, is still not entirely clear.

There is something peculiar about the Missa Galeazescha, which is the subject of Odhecaton's recording. The track-list says it is for five voices, but according to Daniele V. Filippi, in his notes in the booklet, that is questionable. The manuscript includes five parts, among them tenor I and II. "But upon closer inspection we realize that the two tenors alternate continuously, generally without overlapping. Even more unusual is that where they briefly overlap (at the end of each motet and in some significant moments), they sing in unison - a pleonasm, not to say heresy, in the restrained economy of Renaissance counterpoint." A closer look reveals that "the lines of the two tenors consist in a collage of pre-existing melodies, taken from sequences and other songs." Some have been identified as liturgical chants, but the origin of other melodies remains unknown. They may well have been taken from then popular secular pieces (comparable with the material composers used for their masses). Filippi concludes that "Compère sets as a foundation for his cycle a kind of patchwork of melodies that were certainly familiar to both the performers and the audience, including the Duke."

Like in the material composers used for their masses, these melodies are often hard to recognize. It is therefore all the more remarkable that Adoramus te Christe, to be sung during the Elevation, includes a passage in which a particular melody manifests itself very clearly. Filippi suggests that it may be "a musical emblem of the Sforza", but there are also other options. It is highlighted in the recording in that this passage is first performed instrumentally and than sung.

Despite the alternation of the motets by Compère with music by others, this recording is in no way something like a liturgical reconstruction. It is a bit of a mystery what exactly has been the motivation for the selection of pieces, some of which are performed instrumentally by one of the ensembles involved or at the organ in the way of intavolations. As some of the pre-existing melodies in the motetti missale are known, one would expect them to be included, but that is not the case. Unfortunately the booklet does not discuss this issue. The performance opens and closes with sonatas by Heinrich Lübeck; I have not been able to find any information about him. These sonatas are little more than a series of fanfares. Considering that they are taken from a manuscript preserved in Copenhagen, it seems fair to say that they have no connection whatsoever with Milan. They could even well be from a much later time.

With regard to the way the programme has been put together, I would have liked a little more consistency and historical consideration. There is little to complain about the performances, though. Odhecaton is a fine ensemble which regularly comes up with little-known music. One could call its way of singing "instrumental": don't expect to understand very much of the text. That is not a major consideration in music of this period, but even so I would like the singers to pay a little more attention to it. The instrumental performances are excellent.

This is definitely a fascinating account of an aspect of music history which is not that well known. That is the reason I now turn to a disc which is not that new (it was released in 2015), but includes specimens of other genres in the composer's oeuvre.

As I already mentioned, we know little about Compère's career. However, the chansons, which are the core of The Orlando Consort's disc, can gives us some clues, as David Fallows argues in his liner-notes.

It has been suggested that, after Compère had left Milan, he entered the service of Duke Jean II of Bourbon (1427-1488), who resided mostly in Moulins and was an important patron of music. This seems to be confirmed by three of Compère's chansons whose texts have been credited to 'Bourbon', two of which are included here: Vous me faites morir d'envie and Ne doibt on prendre quant on donne. These have the form of a rondeau, and as two other rondeaus (Dictes moy toutes voz pensées, Mes pensées ne me lessent une heure) are similar in style, Fallows believes they may date from the same period. All of them are late examples of the formes fixes, which are still strophic, but include some irregularities.

Ung franc archier, on the other hand, is strictly strophic; Fallows dates it in the late 1480s. The top voices are in canon, and the piece has a strongly declamatory character. Also strophic is Une plaisant fillette, but that only goes for the text, as Compère sets every stanza to new music. Au travail suis sans espoir de confort may be one of Compère's earliest pieces; notable is that the two lowest voices move in the same tessitura.

Tant d'ennuy is a motet-chanson, "[a] French chanson, characteristically in three voices, with a lower voice that carries a Latin text and is usually based on chant", according to New Grove. Such pieces were written during the last quarter of the 15th century, particularly by Compère, Josquin and Alexander Agricola. The bass sings a text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. It must have been much appreciated as it appears in quite a number of manuscripts, the earliest of which is from the mid-1490s, which gives a clue about the time of composition.

The recording opens and closes with sacred music. The Magnificat 1. toni is one of six Magnificats. Whereas 16-century settings usually have an alternatim structure, Compère's setting is through-composed. It has been preserved in Milan, and it seems that a large portion of Compère's sacred oeuvre was written when he was in the service of Galeazzo Maria Sforza. The motet O bone Jesu is attributed in different sources to several composers, three of them from Spain: Juan Anchieta, Francisco de Peñalosa and Antonio de Ribera. A printed edition by Petrucci mentions Compère as the composer. Fallows states that is was very popular in the early 16th century, and that is easy to understand. It is a lovely piece in which the text is expressed eloquently.

It receives a fine performance from The Orlando Consort; here the voices blend perfectly and there is a good balance within the ensemble. The chansons are also well sung, but here some singers allow themselves a slight vibrato, which is not really disturbing, but should have been avoided. In some pieces Matthew Venner is a little too prominent, at the cost of the lower voices.
These two discs constitute an interesting musical portrait of a composer who should receive more attention than he has been given to date.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

La Pifarescha
La Reverdie
Odhecaton
The Orlando Consort


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