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"The Leiden Choirbooks, Vol. I"

Egidius Kwartet & College

rec: Jan 18 - 23, 2010, Mijnsheerenland, Laurentiuskerk
Et'cetera - KTC 1410 (2 CDs) ( 2010) (2.06'28")
Texts and translations included

anon: Missa Sancta Maria; Benedictus APPENZELLER (c1485-c1558): O magnum mysterium; Johannes CLEEFF (1528-1582): Peccata mea; Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1510-1557): Ave salutis ianua; Memento salutis auctor; Recordare Domine; Servus tuus; Nicolas GOMBERT (c1495-c1560): Missa Beati omnes; Christian HOLLANDER (c1510-c1568): Ego sum panis; Joachimus DE MONTE (fl 1550-1555): Angelus Domini; Christus resurgens; Johannes RICHAFORT (c1480-c1547): Quem dicunt homines

[EK] Peter de Groot, alto; Jon Extabe-Arzuaga, tenor; Hans Weijers, baritone; Donald Bentvelsen, bass; [College] Barbara Borden, Susan Jonkers, Keren Motseri, Michaela Riener, soprano; Hugo Naessens, Oscar Verhaar, alto; Stefan Berghammer, Robert Coupe, Guido Groenland, Christopher Kale, Lior Leibovici, Matthew Vine, tenor; Jasper Schweppe, baritone; Willem Ceuleers, Hans Pootjes, Bas Ramselaar, bass

Early last year I wrote in my weblog about an interesting project of the Egidius Kwartet: the recording of excerpts from the so-called 'Leiden choirbooks'. The first volume was released recently and consists of two discs with motets and masses from the first of the six books which have survived.

That in itself is a kind of miracle. Not only because very little of the music which was sung in churches in the Netherlands has come down to us, but particularly because of the iconoclasm which took place as part of the Reformation in the northern Netherlands. In Leiden this took place in 1566, when supporters of the Reformation forced their way into churches and started to destroy images of saints and other objects which were the expression of the Roman Catholic doctrine and liturgy. Probably because they were carefully kept the six choirbooks survived the turbulations and have been preserved until today.

They show what kind of music was sung by the singers of the liturgical hours in the Pieterskerk in Leiden. In his liner-notes Eric Jas writes: "The singing of the seven liturgical hours grew enormously in popularity in the Netherlands during the 15th century. In point of fact, a College of the Seven Hours was simply an imitation of a chapter. In chapter churches, just as in convents and monasteries, the hours - also called the Office or choral prayer - were sung: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Matins and Lauds were combined to form the nocturnal office whilst Vespers and Compline together formed evening prayer." Parish churches imitated the rituals of the chapter churches. A separate college was created for the singing of the Office, varying from a couple of times a year to daily. It seems Leiden was the first city where such a college was created. Other cities followed as archival documents show. But only in the case of the Pieterskerk in Leiden the music which they sang has been preserved.

The College of the Seven Hours initially consisted of seven priest and two choirboys, during the period 1481 to 1510 extended to eight and four respectively. They were directed by a singing master. Inventories show that the repertoire in the various cities in the Netherlands was comparable and therefore the six choirbooks from the Pieterskerk in Leiden give a good idea of the kind of music which was sung. Not surprisingly the great masters of the Franco-Flemish shool figure prominently in these choirbooks. Among them are Josquin Desprez, Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Thomas Crecquillon, Nicolas Gombert and Jean Mouton. Many of these pieces are also known from other sources, but sometimes there are differences between the version in the choirbooks and those in other sources. The choirbooks also contain pieces by lesser-known, often local, composers, like Claudin Patoulet and Joachimus de Monte.

The books contain 33 complete mass settings: this disc includes two, the Missa Beati omnes by Gombert, based on a motet of his own, and an anonymous 6-part Missa Sancta Maria, a quite monumental piece recorded here for the first time. Notable are some rhythmically lively sections in the Credo and the Sanctus. Moreover the books contain a large number of settings of the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis and the Salve Regina. In the first book, compiled in 1549, Thomas Crecquillon figured prominently. He was one of the favourite composers of the Habsburg emperor Charles V, who also ruled the Netherlands. Very little is known about Joachimus de Monte - who has no entry in New Grove - apart from the fact that he sang in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft for some time. The choirbooks contain 10 of his compositions. This first volume in the project includes two motets for Easter which are jubilant in nature and characterised by a predominance of the upper voices. We also hear a motet by Johannes Cleeff, also someone whom we know nothing about, but probably - as his name suggests - from Kleve in Germany.

Benedictus Appenzeller was from Flanders and worked in Bruges and Brussels. The motet O magnum mysterium is not included in the worklist in New Grove which suggests it only appears in the Leiden choirbooks. Christian Hollander was probably born in Dordrecht (southeasterly of Rotterdam), worked for some time in Bruges and joined the chapel of emperor Ferdinand I in 1557. He died in Innsbruck. Jean Richafort was from the southern Netherlands, but French-speaking and worked for the French court. Later on he was active in Bruges.

With this first volume the project around the Leiden choirbooks has made a great start. On the one hand we get a revealing and historically interesting picture of the liturgical practice in the northern Netherlands and the repertoire which was sung there. On the other hand we hear very fine performances by an ensemble which has been brought together for the occasion, and shows it is fully up to the task. The heart of the ensemble is the Egidius Kwartet which has a vast experience in renaissance polyphony. But it is quite impressive how well the additional singers blend and have grasped the character of the music. One may regret that the upper parts are sung by women rather than boys - for practical reasons, the booklet says. With a little more effort it shouldn't have been that much of a problem to attract good trebles instead. As far as the performances are concerned, now and then I would have liked more variety in dynamics. But these are about the only points of criticism I could make.

The liner-notes are informative about the background of the choirbooks and the liturgical practice in Leiden, but a little short on information about the composers. I also regret that the number of voices of the various pieces is not indicated. There is also no indication as to which pieces only appear in these choirbooks. That would give some idea about the importance of this source. The acoustic is satisfying, although this music could do with a little more reverberation.

Johan van Veen ( 2011)

Relevant links:

Egidius Kwartet
The Leiden Choirbooks


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