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The Leiden Choirbooks, Vols. II & III

[I] "The Leiden Choirbooks, Vol. II"
Egidius Kwartet & College
rec: Feb 16 - 24, 2011, Mijnsheerenland (NL), Netherlands
Et'cetera - KTC 1411 (2 CDs) (© 2011) (2.34'40")
Liner-notes: E/N; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

anon: Angelus autem Domini a 5; Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.270); Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.274); Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.276); Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.328); Iam bone pastor a 4; Maria mater Domini a 4; Nunc dimittis 4. toni a 4; Pange lingua a 4; Quod chorus vatum a 4; Venite ad me omnes a 5; Victime paschali laudes a 6; Benedictus APPENZELLER (c1485-c1558): Ave maris stella a 4; Josquin BASTON (fl 1542-1563): Dum transisset Sabbatum a 5; Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (c1510-1555/56): Heu mihi Domine a 4; Jherusalem surge a 5; Magnificat 4. toni a 4; Magnificat 6. toni a 4; Magnificat 8. toni a 4-5; Maria Magdalena et altera Maria a 5; Christianus HOLLANDER (c1510-1568/69): In nomine Jhesu a 4; Johannes LUPI (c1506-1539): Tu Deus noster a 5; Joachimus DE MONTE (fl 1550-1555): Aurea luce a 4; O Elisabeth a 4; Jean RICHAFORT (c1480-c1547): Ego sum qui sum a 5; Philippe VERDELOT (c1475-c1552): Sancta Maria virgo virginum a 6

[II] "The Leiden Choirbooks, Vol. III"
Egidius Kwartet & College
rec: Jan 17 - 26, 2012, Mijnsheerenland (NL), Laurentiuskerk & Feb 29, 2012, Berlin-Oberschöneweide, Christuskirchea
Et'cetera - KTC 1412 (2 CDs) (© 2012) (2.19'35")
Liner-notes: E/N; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

anon: Missa pro fidelibus defunctis a 4; Regina celi a 5; Regina celi a 6; Cornelius CANIS (1506-1562): Missa Pastores loquebantur a 6; Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA: Advenit ignis divinus a 5; Cum esset Anna a 5; Domine probasti a 5; ?JOSQUIN DESPREZ (1450-1521): Responde mihi a 4a; Johannes LUPI: Stella maris luminosa a 5; Stirps Jesse a 5; Pierre MOULU (1484?-c1550): Vulnerasti cor meum a 5; Jheronimus VINDERS (fl 1510-1550): Magnificat a 4

[EK] Peter de Groot, alto; Jon Extabe-Arzuaga, tenor; Hans Weijers, baritone; Donald Bentvelsen, bass
[College] Maria Goetze, Ellen van Ham, Susan Jonkers, Kerlijne Van Nevel, Michaela Riener, Helen Thomson, Maria Valdmaa, soprano; Daniel Elgersma, Barnabas Hegyi, Kaspar Kröner, Hugo Naessens, alto; Stefan Berghammer, André Cats, Robert Coupe, Lior Leibovici, Satushi Mizukoshi, Albert van Ommen, Matthew Vine, Scott Wellstead, tenor; Jasper Schweppe, baritone; Philippe Favette, Kees Jan de Koning, Gilad Nezer, bass

The Dutch city of Leiden has a unique treasure which is preserved in the medieval Pieterskerk (St Peter's Church). It is a set of books called the Leiden Choirbooks. These contain music to be sung during the many daily liturgical events. Originally there were eight books, but two have been lost. The remaining six represent Europe's largest linked collection of liturgical music.

The Leiden Choirbooks are the subject of a voluminous project of the Dutch Egidius Kwartet, a vocal quartet which sings repertoire from all periods in music history, but especially from the renaissance. This project includes the publication of a modern edition, a series of concerts and a recording of a large selection from the choirbooks. The quartet is extended by additional singers for the concerts and recordings.

The fact that six of the eight books have survived is something of a miracle. Very little of the music which was sung in churches in the Netherlands has come down to us not least because of the iconoclasm which took place as part of the Reformation in the northern Netherlands. In Leiden this happened 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. The six choirbooks survived the insurrection and have been preserved.

They show what kind of music was sung by the singers of the liturgical hours in the Pieterskerk in Leiden. The singing of the seven liturgical hours became increasingly popular in the Netherlands during the 15th century. Parish churches imitated the singing of the hours - also called Office - in chapter churches: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. A separate college was created for the singing of the Office; it seems Leiden was the first city where such a college was created.

It is likely that the Leiden Choirbooks are representative of the repertoire whch was sung in the various churches in the Netherlands. Not surprisingly the great masters of the Franco-Flemish school figure prominently in these choirbooks, such as Josquin, Jacobus Clemens non Papa and Jean Mouton. However, they also contain pieces by lesser-known composers, sometimes of local origin.

In the 19th century the choirbooks were labelled from A to F. The first volume of this project comprised pieces from the choirbook A which was compiled in 1549 and known to the singers of the Hours as the "book of motets". In 1559 the College of the Seven Hours purchased two books of a remarkably large size, together comprising more than 650 pages most of which were used on both sides. These include the choirbooks B and C. The former is the subject of the second volume in this project. As Eric Jas writes in his liner-notes, it could be called the "book of Hours", since it includes repertoire which was specifically intended for the Hours. It includes 73 compositions: 28 motets for four to six voices, 11 settings of the Magnificat, eight settings of the Nunc dimittis and 26 polyphonic settings of hymns that could be used in all of the various hours. In this book Clemens non Papa is the best-represented composer, with nine motets and eight Magnificats in the various modes. Three of the latter have been included here; these are all alternatim settings: the odd verses are sung in plainchant, the even in polyphony. Particularly notable is the setting in the 8th mode: in all the even verses Clemens quotes chansons by contemporaries, like Crecquillon and De Sermisy.

The discs include several motets by composers who were highly respected in their own time, but receive little attention today. Among them are Johannes Lupi, Josquin Baston - probably a pupil of Lupi - and Benedictus Appenzeller. One of the nice aspects of this project is that many compositions have been included by 'minor masters', mostly of regional or local origin. The before-mentioned Joachimus de Monte belongs to this category, and one may assume that at least some of the many anonymous pieces were also written by such composers. Many hymn settings are anonymous; here various settings of Christe qui lux es et dies are included. These are also alternatim compositions. For the plainchant the performers use a source from the same time, printed in Leiden in 1564.

This volume has been intelligently put together. Despite the large number of pieces by various composers there is some coherence within this set. The first disc contains a series of motets for Easter: Dum transisset Sabbatum, Maria Magdalena, Angelus autem Domini, Victime pascali laudes and, closing the disc, Ego sum qui sum. On the second disc coherence is imparted by three Magnificat settings by Clemens non Papa and the anonymous settings of Christe qui lux es et dies. Moreover, whereas the compositions by the better-known masters are probably also known from other sources, the pieces by lesser-known composers are mostly known only from these choirbooks. Therefore the decision to include many of these guarantees that the discography of renaissance polyphony is substantially extended with the discs in this project.

The third volume is devoted to music which is included in choirbook C, the second book of the 1559 set. It comprises five polyphonic masses, 25 motets for four to six voices, two settings of the Salve Regina and eight of the Regina caeli. Several things are notable. The book includes two settings of the Requiem mass; these are the only Requiems in the Leiden choirbooks. That may seem rather strange, considering the frequency of funeral services. Eric Jas, in his liner-notes, suggests that in most cases the simple plainchant version of the Requiem mass may have been preferred. One of the settings is by Jean de Richafort (in the manuscript attributed to Josquin); this has been recorded by Cinquecento. It was therefore a good decision to record the other setting, which is anonymous. Remarkable is the sudden high pitch of the upper voices at the end of the Offertorio, on the words "And let the perpetual light shine upon them". This is repeated at the end of the Communion.

The Missa Pastores loquebantur by Cornelius Canis is also interesting. Canis was born in Ghent and for a number of years was in the service of the Habsburg emperor Charles V, until 1555. This mass, based upon a motet of his own, is intended for the Christmas period, but written in a minor key - the Phrygian mode - which is hard to explain. In a recent interview on Dutch radio Peter de Groot suggested the reason could have been the death of Canis' former employer in September 1558, the news of which may have reached Canis probably only months later, sometime during Advent. Canis seems to have omitted the Credo; I don't think this mass would have been recorded incomplete. Musically remarkable is that in the Agnus Dei the six parts are extended to eight, a very rare procedure in the Franco-Flemish repertoire of that time. It makes for a monumental close of this mass, also due to some very low notes in the bass in the last section of the Agnus Dei. The Leiden Choirbooks are the only source for this mass.

In this volume not only Cornelius Canis appears for the first time, but also Pierre Moulu and Jheronimus Vinders. Moulu was born in the north of France and during most of his career associated with Meaux cathedral, although he probably also had ties with the royal court in Paris. His output shows the strong influence of Josquin Desprez. His motet Vulnerasti cor meum is on a text from the Song of Songs and delivers evidence of the identification of the woman in that book with the Virgin Mary. It includes this text, which is allocated to the alto part: "Sweet friend of God, rose handsomely blooming, be mindful of me when the hour of death comes". Vinders was a Flemish composer about whom we know very little, apart from the fact that in 1525/26 he worked in Ghent. In his Magnificat he omitted the doxology and instead added a line from the Bible which is always left out: "And Mary abode with her [Elizabeth] about three months, and returned to her own house". Therefore this setting is unsuitable for the Vesper liturgy and that explains that it is ranked among the motets in this choirbook.

The singing of the Egidius Kwartet & College on these three volumes is excellent throughout. There are various changes in the line-up, which is inevitable in a project of these proportions, taking about six years to be completed. However, that doesn't effect the outcome in any way. Most pieces are sung with more than one voice per part, and for every piece the singers are selected from a pool of around 23. One question mark regards the extension of the number of singers in the Missa Pastores loquebantur by Canis. I find it hard to believe that in the 16th century some singers were only involved in the Agnus Dei.

The tempi are mostly rather moderate, and so are the dynamic differences. Interesting is the pronunciation of the Latin texts; it is more or less identical with the way Latin is pronounced in French renaissance repertoire. I am wondering whether this was really the way Latin was pronounced in the northern part of the Netherlands. Anyway, this is a most ambitious, impressive and historically important project, and one can only be very happy about the way it has been musically realised. No lover of renaissance polyphony should miss these sets. There is every reason to look forward to the next three volumes.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Egidius Kwartet
The Leiden Choirbooks

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