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CD reviews

The Leiden Choirbooks Vols. IV - VI

[I] "The Leiden Choirbooks Vol. IV"
Egidius Kwartet & College
Dir: Peter de Groot
rec: Jan 29 - Feb 2, 2013, Mijnsheerenland, Laurentiuskerk
Et'cetera - KTC 1413 (2 CDs) (© 2013) (1.45'43")
Liner-notes: E/N; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Eustacius BARBION (fl 1527-1556): Salve crux digna a 4; Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (1510/15-1555/56): Angelus Domini ad pastores a 4; Congratulamini mihi omnes a 4; Pastores loquebantur a 5; Pater peccavi a 4; Sancti mei qui in carne a 4; Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1510-1557): O beata infanta a 4; Pater peccavi in celum a 4; Johannes FLAMINGUS (fl 1565-1573): Christe qui lux es a 6 Da pacem Domine a 4; Franciscus IJSENBAERT (fl 1529-1539): Dixerunt discipuli a 4; Goessen JONCKERS (fl 1520-1565): Non conturbetur cor vestrum a 4; Johannes LUPI (c1506-1539): Expurgate vetus fermentum a 5; Veni electa mea a 4; Nicolas PAYEN (c1512-1559): Virgo prudentissima a 4; Johannes RICHAFORT (c1480-c1547): Emendemus in melius a 4; Ciprianus DE RORE (c1515-1565): Que est ista que processit a 4; Philippe VERDELOT (c1475-c1552): Ad Dominum cum tribularer a 4; Infirmitatem nostram a 5

[EK] Peter de Groot, alto; Jon Etxabe-Arzuaga, tenor; Hans Wijers, baritone; Donald Bentvelsen, bass
[College] Maria Goetze, Ellen van Ham, Michaela Riener, Maria Valdmaa, soprano; Kaspar Kröner, Hugo Naessens, alto; Robert Coupe, Lior Leibovici, Joăo Moreira, tenor; Jasper Schweppe, baritone; Kees Jan de Koning, bass

[II] "The Leiden Choirbooks Vol. V"
Egidius Kwartet & College
Dir: Peter de Groot
rec: Jan 28 - Feb 7, 2014, Mijnsheerenland, Laurentiuskerk
Et'cetera - KTC 1414 (2 CDs) (© 2014) (2.19'30")
Liner-notes: E/N; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Benedictus [APPENZELLER] (c1485-c1558): Salve Regina a 5; Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA: Ave Maria a 5; Thomas CRECQUILLON: Missa Je prens en grets a 4; Johannes FLAMINGUS: Christe qui lux es a 4; Iam bone pastor a 5; Regina celi a 4; Regina celi a 5; Salve regina a 4; Salve regina a 5; Nicolle DE HESDIN (?-1538): Magnificat 1. toni a 4; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Illumina oculos meos a 4; JACOTIN (fl 1515-1555): Magnificat 7. toni a 4; Jean LHÉRITIER (c1480-c1551): Nisi Dominus a 4; Joachimus DE MONTE (fl 1550-1555): A solis ortus cardine a 5; Claudin PATOULET (Claudius POTOLETUS) (fl 1545-1567): De profundis clamavi a 4; Jean RICHAFORT: Jherusalem luge a 5; Michiel SMEEKERS (fl 1544-1552): Inviolata integra et casta es a 4; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): Pater noster a 4

Maria Goetze, Marleene Goldstein, Ellen van Ham, Susan Jonkers, Dorien Lievers, Maria Valdmaa, soprano; Daniel Elgersma, Peter de Groot, Kaspar Kröner, Hugo Naessens, Gerben van der Werf, alto; Stefan Berghammer, Robert Coupe, Alberto ter Doest, William Knight, Joăo Moreira, Albert van Ommen, Matthew Vine, tenor; Hans Wijers, Jasper Schweppe, baritone; Donald Bentvelsen, Hans Pootjes, Bas Ramselaar, bass

[III] "The Leiden Choirbooks Vol. VI"
Egidius Kwartet & College; Gregoriana Amsterdam (Geert Maessen)a
Dir: Peter de Groot
rec: Jan 23 - 31, 2015, Mijnsheerenland, Laurentiuskerk
Et'cetera - KTC 1415 (2 CDs) (© 2015) (2.37'20")
Liner-notes: E/N; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[CD 1] Johannes FLAMINGUS: Cibavit eos a 4; Crucifixum in carne a 3 ; Lupus HELLINCK (c1494-1541): Missa Peccata mea a 4; Pierre DE MANCHICOURT (c1510-1564): Missa Nisi Dominus a 4; Franciscus MERGOT (DE NOVO PORTU) (fl 1560-1576): Regina celi a 4
[CD 2] (in order of appearance)
Johannes FLAMINGUS: Asperges me a 4; plainchanta: Confiteor; [Introit] Cibavit eos; Claudin DE SERMISY (c1490-1562): Missa Philomenia praevia a 4 (Kyrie; Gloria); plainchanta: [Epistle] Lectio Epistolae beati Pauli Apostoli ad Corinthios; [Gradual] Oculi omnium; [Evangelium] Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem; Claudin DE SERMISY: Missa Philomenia praevia a 4 (Credo); plainchanta: [Offertory] Portas caeli aperuit; [Secreta]/anon: [Response]; plainchanta: [Preface]/anon: [Response]; Claudin DE SERMISY: Missa Philomenia praevia a 4 (Sanctus); plainchanta: [Canon]; [Consecration]; Pater noster/anon: [Response]; Claudin DE SERMISY: Missa Philomenia praevia a 4 (Agnus Dei); plainchanta: [Communion] Sedit angelus/Johannes FLAMINGUS: Crucifixum in carne a 3; plainchanta: [Postcommunion]; Joachimus DE MONTE: [Hymnus] Christe qui lux es

[EK] Peter de Groot, alto; Jon Etxabe-Arzuaga, tenor; Hans Wijers, baritone; Donald Bentvelsen, bass
[College] Maria Goetze, Ellen van Ham, Susan Jonkers, Monica Monteiro, Michaela Riener, Maria Valdmaa, soprano; Kaspar Kröner, Hugo Naessens, Gerben van der Werf, alto; Stefan Berghammer, William Knight, Joăo Moreira, Matthew Vine, tenor; Jasper Schweppe, baritone
[GA] Jacques van Leuwen, Sjef van Leunen, Geert Maessen


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.

The project comprises six volumes of two discs each; every volume is devoted to music from one of the choirbooks, which have the letters A to F. With the 6th volume which has been released recently the project has come to an end. In this review I take a look at the last three volumes.

Volume IV is devoted to choirbook D which differs in content from the previous three books. Those include motets, masses, hymns and Magnificat settings, but this choirbook is exclusively devoted to motets. It includes 42 motets for four voices and eight five-part motets. More than half of the motets are from the pen of either Jacobus Clemens non Papa or Thomas Crecquillon which attests to their high reputation in the mid-16th century when these choirbooks were put together. Obviously many pieces are also available in other sources: masses and motets circulated in manuscript across Europe and that certainly is true for compositions by the main composers of the time. However, this book also comprises 15 motets for which the Leiden choirbooks are the only source. That is to be expected in the case of compositions by local composers such as Barbion and Jonckers, but it also goes for pieces by famous masters such as Gombert and Manchicourt.

Most motets are settings of well-known liturgical texts which are mostly associated with special occasions in the liturgical year, but they are not ordered as such. Eric Jas, who has written the liner-notes for this project, assumes that the reason could be the versatility of many of these compositions: "[They] were usable as such for a variety of occasions in the church year." He adds that motets were not simply replacements of liturgical chants but pieces that could be freely added to all church services. An example is Cipriano de Rore's setting of the responsory Quae est ista in which he confines himself to the first part of the text which makes it unsuitable to replace the responsory in the liturgy. In this performance the missing parts of the text are sung in plainchant. It is questionable whether this does justice to the intention of the composer. The best-known piece in this volume is Pastores loquebantur by Jacobus Clemens non Papa. It has been attributed to Thomas Crecquillon which could explain that Jas refers to this motet with him as the composer. The track-list has the correct name.

We meet several unfamiliar names in this volume. The booklet doesn't give any information about Goessen Jonckers who, according to New Grove, may be identical with Maistre Gosse who seems to have worked for some years at the French royal court. Nicolas Payen is hardly better known, but at least we know who he was. In fact, he was quite a prominent composer: from 1556 to 1558 he was maestro de capilla of Charles V's chapel. Eustacius Barbion was maître de chapelle at the Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk in Kortrijk (Notre Dame, Courtrai) in the 1540s and 50s. Franciscus IJsenbaert was magister cantus in Bruges from the late 1520s onwards. Johannes Flamingus is well represented in the Leiden choirbooks which is easy to explain as he acted as phonascus (teacher of music) at the Pieterskerk in Leiden from 1565 to 1567. This means that he must have experienced the iconoclasm which took place in 1566. This is especially interesting as in the early 1570s he worked as director of court music to Duke Johann Albrecht I in Schwerin, who was Lutheran. Did he convert to Lutheranism himself? Apparently that is not known.

Volume V includes a selection of pieces from choirbook E which is also different from the previous volumes in that it is much smaller in size and looks rather untidy. It seems not to have been put together according to a certain plan. Eric Jas describes it as "a collection of loose unconnected sections". Apparently the singers of the Pieterskerk not only used large choirbooks but also separate books or sheets and that at some moment, probably in 1567, Flamingus decided to collect them into one book. This can also explain the variety of the repertoire, consisting of motets, Magnificats, masses, hymns and settings of the Nunc dimittis as well as the great variety of composers represented. This is reflected in the programme of these two discs. Especially well represented are settings of the Salve Regina and Regina coeli by Flamingus; several of them are included in the programme.

Thomas Crecquillon - one of the best-represented composers in the Leiden choirbooks - is the composer of the Missa Je prens en grets which is based on a chanson by Clemens non Papa. It seems that the Credo is omitted in this mass; the Agnus Dei is absent in the choirbook but appears in other sources and has been added here. Another piece which makes use of a secular song is the Salve Regina by Benedictus Appenzeller which quotes a Dutch love song, Mijns liefkens bruyn ooghen. One of the oldest composers represented in the choirbooks is Heinrich Isaac, a contemporary of Josquin and therefore belonging to the generation before those composers who dominate the choirbooks. His motet Illumina oculos meos is a contrafactum which appears in various sources. Isaac composed the original, Quis dabit capiti meo aquam, at the occasion of the death of Lorenzo de' Medici, nicknamed il Magnifico, on a fragment of a funeral text by Angelo Poliziano which was partly based on Seneca's tragedy Hercules Oetaneus. The new text is taken from various Psalms, but its character of a lamentation has been preserved.

Once again we meet some hardly known masters. Claudin Patoulet - here a latinization of his name is used: Claudius Potoletus - appears in the Leiden choirbooks as well as in the archives of two other towns in the Netherlands, Delft and Haarlem. In the late 1540s he worked in the latter town as singing master; his whereabouts after 1550 are not known. Five pieces from his pen have been preserved, one of them De profundis clamavi. (*) It is virtually impossible to establish the identity of Jacotin: this is a diminutive of Jacques, a very common name at the time. It is suggested he may be the French singer Jacotin le Bel who for some time was a singer in the papal chapel. A particularly beautiful piece is the Magnificat 1. toni by Nicolle de Hesdin, another composer who is surrounded by mystery. Hesdin probably refers to his place of birth; the only thing we know is that from 1536 until his death he worked as master of the choirboys at Beauvais Cathedral. Inviolata integra et casta es is the only composition by Michiel Smeekers which has come down to us. He was from Flanders, worked in 's-Hertogenbosch, Delft and Gouda and may have worked in Leiden, if he is the same as the 'master Michiel Jansz' mentioned in documents from 1546.

Volume VI comprises music from the sixth and last choirbook, which bears the letter F. It shows some resemblance with choirbook E in that it is also composed of separate copies of works by various hands. If the choirbook D can be called the 'book of motets' one could give choirbook F the name of 'book of masses'. It includes no fewer than twenty four-part masses, more than the previous five choirbooks together. Most of the composers were active in Flanders (Gombert, Clemens non Papa) or northern France (Manchicourt, Sermisy). The first disc includes two complete masses by Hellinck and Manchicourt respectively; they are supplemented with some short liturgical pieces. Hellinck's works are seldom performed; until now most of his oeuvre has not been published. In his time he was apparently held in high esteem as copies of his compositions are found across Europe, including countries such as Poland and Portugal. The largest part of his life he worked in Bruges. His oeuvre includes 11 German chorales which suggests that he must have been sympathetic towards the Lutheran Reformation. Masses take an important place in his oeuvre; no fewer than 15 from his pen are known. The Missa Peccata mea is based on a motet by Richafort. Manchicourt is far better known, although he is not that well represented on disc. He worked in the cathedrals of Tours, Tournai and Arras and in 1559 he succeeded Payen as master of Philip II's Capilla Flamenca, a position he held until his death. One of his almost twenty masses is the Missa Nisi dominus which is based on a motet by the French composer Jean Lhéritier.

The second disc presents a celebration of a mass as it could have taken place in Leiden in the mid-16th century. Obviously a reconstruction is only partially possible: some elements cannot be realized on disc, and the relevant liturgical chants are not always available. In this case the performers had to deal with the fact that there is no material from the Pieterskerk needed for the Propers of a Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi as it is sung here. This explains, for instance, that the processional antiphon Sedit angelus is sung instead of the traditional Communio. For the plainchant the performers have turned to the Cantuale juxta usum Leidanae ecclesiae printed in Leiden in 1564. On the other hand, the Leiden choirbooks have something to offer which is rather rare: the Responsiones in missa by an anonymous composer, a set of short and polyphonic responses to phrases sung or said by the celebrant. The Ordinary of the Mass is a setting by Claudin de Sermisy, today best known for his chansons. He was a member of the French royal court under various monarchs. He left a large oeuvre which includes twelve masses and a Requiem. Like Hellinck's mass on the first disc the Missa Philomenia praevia is based on a motet by Richafort.

I have welcomed the first three volumes in this series, both for the very fact that the Leiden choirbooks are explored and the way the programmes have been put together. There is every reason to welcome the remaining volumes with the same amount of enthusiasm. Every volume is different and has something peculiar to offer. These discs include fascinating stuff which gives us much insight into the daily liturgical practice of a church in the Netherlands which probably is not that different from what was customary elsewhere. The performances throughout this whole project have been outstanding. One could make some comments here and there, but that is hardly relevant, considering the overall level of performance.

A couple of issues are worth mentioning. The first concerns the line-up. Some items are performed with one voice per part, in others we hear a larger ensemble. I have not been able to figure out the reasons behind this difference. In the booklet of the first volume we find some considerations in regard to the scoring, but the decisions to perform a piece with one voice per part or with a larger ensemble seems a bit arbitrary. In my review of Volumes II and III I have already mentioned the issue of the increase in the number of parts in the Agnus Dei of the masses. In these performances the number of singers is increased accordingly. I wonder whether this was common practice at the time. Could it be that in such cases two singers who sang the same part split at such occasions? Do we have to assume that some singers were doing nothing until the Agnus Dei was sung?

The second issue regards the performances of alternatim pieces. In some of them the plainchant is sung by the sopranos. They sing the parts which in the 16th century were sung by choirboys. Is there any evidence that plainchant was sung by boys or was that only sung by the men? It is a practice which I have encountered in other recordings of renaissance polyphony as well. I would like some information about this issue, but apparently it is something which performers give little or no thought.

With Volume VI a major project comes to a glorious end. This is definitely one of the most important and interesting projects of recent years in the field of renaissance music. Lovers of classical polyphony shouldn't miss any of these volumes. Everyone of them is worth full attention.

(*) His complete output has been recorded by Barbers & Bishops (Moebi Discs, 1997).

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Roberto Loreggian
Gregoriana Amsterdam

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