musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johannes DE CLEVE & Jean GUYOT: Masses & motets

[I] Johannes DE CLEVE (1528/29 - 1582): Missa Rex Babylonis
rec: July 8 - 10, 2019, Pernegg (A), Kloster Pernegg
Hyperion - CDA68241 (© 2020) (71'06")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johannes DE CLEVE: Carole cui nomen a 5; Carole qui veniens a 5; Credo quod redemptor a 4; Es wel uns Gott genedig sein a 5; Laudate Dominum a 4; Missa Rex Babylonis a 5; Timete Dominum a 5; Jacobus VAET (c1529-1567): Rex Babylonis a 5

Terry Wey, alto; Achim Schulz, Tore Tom Denys, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Ulfried Staber, bass

[II] Jean GUYOT (1520? - 1588): Te Deum laudamus
rec: May 6 - 8, 2016, Vienna, Kartause Mauerbach
Hyperion - CDA68180 (© 2017) (63'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Accepit Jesus panem a 6; Adorna thalamum a 6; Amen, amen, dico vobis a 5; Ave Maria ... Signum magnum a 5; Noe, noe, genuit puerpera a 5; O florens rosa a 5; Omni tempore benedic Deum a 5; Prudentes virgines a 4; Te Deul laudamus a 6; Te Deum Patrem a 6

Terry Wey, alto; Tore Tom Denys, Achim Schulz, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Ulfried Staber, bass
with: David Allsopp, alto

The vocal ensemble Cinquecento is one of the leading ensembles in the performance of renaissance polyphony. Its recordings often focus on the oeuvre of composers who are not that well-known. They seem to have a special interest in those composers who for some part of their career were connected to the Habsburg court in Vienna. That maybe inspired by the fact that the ensemble is based in Vienna.

Johannes de Cleve is certainly a composer who doesn't make the headlines in concerts of renaissance polyphony. His name refers to the place of his birth: Kleve, today a small town in Westphalia in Germany, near the Dutch border. He seems to have lived and worked in the Netherlands in the mid-16th century, as music from his pen appears in the Leiden Choirbooks (as Johannes Cleeff) and in anthologies printed by Tylman Susato in Antwerp. In March 1553 he entered the service of Emperor Ferdinand I as a singer. At the end of the 1550s he was in the Netherlands to recruit singers for the Vienna Hofkapelle. Two volumes of his sacred works, published in Augsburg in 1559, and the large number of occasional works from his pen indicate that he was highly respected in his time. In 1564, his employer died, and Cleve moved to Graz, where he entered the service of Ferdinand's son, Karl II of Styria. Around 1568 he resigned, and returned to Vienna, where he lived for some years, before moving to Augsburg. He may have been active as a teacher there.

The present disc offers a musical portrait of Cleve, by presenting specimens from several genres to which he contributed: a mass, some motets, occasional pieces, and a work on a German text by Martin Luther. The latter is quite interesting, considering that the Habsburg emperors are generally considered pillars of the pope in his conflict with the Reformation. However, Grantley McDonald, in his liner-notes, mentions that "Emperor Maximilian II showed a distinct sympathy for Protestants". Whether Cleve's composition of twenty settings of Lutheran melodies has anything to do with that, is impossible to tell. Only this particular piece was also included in his collection Cantiones seu harmoniae sacrae (1579/80), where it is the only piece in German. Es wel uns Gott genedig sein (Es woll uns Gott genädig sein) is Luther's paraphrase of Psalm 67.

The main work in the programme is the five-part Missa Rex Babylonis, one of twelve parody masses from Cleve's pen. It is based on a motet of that title by Jacobus Vaet, a Flemish composer from Kortrijk, who was in the service of Maximilian II as chapelmaster at Wiener Neustadt. Rex Babylonis is a setting of a text from the deuterocanonical part of the book of the prophet Daniel. It is the end of the episode in which Daniel is in the lion's den (which in the canonical part is a story during the reign of Darius of Persia). The motet opens with an upwards leap of a minor sixth, which returns, for instance, in the Gloria of Cleve's mass. In the motet most of the other voices sing a rising fifth; there that figure is in the bass. Also notable is a dance-like rhythm in the Osanna.

McDonald refers to similarities between some pieces by Cleve and one of his main contemporaries: Lassus. In Laudate Dominum he pays more attention to the text than was common in his time, as did Lassus. Some word-painting is noticeable in Credo quod redemptor, where the voices go to the bottom of their tessitura on the word "terra" (earth), and then immediately rise at "surrecturus sum" (I shall rise).

Two pieces are explicitly connected to the Habsburg dynasty. The texts of both Carole qui veniens and Carole cui nomen may be from Cleve's own pen. The former refers to Karl II of Styria, the composer's employer from 1564 to 1568. Here Cleve moves between rising and falling fifths at the entries. The latter is a lament on the death of Karl Friedrich of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, son of Duke Wilhelm the Rich and Maria of Austria (daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I), who died of smallpox in Rome in 1575 at the age of nineteen. It destabilized the entire dynasty and led indirectly to the loss of their territories in Prussia. This motet also opens with a falling fifth, which thematically links the two motets. It is based on a cantus firmus, whose melody is not identified; it has a different text, taken from the book of Job, which is often associated with funerals.

This disc once again proves that we know only a tip of the iceberg of renaissance polyphony. Hardly any music by Cleve is available on disc, which is surprising considering its excellent quality, and the importance of Cleve in his own time. Cinquecento has done any lover of this kind of repertoire a great favour, by delivering such superb performances. Like I said, it is one of the main ensembles in this repertoire, and their status is well deserved. These five voices blend perfectly, and the singers show a supreme command of legato. At the same time, they do everything necessary to make sure that the text is clearly understandable, even in pieces with a dense texture. There is some fine and effective dynamic shading, and particularly crucial episodes are nicely emphasized.

Some years ago Cinquecento devoted a disc to an even lesser-known composer, Jean Guyot. His connection to the Habsburg court in Vienna was much shorter, but in the last years of Ferdinand I, he was Cleve's colleague in the Hofkapelle.

Guyot was born in Châtelet, a town near Liège, which had a lively cultural life. In 1534 he was admitted to the University of Louvain, where he received a broad education. In 1546 he was appointed chaplain and succentor at the Collegiate Church of St Paul in Liège. He published his first compositions: five motets were printed by Susato in 1546 and 1547. Next followed some chansons, and further motets were included in some of Susato's motet anthologies published between 1553 and 1555. In 1554 a dialogue in Latin was published in Maastricht. From 1558 to 1563 Guyot worked as maître de chant at the Cathedral of Saint Lambert in Liège. In the latter year he went to Vienna, accompanied by two singers. There he succeeded Pieter Maessens, who had died the previous year, as Kapellmeister. He had a much larger musical establishment at his disposal than in Liège, and this explains why the earlier motets are for five voices, whereas the pieces that can be connected to his Viennese period are mostly scored for eight voices; some are for six voices, and one for twelve. These were published by Gardano in Venice.

As Ferdinand I died in 1564, and his successor, Maximilian II, disbanded the chapel and installed his own, Guyot was without employment. However, he was granted a pension and as he had a prebend in Liège, he returned to that town, where he appears in various records. However, there is no information about his activities. The present disc ends with a setting of the Te Deum, which dates from his last years.

One of the earliest works from his pen is the motet Amen, amen, dico vobis, which was published by Susato in 1546. It is a setting of words of Jesus from the gospel of John, and is for five voices. Each of the two sections closes with an Alleluia on the same music. Five pieces from the anthologies which Susato published between 1553 and 1555 are included here. Prudentes virgines has some theatrical traits, thanks to the text, which is a setting of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25). The tension between the two groups and of the story as such comes well off here, partly through text illustration. Declamatory elements are part of the motet Noe, noe, genuit puerpera, an antiphon for the Solemnity of Mary, celebrated on 1 January. The word "noe" appears in many renaissance motets for Christmastide. Here, each line opens with "noe, noe", which lends this piece its peculiar character. Ave Maria ... Signum magnum is not a setting of the common text from the gospel of Luke; the text is taken from Revelation (ch 12, vs1-2). Omni tempore benedic Deum is a motet in two sections on a text from the Book of Tobit, one of the apocrypha of the Old Testament.

In the oeuvre of Cleve, we observed a connection to Lutheranism, as he set some Lutheran melodies. There is no such thing in Guyot's oeuvre, but it is interesting that his motet Adorna thalamum, an antiphon for the feast of the Purification, has been found in manuscript, signed by a scribe associated with the firmly Protestant court in Stuttgart. This is not as surprising as one may think. In collections of motets to be sung at Lutheran services, which were published in the early 17th century in Germany, motets by Catholic composers figure prominently. In music, there were not such clear dividing lines between the two camps as in matters of doctrine. As long as the texts were not in conflict with Lutheran doctrines, there was no objection to perform such motets. The latter is the case with this particular motet, and the feast of the Purification was celebrated in Lutheran Germany. Both sections of the motet end with the same lines, set to the same music. This motet is for six voices, and that is also the scoring of Accepit Jesus panem, a motet for the Feast of Corpus Christi, on a text from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

The disc opens and closes with a Te Deum. The former is Te Deum Patrem ingenitum, a six-part motet in honour of the Trinity. As in other works, three Alleluias are used to create a strong amount of unity in this piece. The second section is dominated by a number of declamatory Glorias. As said, the Te Deum laudamus is a late work, and it is fitting that it closes this disc. As was common practice at the time, it has an alternatim texture: the verses are alternately sung in plainchant and in polyphony. This work has been preserved in manuscript in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. It mentions that Guyot composed it at the age of 63. It is for six voices, but includes a verse for four. The plainchant melody is integrated into the polyphony, and there are also syllabic and homorhythmic sections.

This piece brings to an end a disc, which presents an interesting portrait of a little-known composer. The selection of pieces allows the listener to follow the development of the compositional style of Guyot. The earlier pieces are dominated by imitative polyphony, in which the text is mostly not that easy to understand, even though the singers create an optimum of transparency. With time, the text receives more attention, and the closing Te Deum is the most lucid piece of this disc. Again, Cinquecento is in perfect form here. The singing is a little smoother and less differentiated, for instance in dynamics, than in Cleve, but that seems partly due to the differences between the two composers.

Anyway, like the Cleve disc, this production is an important addition to the discography of renaissance polyphony.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:


CD Reviews