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"Ein musikalisches Gipfeltreffen 1503 - Höfische Renaissancemusik aus der Zeit Maximilians I." (A musical summit meeting in 1503 - Courtly renaissance music from the time of Maximilian I)

Kai Wessel, alto; Bernd Oliver Fröhlich, Harry van Berne, tenor; Matthias Lutze, bass
Wiltener Sängerknaben; Capella de la Torre
Dir: Katharina Bäuml

rec: Sept 21 - 23, 2015, Church of the Seminary of the diocese Innsbruck and Feldkirch
Musikmuseum - CD13030 (© 2017) (70'36")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Dit le Bourguignon; L'homme armé; Nikolaus APEL (ed): Basse danse La Spagna; Gebrüder HESS: Passamezzo antico; Pavane Jamais j'aymeray Masson (after Jean Mouton); Heinrich ISAAC (c1450/55-1517): Gaudeamus omnes in Domino/Virgo prudentissima; Missa Virgo prudentissima (Gloria; Sanctus; Benedictus); Pierre de LA RUE (c1452-1518): Missa pro fidelibus defunctis; Vexilla regis prodeunt; Robert MORTON (?-1475): L'homme armé; Jacob OBRECHT (1457/58-1505): Rompeltier; Francisco DE PEÑALOSA (c1470-1528): Nunca fue pena mayor; plainchant: Virgo prudentissima; Francisco de LA TORRE (fl 1483-1504): Adoramoste, Senor

Birgit Bahr, Katharina Bäuml, shawm; Annette Hils, dulcian; Falko Munkwitz, Gerd Schnackenberg, Bernhard Rainer, sackbut; Martina Fiedler, organ

Katharina Bäuml likes to construct programmes around historical events. In the past she has recorded music connected to Martin Luther - at the occasion of the commemoration of 500 years Reformation - and recently deutsche harmonia mundi released a disc with music around Leonardo da Vinci, who died 500 years ago. The present disc's raison d'être is not a particular commemoration, but a historical event which is probably not that well known. It is called 'A musical summit meeting in 1503', which refers to a meeting of Philip the Fair, regent of Habsburg Burgundy, and his father, Emperor Maximilian, in Innsbruck. It took place from 13 September to 5 October. "Even though this was, as it were, just a family meeting, it was treated as an official state event with all the pump that belonged to such an occasion", Franz Gratl writes in his liner-notes.

In the first paragraphs he describes how, through various marriages, the empire had been extended to Burgundy and later Spain, and with it large parts of the New World. This has inspired Bäuml to put together a programme of music, in which the various parts of the empire are represented, with music by Heinrich Isaac, Maximilian's Kapellmeister, Pierre de La Rue, one of the main composers from the Burgundian part of the empire, and some Spanish and German pieces.

Making a connection between music and historical events deserves praise. Music was often written for specific occasions, but unfortunately we mostly don't know exactly for which. As a result programmes like this one are largely based on speculation. Even so, they put music in its historical context and also shed light on historical events which otherwise would probably be little noticed.

The programme is divided into five sections. The first is called "Entrance", and is about the meeting of the rulers and their chapels. Here we get mostly instrumental music, but also L'homme armé, one of the most popular songs of the renaissance, which so many composers used as cantus firmus for mass settings.

Isaac is the central figure in the second section: "High Mass in Innsbruck Parish Church". We get some sections from his Missa virgo prudentissima. It is one of the relatively few in Isaac's oeuvre which is scored for six voices. Also notable is that it belongs to a group of pieces based on this Magnificat antiphon at First Vespers of the Feast of the Assumption (15 August). "The particular chant used by Isaac bears special melodic variants found in southern Germany, suggesting an association of the six-voice Mass with the Hapsburg court confirmed by its important parallels with the motet of the same name (...). Both the Mass and the motet were very likely conceived for Maximilian’s failed coronation in Rome", according to Giovanni Zanovello in the liner-notes to the recording of this Mass by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois. From that angle it makes sense to include it here, but the fact that it has been recorded before also means that this disc does not add anything to the catalogue that was not already known. Considering that Isaac's music does not get the attention it deserves and the largest part of his oeuvre is not available on disc, that is a little disappointing, as is the fact that it is not performed complete.

The third chapter is devoted to "Pleasures of the banquet and a ceremonial procession to Hall in Tyrol". We hear three instrumental pieces and a song by the Spanish composer Francisco de Peñalosa. Pierre de La Rue took Nunca fue pena mayor as the cantus firmus for one of his masses, but its text seems hardly appropriate for "pleasures of the banquet": "Never was their greater pain nor torment so terrible to equal the pain that I receive from this deception". But that could well be a very modern thought; such pieces had probably no connection with real life at all.

The inclusion of La Rue's Requiem is probably the most surprising aspect of this project. However, on 18 September a Requiem was celebrated for Hermes Sforza, brother of the empress, who had died unexpectedly a short time before. Obviously we don't know which Requiem Mass was performed at the occasion. It is also not known when La Rue composed his Requiem, but it is assumed that it was not long after Johannes Ockeghem wrote his, as La Rue's setting is clearly influenced by that of his older colleague. As Ockeghem died in 1497, there is good reason to believe that La Rue's Requiem did exist in 1503. The downside is that it is one of his best-known compositions and is available in several recordings. However, this is the first time I have heard it with instruments playing colla voce. I am not sure whether instruments were used this way in performances of Requim Masses at the time. This performance is at least an alternative to what is already available in the catalogue.

The fifth and last section, "Departure", includes just one piece, Adoramoste, Señor, a villancico by Francisco de La Torre and part of the Cancionero de la Colombina. It is a very beautiful homophonic piece in three stanzas. Its text says: "Let us adore, you, Lord, Jesus Christ, god and man, the holy one made visible, universal redeemer". However, it seems that the singers use a different text; at least I could not hear a word that is printed in the booklet.

That is a bit of a problem of this recording in general. Although the intelligibility of the text was not of the greatest importance at the time, I fnd it disappointing that so little of the text is understandable here. That could well be due to the acoustic of the recording venue. And the participation of instruments does not make it any easier. That said, it should have been given more attention.

Otherwise this disc has much to offer. The singing and playing is excellent, and the character of the occasion comes off well, even though the choice of music is speculative. As some items in the programme are little-known, this recording shows again that there is still much to discover in the repertoire of renaissance music.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Capella de la Torre

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