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"O rex orbis - Officium in festo sancti Karoli"

Dir: Shannon Canavin, Eric Rice

rec: May 2008, Andover, Mass., The Chapel at West Parish
Musique en Wallonie - MEW 1267 (© 2012) (78'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/N
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance]
[First Vespers] Johannes MANGON (c1525-1578): Laudemus Dominum; plainchant: [versus & responsorium] Deus in adiutorium meum; [antiphona] Regali natus de stirpe - Dixit Dominus; [antiphona] Angelici cultus - Confitebor tibi Domine; [antiphona] Sacros effectus - Beatus vir; [antiphona] Justicie palma - Laudate pueri Dominum; [antiphona] Nec mundi terror - In exitu Israel; Johannes MANGON: [hymnus] O rex orbis; plainchant: [capitulum] Egredimini filie Jherusalem; [responsorium] Te secutus; [versus & responsorium] Gloria et honore; Johannes MANGON: [motet] O spes afflictis; Lambertus DE MONTE (?-?): Magnificat 1./6. toni; Johannes MANGON: [motet] O spes afflictis - In cithara - Dissolutus in corpore; plainchant: [oratio] Deus qui superhabundanti; Benedicamus Domino; Michael WILHELM (?-?): Ave Maria
[Compline] plainchant: [versus & responsorium] Converte nos; Johannes MANGON: [motet] Vigila nos; planchant: Cum invocarem; Orlandus LASSUS (1530/32-1594): In te, Domine, speravi; plainchant: Qui habitat in adiutorio Altissimi; Ecce nunc benedicite Dominum; [hymnus] O rex orbis; [capitulum] Tu autem in nobis es, Domine; [antiphona] Rex confessor - Nunc dimittis; prayers - Benedicamus Domino; Ludovicus EPISCOPIUS (c1520-1595): Salve Regina super Doulce mémoire

Shannon Canavin, Teresa Wakim, soprano; Thea Lobo, contralto; Aaron Russo, alto; Jason McStoots, Eric Rice, tenor; Cameron Beauchamps, Brian Church, Darrick Yee, bass

The Holy Roman Empire was one of the dominant forces in Europe for many centuries, from the coronation of Otto I in 962 until the early 19th century. It had its roots in the reign of Charlemagne (742/48-814) who, for his part, aimed at recreating the Roman empire on the foundation of the Christian faith. With his pronounced ideas and strong personality he put his stamp on various parts of society and the Church. After his death his empire fell apart, and many remembered his rule with nostalgia. It was Frederick I, known as Frederick Barbarossa, who in his capacity as Holy Roman Emperor (1155-1190) tried to connect his reign to Charlemagne's. If he could be considered as the rightful heir of Charlemagne's heritage his position as emperor and his power within the Church would be considerably strengthened. To that end he wanted his 'predecessor' to be canonized, and this was achieved under pope Paschal III in 1165. However, he was discredited as an antipope and as a result the Church never ratified his canonization of Charlemagne. His name was not included in the Roman Breviary.

Even so, the feast of Charlemagne was celebrated in various places in the Middle Ages, such as Paris, Prague and Zurich. But it is only in the German city of Aachen that annual celebrations of this feast take place up until the present day. This can be explained from the fact that Aachen Cathedral, or the Marienkirche, was founded by Charlemagne around 800 as part of his palace complex. This disc presents liturgical music from the Divine Office, in the form of a reconstruction by Eric Rice of the services of Vespers and Compline as they might have been heard in Aachen's collegiate church on Saturday, 27 January 1582. Several sources were used to select music which could have been sung at this occasion. This is partly homophonic, in the form of plainchant, and partly polyphonic.

Most composers who are represented in the programme worked in Aachen. Johannes Mangon was from Liège and was educated there. He worked in several churches in Liège. His ties with Aachen seem to date from 1567 which is suggested by a legal document from that town and a copy of one of his masses in a cathedral choirbook with the date of 31 October 1567. He was probably given leave of absence in order to work at Aachen Cathedral. When he did not return on time the Liège chapter withdrew his benefice in 1571. From at least 1572 until 1577 he acted as succentor at Aachen Cathedral; in 1578 he died of the plague. He was succeeded by his former colleague from Liège, Lambertus de Monte, who after his death was succeeded by Michael Wilhelm. Next to nothing is known about these two composers.

The core of the Vespers are the common five Psalms which are preceded by an antiphon which is repeated after the Psalm. For reasons of space on a single disc only a part of every Psalm is performed. The hymn O rex orbis, an alternatim setting by Mangon, expresses the importance of Charlemagne. Its opening stanza says: "O king, conqueror of the world, emperor of the kings of the earth, hearest thou mercifully the devout lamenting of thy flock, our assembly". The opening words are rightly chosen as the title of this disc. The Magnificat is also performed in an alternatim setting, by Lambertus de Monte. Instead of the antiphons embracing it we hear polyphonic settings of the plainchant text, in two different versions by Mangon. In the first the plainchant is used as cantus firmus.

The second part of this disc includes music for Compline, the final service of the day. "Many of the prayers and other texts recited during Compline are supplications for God's protection during sleep, and four psalms deemed particularly pertinent are chanted in Compline services: 4, 30, 90, and 133 (Vulgate numbering)", Eric Rice writes in his liner-notes. They are sung here without the usual introductory antiphons, "as this is the practice that sixteenth-century books appear to indicate". Psalm 4 is sung in plainchant, Lassus's In te, Domine, speravi is used as a replacement of Psalm 30 as this setting uses various verses from that same Psalm. This motet was copied by Mangon for use at the Marienkirche. The six parts are divided between higher and lower voices.

After the Psalms the text of O rex orbis returns, this time sung in plainchant. Every Compline service includes the Canticle of Simeon, Nunc dimittis. It is preceded here by the antiphon Rex confessor, another explicit reference to Charlemagne: "King, confessor for justice, drive back the night of treachery." The service ends with a setting of the Marian antiphon Salve Regina by Ludovicus Episcopius, who was from Mechelen and was appointed choirmaster at St Servatius in Maastricht in 1545. This setting uses the famous chanson Doulce mémoire by Pierre Sandrin as cantus firmus.

It rounds off a most interesting survey of the music from a town which may not spring to mind if we think of music of the late renaissance. A large portion of the music is in plainchant, and most composers who are represented here are hardly known. The average lover of polyphony may find this repertoire a bit too specialistic. Those who have a special interest in liturgical music and those who are eager to become acquainted with little-known music will find it much to their liking. The singing is outstanding and the ensemble has managed to create a great amount of unity between plainchant and polyphony. As a listener one has the real experience of being part of a liturgical event. Eric Rice's liner-notes are extended and very helpful by putting this repertoire in its historical context.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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