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"Missa Transfigurationis - Tournai, XVe-XVIe siècles"

Dir: Hendrik Vanden Abeele

rec: Sept 2014, Beaufays (B), Abbaye
Musique en Wallonie - MEW 1576 (© 2015) (65'52")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/N
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] [In Vigiliam] [responsory] plainchant: Sacratissimum salutis; [antiphon] plainchant: Visionem quam vidistis - Antoine DE FÉVIN (c1470-1511/12): Magnificat 1. toni; [antiphon] plainchant: Hodie Dominus; [antiphon] plainchant: Hodie ad Patris
[Suffragia] [De Trinitate] [antiphon] plainchant: Te Deum Patrem; [De Beate Vergine] [antiphon] plainchant: Ave Templum; [De Sancto Audeberto] [antiphon] plainchant: Sancte Audeberte; [De Omnibus Sanctis] [antiphon] plainchant: Beati estis
[Ad Missam - Missa Sancta Trinitas] [responsory] plainchant: Assumens Ihesus Petrum; [introit] plainchant: In excelso throno; anon: Missa Sancta Trinitas (Kyrie; Gloria); [alleluia] plainchant: Ascendit Iesus in montem; [sequence] plainchant: Thabor superficie; anon: Missa Santa Trinitas (Credo); [offertory] plainchant: Deus enim firmavit; Deus enim omnium; anon: Missa Sancta Trinitas (Sanctus); VINEUX?: Sanctus Qui vertice; anon: Missa Sancta Trinitas (Agnus Dei); [communion] plainchant: Revelabitur gloria Domini
[In Fine Misse] [antiphon] plainchant: Benedicta sit; Antoine DE FÉVIN: Sancta Trinitas

Rob Cuppens, Jonathan De Ceuster, Gunther Vandeven, altus; Niek Van den Dool, tenor; Hendrik Vanden Abeele, Greg Skidmore, baritone; Philippe Favette, Arnout Malfliet, Paul Mertens, bass

The Catholic ecclesiastical calender includes a large number of feasts. Not all of them are that well-known, and some feasts have come and gone. The present disc includes music for a feast which is universally celebrated, not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but also in Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Church. But music for this feast is probably not that well-known; at least I can't remember having heard a disc entirely devoted to this feast.

The fact that the four gospels all include the story of the transfiguration of Christ testifies to its importance. It is summed up in the Alleluia: "Jesus ascended the mountain and took with him Peter and James and John, and behold, he was transfigured, and the voice of the Lord was heard to say: 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hearken unto him'." "Undoubtedly, the purpose of the transfiguration of Christ into at least a part of His heavenly glory was so that the 'inner circle' of His disciples could gain a greater understanding of who Jesus was. Christ underwent a dramatic change in appearance in order that the disciples could behold Him in His glory. The disciples, who had only known Him in His human body, now had a greater realization of the deity of Christ, though they could not fully comprehend it. That gave them the reassurance they needed after hearing the shocking news of His coming death" (1).

The origins of this feast are not entirely clear. It was already celebrated in the 9th century, but it was only in 1457 that Pope Calixtus III raised it to the status of a universal feast to commemorate the raising of the siege of Belgrade the year before. The present disc includes some of the repertoire sung by the Brotherhood of the Transfiguration of Tournai which was founded sometime during the first half of the 15th century, before the feast became universally celebrated. It consisted of priests who met twice a year, on the second Sunday in Lent and on 6 August, the Feast of the Transfiguration. The former occasion can be explained from the fact that the transfiguration took place shortly before Jesus went to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The gospel story of the Transfiguration was one of the readings of that Sunday.

The celebrations of the Brotherhood took place at the church of Mont-Saint-Aubert (antiphon Sancte Audeberte), also known as Mont de la Trinité. According to Anne-Emmanuelle Ceulemans, in her liner-notes, this may be explained by the close links between the cult of the Transfiguration and that of the Trinity. During the first half of the 16th century the celebrations were moved to Cambrai Cathedral. One aspect of the Brotherhood is particularly interesting from the angle of church history. "Its statutes make much of a relative independence from the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In view of this and other considerations, Jacques Pycke, archivist at Tournai cathedral, has suggested that the first friars may have been sympathisers with the thinking of Jan Hus. It is known that in the 15th century the textile makers in Tournai and Lille were receptive to Hussite ideas; indeed, one of their ardent apologists, Nicolas Serrurier, an Augustine friar at Tournai, was several times censured, not only in his own diocese but also at Constance, Florence and Lausanne." There is another reason for the association of the Feast of the Transfiguration with the Hussite movement. Tábor in Bohemia was a Hussite stronghold, and tradition has it that Mount Tabor in Israel - mentioned only in the Old Testament - was the place where Jesus was transfigured (sequence Thabor superficie).

The manuscript from which the pieces on this disc are taken, Libellus confraternitatis Transfigurationis Domini in ecclesia Tornacensis, is divided into four sections, the music dating from different periods: "a vigil of the Transfiguration dating from the first half of the 15th century; a processional, mass and prayers for the deceased members of the brotherhood, also from the early 15th century; an anonymous four-part Missa Sancta Trinitas from the first half of the 16th century, followed by the motet Sancta Trinitas by Antoine de Févin (c. 1470 - end of 1511 or start of 1512); and finally a polyphonic sequence of the Transfiguration followed by the proper of the mass of the Transfiguration in plainchant, according to the Tridentine rite, all of it copied in 1602."

At first the Brotherhood sang exclusively in plainchant. The fact that the plainchant pieces are the oldest bears witness to that. Polyphonic pieces were added later; the above-mentioned mass is the main work from this category. It is a parody mass, based on the motet Sancta Trinitas by Févin. It is possible that he was also the composer of the mass, but as there is no firm evidence of this; it is listed here as an anonymous work. Unlike the motet this mass is only included in the Libellus and does not appear in any other source. All the music performed here is from the manuscript, except the Magnificat 1. toni by Févin, included in the vigil. The reason is that this section is incomplete. The manuscript indicates the performance of a Magnificat setting which is missing.

The mass is performed with the Propers in plainchant. The Sanctus is sung twice: first the polyphonic setting from the anonymous mass, than a piece attributed to a certain Vineux, although it is not entirely certain that this indicates a composer. It is a troped setting, meaning that the original text is extended with new lyrics. This was common practice at the time; it is notable that the additional texts are unique for this source.

The performance of plainchant is a matter of debate among scholars. However, it seems that in the time from which the music on this disc was written, different ways of performance coexisted. There were not only - as Ms Ceulemans states - differences between regions but even within dioceses. "Some favoured the tradition of equal note-values while others preferred to follow the accentuation of the Latin words or different styles of rhythmical or measured chant. In the Libellus the copyist has apparently tried to indicate a more or less rhythmical execution of the plainchant, according to the conventions of mensural notation that were current at the time." This is the way the plainchant is performed by Psallentes.

This undoubtedly is a major production. First for historical reasons: shortly after World War II the manuscript went missing (New Grove refers to this in its article on 'Vineux'), but was rediscovered in 2006. The unique character of the repertoire and a complete polyphonic mass testifies to this manuscript's importance. Secondly, this recording sheds light on a lesser-known liturgical practice. Today most sacred music of the renaissance is performed independently, as part of concerts or of recordings devoted to a composer or to music for a specific time of the year. However, sacred music was nearly always liturgical, and when it is possible to include it in a kind of liturgical reconstruction we come much closer to how the music was originally intended and heard. Thirdly, the pieces performed here are of great beauty and fully deserve to be recorded. It allows us to catch a glimpse of the brilliance of the music performed across Europe, in this case in the southern Netherlands. Lastly, the performances by Psallentes which are superb. This is singing of the highest calibre. The voices blend perfectly and the singers use historical pronunciation. You won't hear often such exciting performances of plainchant.

This is a splendid production which no lover of renaissance sacred music should miss.

(1) gotQuestions?

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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